College graduates crippled by burdensome student loan debt might want to consider moving to Kansas.
The Kansas Department of Commerce is offering many new, full-time residents some pretty attractive perks. Seventy-seven different counties in Kansas, which cover most of the state, offer student loan repayments and/or state income tax waivers as an incentive to get people to move there.
The program, called Rural Opportunity Zones (ROZ), has been “highly effective” in attracting new residents, Kevin Doel, director of communications at the Kansas Department of Commerce, tells CNBC Make It.
Program pays off for graduates with debt
Packing up your stuff and plopping yourself in a new apartment in one of those Kansas counties won’t be enough to get that student loan debt wiped out.
In order to be eligible for the student loan repayment program, you must have established residency in the county after July 2011 and on or after the date in which your county opted in to the program, and have obtained either an associate’s, bachelor’s or post-graduate degree before moving there.
You’ll also need to have a “sponsor” available, which could be either your county or employer. Employers “have shown strong interest in using this program as a recruitment tool,” Doel says. For example, Kearny County Hospital is currently sponsoring five individuals, he says. Overall, there are currently 58 sponsoring employers. Once you secure your sponsor, your student loan repayment is funded half by that sponsor and half by the state.
So far, the Kansas Department of Commerce has received over 3,400 ROZ applications for student loan repayment assistance, and over one-third of the applicants are moving to Kansas from out-of-state.
“The ROZ program has also helped over 2,000 Kansans return home and has attracted individuals with a wide range of talents and occupations,” Doel tells CNBC Make It. “It has been particularly effective in attracting educators and healthcare professionals. The ROZ applicants have stated the incentives were important in their decision to move to a ROZ county.”
Student loan debt is crippling the country
Participants in Kansas’ program can receive annual payments equal to 20 percent of their outstanding student loan balance, up to maximum of $3,000 per year or $15,000 over the course of five years.
With the current average student loan debt per borrower nationwide at $26,700, according to consumer spending site ValuePenguin, and the amount of student loan debt ballooning over the past decade by more than 250 percent across the U.S., rural towns might have just found the secret to scoring new residents.
In New Richland, Minnesota, for example, you can receive a free lot to build a single-family “dream home,” according to a brochure from the town. In order to receive the free land, you must build your new home within one year after the property is deeded to you, and you will be responsible for “special assessment” costs to cover things like water and sewage, which could run between $14,000 to $25,000.
As another type of incentive to attract new residents, Harmony, Minnesota (which boasts a population of 1,000 residents) offers a cash rebate program for home construction. For those building a new home, the Harmony Economic Development Authority will provide a cash rebate ranging from $5,000 to $12,000. There are no restrictions or limits on the applicant’s age, income level or residency, either.
“The program has helped create almost $1.1 million in new taxable building value and has gotten us even better mileage as a marketing tool,” Chris Giesen, vice president of community and economic development associates (which represents the Harmony Economic Development Authority), tells CNBC Make It.
Other cities that have also offered financial incentives as a tool to recruit new residents include Niagara Falls, New York, Curtis, Nebraska and New Haven, Connecticut.