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Best Places for Remote Workers in California

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It may not have been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

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If you ask Californians what they dislike most about their jobs, many will say commuting. For those who can work remotely, the time and money saved by not sitting in traffic is an undeniable perk. Residents in costly regions, like the San Francisco Bay Area, may find that remote work offers the possibility of going somewhere more affordable while retaining their high-paying jobs.

The coronavirus crisis has forced many businesses to embrace remote work. With more employees looking to embrace the remote lifestyle, MagnifyMoney researchers created six weighted categories to rank the best places for remote workers in California.

Key findings

  • North Tustin in Orange County tops our list of best places for remote workers in California, with a score of 73.4.
  • Jamul in San Diego County ranks second, with a score of 73.1. The rest of our top five is as follows:
    • 3: Granite Bay in Placer County, with a score of 72.9
    • 4: Ben Lomond in Santa Cruz County, with a score of 72.8
    • 5: El Granada in San Mateo County, with a score of 72.5
  • Five of the top 25 places for remote workers in California are in Orange County, followed by:
    • Four each in Placer and San Diego counties
    • Three each in Contra Costa and San Mateo counties

Top 5 places for remote workers in California

No. 1: North Tustin

In North Tustin, remote workers should have no trouble whipping up their favorite nutritious meals at home, as only 1% of Orange County residents have limited access to healthy foods.

When it comes time to blow off steam after a day of remote work, fitness is an option for most — 81% of Orange County residents have access to exercise opportunities. The community finished with a solid safety score, too, taking into account violent crime incidents and motor vehicle crash deaths per 100,000 people in the county, among other factors.

North Tustin is a great spot for remote workers with families. Residents are just a quick 15-minute drive from Irvine Regional Park, which is home to a zoo, equestrian trails, paddleboat rentals and tons of family fun.

No. 2: Jamul

Jamul may be an option for those working remotely to get a little more bang for their buck in a less-expensive part of California. In Jamul (San Diego County), the median home value is $663,800, according to owner estimates.

That may seem large for those not familiar with California home prices, but compare that to the median home value in big cities like San Francisco ($1 million) and San Jose ($793,000). Plus, this way, you can keep some extra money in a high-yield savings account.

With the median number of rooms within homes in Jamul coming in at around seven, remote workers will have plenty of space to create a comfortable and functional office. And when you need to escape your home office, the beach is only about a 30-minute drive away. How’s that for work-life balance?

No. 3: Granite Bay

Speaking of home offices, Granite Bay is a great place to carve out some space to work from home. Not only are the homes on the larger side for California (the median number of rooms is 7.6), but Granite Bay also has pretty good access to the internet, as 84% of residents have cable, fiber or DSL internet.

When it comes time to step away from your desk and stretch, you’ll be in good company, as 100% of residents in Placer County have access to exercise opportunities.

Granite Bay’s roots date to the California gold rush, when settlers arrived to take advantage of the plentiful gold mining opportunities in the area — maybe finding the perfect remote work opportunity in Granite Bay could be like striking gold.

No. 4: Ben Lomond

Santa Cruz County, where Ben Lomond is located, is among the counties with the second lowest score for predicted climate change impact in California. And the county’s air quality is cleaner than in most parts of California, too, so feel free to work outside if that suits your fancy.

Aside from scoring highly for environmental factors, 88% of Ben Lomond residents have cable, fiber or DSL internet, which can make the remote work experience more seamless.

No. 5: El Granada

El Granada rounds out the top five places for remote workers in California after scoring highly for health and safety factors:

  • Only 1% of San Mateo County residents have limited access to healthy food
  • The number of people per primary care physician in the county is 940
  • 88% of residents have access to exercise opportunities
  • San Mateo County residents only experience 3.08 mentally unhealthy days per month on average

Internet access also shouldn’t be a problem, as 91% of El Granada residents have access to cable, fiber or DSL internet.

And when you want some fresh air, the San Mateo County Coastside (encompassing El Granada and several other nearby cities) offers access to beaches, forests and plenty of open space.

