The excitement of receiving an offer for your dream position at a university or college can quickly cool when you realize just how expensive relocating to that new job may become. From leaving your old residence and putting down deposits on a new place to shipping all your belongings and paying for travel, meals and lodging, moving easily costs thousands of dollars.
If you are counting on a lucrative relocation package to ease the financial burden, the reality is that the world of academia rarely grants extravagant moving benefits. However, many higher learning institutions do offer relocation programs to new hires moving more than 50 miles for the position.
Know Your Relocation Package
In addition to negotiating your salary, tenure expectations, course load, equipment and research support, you can also request help with moving your household.
Universities tend to help offset relocation expenses for academic professors, associate instructors, assistant professors, senior lecturers, research faculty or director-level staff members. Special consideration may be extended to transferring faculty from the institution's satellite campuses as well as professional specialists, visiting professors, limited-duration academic appointees and post-doctoral fellowships.
Moving allowances become part of your overall compensation package, and some categories are considered taxable income. Smaller universities and even smaller departments have less discretionary income to offer more than a small stipend. Private institutions, prestigious programs and positions that are difficult to fill or are in high-demand fields have more room for negotiating.
According to the Burroughs Welcome Fund, only about half of academic tenure-track offer letters address funding for relocation expenses. The compensation varies widely, typically ranging from $2,000 to $15,000, so the leverage you have for negotiating unusual costs completely depends upon the institution. One university sets the maximum benefit at 1/12 of the new annual salary while another caps it at $5,000 for junior faculty and $20,000 for senior staff.
While some programs pay a lump-sum relocation stipend, most opt to reimburse actual moving expenses. University policies stipulate that recipients must remain employed for a specified length of time. This can range from a minimum of 39 weeks up to one academic year. If you voluntarily leave, you likely have to at least partially reimburse the university for the compensation. Your HR and department contacts are important resources for guiding you through the university's standard policies.
Get Reimbursed for Moving
Most university relocation reimbursement policies only cover expenditures that are reasonable and necessary for moving, such as packing, shipping and storing your household goods. This includes furniture, clothing and décor but excludes large collections, recreational vehicles and excessively heavy items that require special care. Crating and transporting necessary laboratory equipment and supplies for the job are generally eligible.
Check with your HR contact about the college's preferred moving vendor. North American Van Lines has relocated hundreds of domestic and international faculty members, providing fully insured pack-and-move services at contract rates that are billed directly to the institution. When a preferred vendor is not used, the college will likely require two estimates and may only provide partial reimbursement.
Funds for relocation expenses can include pre-move travel and lodging to secure a new residence in addition to travel and lodging for the entire household during the actual move. Even if your offer includes a pre-move allowance, request a temporary living stipend that kicks in if your plans fall through.
Be aware that many reimbursement programs are for actual costs rather than upfront lump-sum payments. It often takes several months to recoup the money you spend as the approval request processes through various levels of signatures. All offer letters should specify in writing what the covered expenses and maximum dollar amount are.
Relocation Tax Implications
The IRS has set clear regulations in Publication 521 regarding moving expense deductions and taxable compensation. A faculty member who relocates their home residence due to a new job is eligible for significant tax breaks on the costs they absorb. When a compensation package isn't available, all qualifying expenses are deductible. If the relocation offer falls short of covering all expenses, excess expenditures are eligible. To qualify, you must satisfy each of these conditions:
1. You must move within one year of the start date of the new job. Extensions are granted if the move is delayed due to extenuating circumstances, such as a child completing high school.
2. Relocate a minimum of 50 miles away. The distance of your former residence must be at least 50 miles farther from the new job location than your new home.
3. Stay employed with the academic institution for at least 39 weeks. You can claim the deduction before the time test is satisfied, but it is reported as income on the next tax return if you prematurely leave the position.
Qualifying expenses for deductions include the moving of your household goods as well as travel and lodging en route to your new home. You can only claim the most direct route, so miles incurred while sightseeing are excluded. Storage expenses for 30 days are also covered in the tax code. Reimbursed compensation from the university for these moving expenses is non-taxable as long as you stay employed for at least 39 weeks. However, funds paid for the following non-deductible expenses are treated as taxable income:
- Meals and incidentals
- Pre-move house hunting, including travel, lodging and meals
- Temporary living expenses, including lodging, transportation and storage
- Security deposits
- Excess mileage above the IRS standard
The supplemental income is subject to payroll withholding and is reported on your annual employee W-2 form. Detailed recordkeeping is critical for both reimbursement from the university and for claiming tax deductions.
Inquire About Housing Programs
Depending on the duration of your position and your financial circumstances, purchasing a home is not always a feasible option for relocating professors. As a result, you might need to get creative with finding a new place to live, particularly if you are moving to an urban center where the cost of living is high. Sabbatical Homes has become a valuable resource for renting, exchanging and house sitting in the academic community. Short-term living arrangements are also available on Sublet.com. Ask your HR contact to supply a list of local resources for finding housing in your new city.
From Rutgers University to Mississippi State University, colleges of all sizes have housing options and assistance programs for new faculty, visiting professors and transitioning staff. These temporary lodging quarters range from sparse studios to furnished apartments or dorm-style roommate situations. Depending on the housing program, leases usually range from one month to one year. Discount rates are generally available, but the university may require a security deposit, background check, occupancy restriction or monthly rental payments.
Located in close proximity to the campus, university housing lets you truly immerse yourself in the culture of your new community. Getting to know other incoming faculty also gives you a built-in support system as you work through that first year together. There is high demand for campus housing programs and a limited number of units, so it is critical that you submit a request as early as possible.
Prepare Your Family for the Relocation
One of the biggest relocation hurdles is your spouse's ability to find employment. The happiness of "trailing spouses" is a critical factor in successfully recruiting faculty, so job search assistance is typically available. Support can range from job hunting reimbursement to recruiter referrals to career consultations. Although spousal hires are rare, the university's HR department may arrange interviews for open positions on campus. Like campus housing, early conversations give your spouse the best chance of finding a job in your new city.
The college is also an important resource for finding quality daycare programs, understanding the local educational system and applying for competitive private schools. GreatSchools.org outlines the strengths and weaknesses for educational programs across the U.S. In addition to test scores, demographics and boundaries, you'll find tools to help pick the right school.
Ask your department chair for a personal introduction to relevant professional organizations. The university's medical department or health center can even give physician recommendations. You can ease the transition by getting to know your new community before arriving. Learn about the vibe of various neighborhoods at Sperling's Best Places, compare cost of living at Livability.com, find fun things to do at Trip Advisor and join the local Nextdoor social network.