Moving across state lines in search of a better tax rate is pretty common, and comes from a longstanding American tradition. Much like the wagon trains headed west during the gold boom, relocating in search of a more prosperous environment is as American as apple pie.
But much like traveling west through the mountains, moving to a state with different tax rules comes with inherent danger. Tax disputes can pop up quickly, and finding that financial safe haven isn’t as simple as packing up boxes and renting a U-Haul. On top of that, lower tax rates in one sector can often hide higher tax rates in another.
Here are some things you should consider before moving for tax purposes. (For related reading, see: How Federal and State Tax Brackets Work.)
Cost of living differences. Taxes are not the only financial consideration you should make. If you’ll save on taxes but pay more for your child’s education, it’s not a good idea to move, said Ted Halpern, Wealth Advisor and President of Halpern Financial. “If you move to a great school district in the new state, property taxes may be significantly higher,” he said.
Cost of healthcare: Healthcare costs will usually only go up as you get older, so this is especially important to consider if you plan to be in your new state for the long haul. If you buy your health insurance via the Marketplace/Exchange, you can compare basic prices online before making your choice.
Cost of travel: If you’re planning to move away from your family and friends, Halpern said to factor in the cost of visiting your loved ones. It may seem minor, but if you go home for holidays, weddings and reunions, all those plane tickets, hotel visits and gas stops will add up. (For related reading, see: How Moving Can Affect Your Finances and The Most Affordable Cities to Live In.)
- Costs of property: Many people move based on the income tax rate, but they fail to consider a basic cost of living difference: home ownership. For example, Texas does not have income tax, but it has high property costs and taxes “that are pricing many out of homeownership,” said financial writer and editor Kay Bell.
Cost of other taxes: Remember that whatever state you move to will make up a lack of income tax with other tax revenue. Property, sales, city and county taxes can all add up quickly. “Don't assume that states with lower income taxes also have lower property, goods and services taxes,” said John Schenider, compliance analyst and blogger at Debt Free Guys. “Despite a lower income tax, it's possible your net taxes paid in the low income tax state may be more than the high income-tax state.” Elizabeth Colegrove of The Reluctant Landlord said the property tax rates in Texas are preventing her and her husband from buying a rental property there. “The thing to remember is there is no such thing as a free lunch,” she said. “The state has to pay its bills in one manner or another.” (For related reading, see: 10 Reasons Why Moving Might Not Make You Richer.)
The Bottom Line
While moving to a new state to save money on taxes sounds like an easy idea, make sure to crunch all the numbers before you go. Moving in itself is an arduous process and you want to make sure it’s worth the time and money. The only other factor to mention is a little vague: time. Is it worth your time to spend days and weeks house hunting, job searching and school shopping all in the hunt for a lower tax rate? Only you can decide whether those savings are worth more than the time it would take to get them. (For related reading, see: Finding a Retirement-Friendly State.)