Tips for finding a work-life balance when working remotely

While remote working has its benefits, it can also be challenging to find work-life balance when working from home. Remote work is not a great fit for everybody, and some may appreciate the structure and socializing opportunities that a traditional office environment can provide.

Keep the following tips in mind for finding work-life balance while working from home:

  • Communicate clearly. When you work from home, it can feel like you’re expected to always be available — that’s not true. Communicate your preferred working hours to your colleagues, as well as when you will (and won’t) be answering emails. Setting expectations about when you’re available will cut down on stress for everyone.
  • Create a home workspace. While it’s tempting to work from your comfy couch all day, having a workspace that is separate from your personal space can help create clear boundaries. Find a quiet, well-lit space in your home to carve out an office space, even if it’s just the dining room table that you don’t use on a day-to-day basis.
  • Get outside. One of the perks of living in California is the great weather. Working from home can start to feel claustrophobic, and spending all of your time there can take its toll. Buy some patio furniture or head to a coffee shop with a patio when you need to get work done, but also want a little fresh air and sunshine.

Understanding California remote worker tax implications

  • If you move to California to work remotely, you’ll be considered a resident if you live in the state for anything other than a temporary period.
  • If you head to California temporarily while working remotely, you shouldn’t have to pay state income taxes.

Since we’re talking about remote working, we wanted to look at it from the opposite angle, too. If you’re working for a California company and decide to live out of state, research to ensure you understand the taxes you’re required to pay.

California is infamously aggressive with collecting income tax. Remote workers employed by companies in the Golden State may owe still state income taxes.

If you leave the state, it’s important to request that your employer update your paycheck and W-2 form to record you as a resident of a different state.

Best places for remote workers in California: Full rankings

Understanding the rankings

To rank which places in California are best for remote workers, we created six categories:

  • Internet availability
  • Home size
  • Home cost
  • Health and lifestyle
  • Safety
  • Climate change impact

Each data point among the categories was individually scored on a rank of 1 to 100, with one representing the worst and 100 representing the best. These scores were then averaged to create the category score. Lastly, the category scores were combined (using the weights described below) to create the overall score. All scores were rounded to the tenth.

The categories and their components are:

Internet availability score (20% weight)

  • The percentage of people who have either cable, fiber or DSL. This shows whether these high-speed and more reliable internet services are widely available.

Home size score (20% weight)

  • The percentage of single-family, detached homes. The outdoor opportunities these homes can provide are more important as people seek to socially distance in comfort.
  • The median number of rooms within homes.

Home cost score (20% weight)

  • The median home value (owner estimate). This is how much owners (in 2018) thought their homes would sell for if they were for sale.
  • The median rent.

Health and lifestyle (20% weight)

  • The highest-ranked hospital in the county. The federal government rates hospitals across a variety of outcome metrics. In counties with multiple hospitals, we took the score of the highest-ranked hospital (on a scale of one through five).
  • The number of people per primary care physician in the county.
  • The average number of mentally unhealthy days in the county. This is the average number of days that residents reported being mentally unwell in a given month.
  • The percentage of county residents who have limited access to healthy foods.
  • The percentage of county residents who have access to exercise opportunities.

Safety score (10% weight)

  • The number of motor vehicle crash deaths per 100,000 people in the county.
  • The number of violent crime incidents per 100,000 people in the county.
  • The average daily density of fine particulate matter in the county’s air (micrograms per cubic meter). Breathable air has never been more important amid a pandemic.

Climate change impact score (10% weight)

  • The predicted climate change impact on the county (from 2040 to 2060). This is the sum of impact scores across six categories, each with a worst possible score of 10 for a total worst possible score of 60. These categories are:
    • Heat
    • Wet bulb, or extreme humidity that makes activity excessively dangerous relative to actual temperature
    • Farm crop yields
    • Sea level rise
    • Very large fires
    • Economic damages

MagnifyMoney researchers considered ranking other categories, too, such as the local businesses available for shopping, dining and recreation, as well as school quality features. However, we were concerned that past performance in these areas can’t be taken as a predictor of future performance. Local businesses have shuttered in many parts of the U.S. and schools have struggled with teacher retirements and online learning challenges amid the pandemic.

