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Before Relocating, Answer These Key Questions

We’ll help you assess your financial and personal situation so you can decide—is it worth it to move?

The idea of fresh opportunities in a new place can be exciting. But if you’re considering a move, you owe it to yourself to take the time to make a truly informed decision. Here are some key questions you’ll want to address.

1. Can I afford it?

No matter where you land, there’s little doubt that changing locations will affect your financial well-being. First off, it’s smart to get a sense of the economic strength of cities you’re considering. After all, if an area isn’t economically healthy, many things—including funding for public schools—may not be adequate over the long term. The Milken Institute annually ranks the nation’s best-performing large and small metropolitan areas based on jobs and salary growth, two primary drivers of economic growth.

Housing is typically the largest expense for most people, so you’ll want to get a feel for housing prices, too. Websites like Zillow, Trulia or Apartments.com can help you gain a grasp of the local real estate market, including current costs of properties for sale or rent.

Wonder what the neighborhood’s really like? NeighborhoodScout describes residents, real estate, school ratings, crime rates, commuting options and lifestyle characteristics for 61,000 U.S. neighborhoods.

In addition, you’ll want to research the availability of teacher-specific housing assistance. Some states and cities, especially those in high-priced markets, offer programs to make housing more affordable for teachers. For example, California’s “Extra Credit Teacher Home Purchase Program,” offers down-payment assistance through deferred-payment loans ranging from $7,500 to $15,000 to qualified K-12 educators and school employees.

Lastly, don’t forget to factor in the cost of a move itself. According to the American Moving & Storage Association, the current average cost of a move between states is $5,630 and the average move within states is $1,170. On top of that, say you end up needing to put some of your belongings in storage temporarily as you get settled. Expect to spend between $50 and $200 per month to rent a storage unit.

2. How far will my salary go if I move to another city?

A potential job may include a 10% raise, but if you move to a more expensive city, that increase might actually be a pay cut in terms of purchasing power. So, you’ll want to compare the cost of living for the two areas directly to answer this question.

Fortunately, there are many sources of cost-of-living comparisons that you can tap for free. Let’s say, for example, that you’re eyeing a move from your hometown of St. Paul, Minnesota, to Washington, D.C., and that your current annual income is $42,000. To maintain your standard of living, you would need to earn $59,587 in the nation’s capital, according to NerdWallet’s calculator. That’s because Washington, D.C.’s cost of living is 42% higher than St. Paul.

Bankrate.com’s calculator also offers a detailed cost-of-living comparison between two cities. Its tool gives a 50-item breakdown for many common (dentist visit) and uncommon (can of tennis balls) costs.

3. How teacher-friendly is it?

Key to any relocation is the issue of job opportunity. And as an educator, you aim to seek out high-quality school districts and supportive working conditions. So it’s important to research the strengths or weaknesses of the teaching environments you hope to target. Where do you start?

Look into the metrics that matter. Each year, for instance, WalletHub identifies the “teacher-friendliest” states using 16 indicators. These measures include competitive salary, job security, average pension, pupil-teacher ratio and school spending per student, among others. Based on the overall rankings for 2016, New Jersey ranked first and Hawaii ranked last.

The data also can provide a snapshot of the education opportunity by location. For example, you would face the highest projected competition (most teachers per student by 2022) in North Dakota; the lowest in Nevada.

To track trends over time, you should also check the NEA’s annual Rankings & Estimates Report. This analysis shows how states compare on a variety of education and funding measures, such as average teacher salaries (and year-to-year change, up or down), enrollment, student-teacher ratios and financial resources.

4. Will I be able to pursue excellence?

It’s important to examine your own motivations when it comes to considering a job-related move. Ask yourself if the new opportunity will allow you to build upon your strengths and grow professionally. It’s also a good idea to look for a school system with a reasonably low turnover rate and a high percentage of educators who are certified in the areas they’re teaching.  

Additionally, try to evaluate things such as the quality of school leadership, training, mentoring, collegial relationships, parental involvement, resources and school climate and safety. All of these factors make a difference.

5. How do I transfer my teaching certificate?

If you move to another state, you will need to transfer your teaching credentials. License reciprocity, or the ability to teach in one state based on certification in another, isn’t always automatic.

The “destination state” may recognize your credentials as verification that you are qualified to teach, but you must still apply to and meet all certification requirements for the new state.

Fortunately, the National Association of State Directors of Teacher Education and Certification (NASDTEC)’s Interstate Agreement for Educator Licensure streamlines this application process, expediting the goal of teaching in a new state. Currently 46 states and the District of Columbia participate in the NASDTEC’s interstate contract through September 2020. You can find details of each state’s reciprocity agreement on this NASDTEC map.

You also can check out all state teacher licensure requirements at the Educational Testing Service’s PRAXIS webpage. (Click on “State Testing Requirements” and select the state to which you’re interested in moving.)

6. Will my pension move with me?

Pension portability depends on what type of plan you have. In general, the savings you’ve built up in a defined contribution plan—such as a 403(b) plan—are fully portable. That means it’s relatively easy to transfer all accumulated savings to your next employer’s plan through a rollover or direct transfer.

Defined benefit plans, which promise a specific tenure-based benefit amount, however, are not as portable, says the National Council on Teacher Quality. In most states, if you leave before meeting your plan’s vesting requirements, you’ll typically get back only your contributions and a small amount of interest.

Another issue that can impact your pension is seniority. Seniority still provides enhanced job security in most states—also according to the NCTQ—so if you’re considering relocating, you should ask your new school district if they have a standing policy for transferring seniority.

7. If I move, what would I miss the most and what would change?

In weighing your personal priorities, it’s worthwhile to think about all the things in your life that are tied to where you live now. For example, how important is it for you to maintain the close relationships you have with nearby family and friends? Do you love your area’s warm, sunny climate and plentiful recreation? Are the cultural amenities and entertainment venues you enjoy a big plus?

Next, ask yourself what you might gain by relocating. Would you expand your buying power? Would you have access to better health and fitness facilities? An easier commute? A walkable community? If you’re moving to save money (like lower rent), is the money you’ll save worth any perks you’ll lose?

Weighing the pros and cons

Evaluating whether a move makes sense is a challenge for everyone. And as an educator, you have additional issues to consider. All of these questions give you a lot to think about. Use them to help frame your choices and priorities as you contemplate this important decision.

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