No doubt you have seen the recent chatter about Niagara Falls’ new plan to lure young professionals to its city limits. According to the article published by ABC News, Niagara Falls’ population was 100,000 about 50 years ago, but it’s now closer to 50,000. If it drops under 50,000 by the time the next census occurs, leaders fear the city will lose some forms of federal assistance.
In an effort to encourage recent college graduates to consider calling Niagara Falls home, they’ve dangled the proverbial carrot in front of them by offering to pay $3,500 a year toward their student loan debt (for up to two years). To qualify, applicants must have earned an associate, bachelor or graduate-level degree, and they must be willing to rent or purchase a home within a designated area of the city.
Similar programs exist in other areas too. For instance, Kansas offers both income tax relief and student loan repayment assistance through its Rural Opportunity Zone Program. To qualify, applicants must establish residency in one of the many eligible counties between July 1, 2011 and January 1, 2016. Applicants must have lived outside of Kansas for a minimum of five (5) years prior to establishing residency, and must maintain residency for the full year in which the credit is being claimed. Those who qualify may receive up to 20% of their student loan debt paid (up to $15,000) and have their state income tax liability waived. The benefits may be received for a maximum of five (5) years.
Sounds great, right? Not so fast. I can totally understand why Niagara Falls wants to lure younger, more educated residents to its area, but is $7,000 really worth the risk in moving to an area best described as urban blight? The most recent unemployment rates released by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics lists Niagara’s rate at 11.5 percent, which is 3 percent above the national average; not too encouraging for a recent college graduate seeking a job. If you’re considering Detroit, forget about it. Its unemployment rate currently sits at about 16.9 percent and it was rated one of the most dangerous cities in the U.S. – no thank you! Kansas actually may be the winner in this arena, with a state unemployment rate lower than the national average (around 6.2%) and a lower violent crime rate than both New York and Michigan; then again, you still have to deal with all those tornadoes!
Instead, I offer this advice to college students seeking relief from their student loan debt – consider student loan forgiveness programs. For many professions, including teachers, social workers, medical professionals and even attorneys, states will offer to help repay your student loan debt in exchange for a few years of service in an under-served or low-income area. Best of all, you decide where you want to live and work.