Methodology

MagnifyMoney analysts ranked every municipality and Census-designated place in California with a population of at least 5,000 people and for which all data was available.

Sources

  • U.S. Census Bureau’s 2018 American Community Survey five-year estimates
  • 2020 County Health Rankings
  • Medicare
  • ProPublica

All data is the most recently available for these geographies.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

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Fallout From COVID-19 Has Worsened Already Significant Economic Inequality

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In early 2020, the national unemployment rate sat between 3% and 4%. But those low unemployment rates covered up some stark inequalities among demographics.

In January, someone whose highest level of education was a high school degree was nearly twice as likely to be unemployed as someone with a bachelor’s degree, while a Black American was roughly twice as likely to be unemployed as a white American.

Since the start of the coronavirus crisis, those gaps have widened — and new ones have emerged. MagnifyMoney researchers analyzed unemployment rates across various demographics to provide further economic insight.

Key findings

  • The difference in the unemployment rate between white and Black Americans nearly doubled between January and August, from 2.9 percentage points to 5.7 percentage points.
  • The unemployment rate for Asian Americans has more than tripled since January, and the difference in the unemployment rate in August is still 3.4 percentage points higher than that of white Americans. In January, Asian Americans had a slightly lower unemployment rate than white Americans.
    • The unemployment rate difference between white Americans and Black, Latinos and Asian Americans has grown among each demographic from January to August.
  • Those with at least a bachelor’s degree saw their unemployment rate jump from 2% in January to 5.3% in August. But for those without a high school degree, that figure increased from 5.5% in January to 12.6% in August. The difference between the groups increased from 3.5 percentage points to 7.3 percentage points.
  • Americans just starting their careers have had a tougher time than those with experience. Those in the 25-to-34 age group experienced a surge in their unemployment rate from 3.7% in January to 9.7% in August.

2020 unemployment rate by race

We’ve seen wide gaps when comparing 2020 monthly unemployment rates for white, Black, Latino and Asian Americans. Here are the widest gaps seen over various periods so far in 2020:

  • January: 3 percentage points between Asian (3%) and Black (6%) Americans
  • March: 2.7 percentage points between white (4%) and Black (6.7%) Americans
  • April: 4.7 percentage points between white (14.2%) and Latino (18.9%) Americans
  • August: 5.7 percentage points between white (7.3%) and Black (13%) Americans

2020 unemployment rate by education

Across the board so far in 2020, those with less than a high school diploma saw the highest unemployment rates, followed by those who graduated from high school.

As with the other demographics we examined, unemployment rates by education type spiked from March to April. Here’s a closer look:

  • For those with less than a high school diploma: 6.8% to 21.2% (14.4 percentage point increase)
  • For those who graduated from high school: 4.4% to 17.3% (12.9 percentage point increase)
  • For those with some college: 3.7% to 15% (11.3 percentage point increase)
  • For those with a bachelor’s degree: 2.5% to 8.4% (5.9 percentage point increase)

2020 unemployment rate by age

Teens in particular have lost more employment opportunities so far in 2020, which could be related to them tending to be employed for in-person jobs rather than office work that can be done remotely.

Of the demographics we examined, the 31.9% unemployment rate in April for 16- to 19-year-olds was the highest from January to August.

Despite record unemployment, personal savings rate sees spike

Despite high unemployment rates, personal savings rates — the percentage of income left after paying taxes and spending money — have seen a spike this year.

The following chart breaks down personal savings rates by month so far in 2020:

2020 personal savings rate by month
January7.6%
February8.3%
March12.9%
April33.7%
May24.6%
June19.2%
July17.8%
August14.1%

It seems counterintuitive that savings rates would rise during such a difficult economic period, but there are a few reasons this may be occurring, said Ken Tumin, founder of DepositAccounts.

“Many people who didn’t lose their jobs still received the government stimulus checks,” Tumin said. “Also, many people cut back on their spending during social distancing orders.”

Travel, shopping, dining and entertainment options were restricted in many parts of the U.S. for decent stretches of 2020 — and still are in some states.

Tumin said the pandemic and widespread job losses have caused many to worry about the safety of their own jobs, leading to more cautious financial decisions. That fear could have encouraged people to spend less and save more.

Where to keep savings

No. 1: High-yield online savings accounts

High-yield online savings accounts generally provide APYs that are much higher than those offered by brick-and-mortar banks. Consider linking an online savings account with a checking account to electronically transfer money back and forth.

No. 2: Certificates of deposit

Certificates of deposit (CDs) from online banks, as well as CD specials from credit unions, can offer APYs that are higher than what’s available from traditional banks. These can be a good option for those with short-term savings goals in which the money won’t be needed until the CD matures.

No. 3: No-penalty CDs

Going a step further, consider choosing an online bank that offers both savings accounts and no-penalty CDs. Then, use a no-penalty CD to boost the APY without any significant loss of liquidity. No-penalty CDs often have slightly higher APRs than savings accounts, and the rate won’t fall until maturity. This offers the ability to close the CD and move the funds into a savings account without any penalty if the money is needed before maturity.

No. 4: High-yield checking accounts

High-yield checking accounts generally offer rates much higher than online savings accounts, but there are downsides. First, the high APY often only applies to a small balance cap (such as $3,000 to $15,000). Second, there are typically minimum requirements to earn that high APY, such as a certain number of debit card transactions per month.

Methodology

MagnifyMoney researchers used unemployment rate data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) for various demographics — race, education and age — from January 2020 (pre-pandemic) to August 2020 to estimate the most significant changes.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

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Where It Costs the Most to Upgrade Your Apartment

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For renters living in an apartment amid the coronavirus crisis, a once-cozy bedroom may be feeling cramped, especially if they’re working from home. But there’s good news, unless they live in St. Louis or Los Angeles.

As some Americans fled cities because of the crisis, the cost of renting a one-bedroom apartment fell in July 2020, compared with the same period last year, in 35 of the 100 largest U.S. metros. Renters looking to upgrade to a two-bedroom may be able to do so for cheaper, according to the latest MagnifyMoney research.

That, of course, depends on where you live. Here’s what we found.

Key findings

  • St. Louis residents can expect to pay 40.7% more on average if they want to upgrade from a one-bedroom to a two-bedroom rental, the highest among the metros we studied.
  • Los Angeles has the second-highest cost of upgrading. Renters here who want an additional bedroom are looking at paying $830 more on average – a 38.8% increase.
  • In Minneapolis, renters looking to upgrade to a two-bedroom will see their housing costs increase by $520 a month on average, or 37.4%.
    • Assuming an average cost of driving of 62 cents per mile, Minneapolis workers would break even when upgrading their apartment if they cut 839 commuting miles per month, or roughly 19 miles per trip.
  • Memphis, Tenn., residents need to pay the least to upgrade their living space. Our analysis shows Memphis renters need to pay just an extra 6% on average to go from a one-bedroom to a two-bedroom.
  • In Cleveland, the difference in price between a one-bedroom and two-bedroom apartment is fairly small. The average two-bedroom costs just $60 more a month than a one-bedroom, or 6.4%.
  • In Indianapolis, residents would need to pay an additional 6.9% in rent on average to move to a more spacious apartment. In commuting terms, that is equal to driving about 97 miles a month, or less than two miles per trip.
  • For people who have already been planning a move to a bigger space and have kept their source of income, now could be a good time to move. The prices for one-bedroom apartments are down year over year in 35 metros, while the prices of two-bedroom apartments are down year over year in 25 metros.
  • In dollars, California cities tend to come with the highest price tag. In San Francisco, moving from a one-bedroom to a two-bedroom costs an additional $1,010 a month on average. In Oakland, Calif., that figure is $680 a month on average.

Metros with biggest 1-bedroom rental year-over-year changes

Three Midwest metros – Cleveland, Indianapolis and Columbus, Ohio – saw the largest year-over-year percentage increases in pricing for one-bedroom apartments. Rounding out the top five were St. Petersburg, Fla. and Reno, Nev.

The metros with the largest year-over-year percentage decreases were more varied in location, with the Northeast, Midwest, West and South all represented. Two of the bottom five cities are in Texas.

Metros with biggest 2-bedroom rental year-over-year changes

Meanwhile, while looking at the largest year-over-year percentage increases in pricing for two-bedroom apartments, the Northeast and Midwest each have two metros among the top five, with the South taking the other spot.

As for the metros with the largest year-over-year percentage decreases, the West took four spots (California occupied three), while New York took one.

How shortening commute can affect breakeven point to upgrade

To make up for an increase in rent prices, moving closer to your workplace can lower the cost of commuting, as can working from home. In some metros, the cost of rent is so high that cutting a commute wouldn’t be enough to cover an increase.

The following examples illustrate how moving closer to work – or working from home – can save enough money to break even on a rent increase (Wichita, Kan. and Memphis, Tenn.) and where a shorter commute won’t do the trick (San Francisco).

  • In Wichita and Memphis, the cost to upgrade to a two-bedroom from a one-bedroom is $50 on average. Based on 62 cents per mile, a driver would need to cut commuting by about 81 miles over the month (or about four miles a workday) to make up that $50 difference.
  • In San Francisco, the cost to upgrade to a two-bedroom is $1,010. Based on 62 cents per mile, a driver would need to cut commuting by about 1,629 miles a month (or about 74 miles a workday) to make up that $1,010 difference.

4 signs you’re ready to consider a 2-bedroom apartment

No. 1: Your home is your office

If your office is closed due to social distancing measures (some offices have remained permanently closed) during the COVID-19 pandemic, moving to a two-bedroom apartment with room for a proper office can help cut down on stress and keep you feeling productive.

No. 2: Your family is growing

If you’re planning on having a child in the near future, you’ll likely want to upgrade to a bigger apartment so the baby can have a nursery or to create a quiet place to work from home.

No. 3: You moved far from home

It’s OK to be excited to spread your wings and feel a bit homesick at the same time. If you’ve made a big move and live far from loved ones, you may want an apartment with room for a guest bedroom that Mom or your bestie can crash in when they visit. The more the merrier.

No. 4: Your budget can accommodate an upgrade

Sarah Berger, MagnifyMoney’s millennial finance columnist, said you should generally not spend more than 30% of your gross income on rent. If you’ve recently received a pay raise and can still afford to allocate 30% of your income on rent, you could afford the higher cost. That being said, Berger warns to be wary of lifestyle creep. “Just because you can afford to pay for a bigger or more expensive place doesn’t mean you should,” she said.

How to save money to upgrade to a 2-bedroom apartment

  • Save more – and spend less. Ramp up your savings and cut back on unnecessary expenses. Berger recommended trimming recurring subscriptions, cooking more meals at home or negotiating a lower cable bill.
  • Make passive income. Berger advised pulling in passive income to increase your savings even faster. This can range from moving money to high-yield savings accounts or money market accounts to using cashback credit cards.
  • Find a roommate. If you have your heart set on a two-bedroom apartment but aren’t sure you can swing it, finding a roommate can be helpful. “It might not be feasible to afford a two-bedroom by yourself quite yet, and having a roomie splitting that rent check could be a short-term solution while you build up your savings,” Berger said.
  • Move in with family. Continue cutting a “rent” check if you move in with your family, Berger suggested, but put that money in a savings account dedicated to your future housing expenses.

Methodology

Researchers analyzed July 2020 apartment and rent data from Zumper to estimate the cost of moving from a one-bedroom to a two-bedroom in the 100 largest metros in the U.S. metros were ranked from highest to lowest based on percentage difference. The AAA average cost per mile for 15,000 miles a year – 62 cents – was used to calculate the breakeven points.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.