So you are considering an academic job in the USA… of course getting paid is high on the list of important factors. Money matters are a minefield because there is so much variation. Read on to learn some of the key elements of money that are different in America.
How much will you be paid
The biggest shocker for me was that not everyone at the same level across discipline earns the same amount at the same university. Positions in business are comparable to Australian salaries however almost all other disciplines will not pay much more than half what you would earn for the same position in Australia. If you are applying at top universities with strong research then you can earn double what you would elsewhere in the world. The salary will not be advertised and will vary a lot between institutions.
So how do you figure out what they will pay you? … not easily. You can use websites like Glassdoor.com however because all disciplines are different unless they have specified your area of expertise the amount is useless. Salaries are competitive so if you can find a similar university in a similar location and they have a Glassdoor salary that will give you a ballpark figure. If you are in business you can use the AACSB salary survey results. If not you just have to wait and see…
When will you find out the salary? Some universities will tell you before the fly out, some during and some after.
Make sure you consider the cost of living. I was offered a job in a large city and one in a small town – the difference in rent was $1500 a month. That is equal to almost $20,000 a year!
The 9-month contract
Your salary will be for a 9-month contract (unless otherwise stated). Most universities will pay this out over 12 months if you have a continuing position (i.e. tenure track). This means they divide your salary by 12 months however you are not expected to work during the 3 summer months. If you have a visiting or contract position they will pay only during the 9 months so budget accordingly.
What to do during the summer? Research, extra teaching, holiday, travel back home… whatever you want! During the interview process, it is acceptable to ask about summer funds. Research active universities will have summer research grants. Almost all universities will have summer teaching available completely optional for additional pay. Weigh up what you think you will want to do as the summer extra pay can be tens of thousands of dollars and make a huge difference to your overall salary.
When will you get paid?
US universities pay salaries monthly by direct deposit into your bank account. You will need to give a void cheque to the university so that they can process your pay. I know, a cheque! See below my insights on banking in the USA.
Surviving the first 2 months
If your entry to the country doesn’t get electronically submitted to your visa case in a timely manner (like mine) then the university will not be able to process your pay by the deadline and you will not get paid for 2 months!! You will need a cushion of money to get you through even if you do get paid your first month. The USA relies on credit history for everything and without one, you will be up for some large deposits. Want a phone plan (even bringing your own phone)? $500 deposit. Want to rent an apartment? 6 months rent up front! Want to buy a car on a loan? 15% interest rate! Read on to find out how to get around these…
A credit score is a number out of 850 that hypothetically tells businesses how likely you are to pay back the debt they are considering offering you. The credit score consists of: how much credit you are using, your payment history, age of credit, total accounts, number of inquiries. There are numerous blogs and articles on how to improve your credit history.
The catch is that the only way to get credit history is to have credit… and you can’t get credit until you have history so you are going to need a secured credit card. It takes a year to get good credit history so as soon as you have your social security number get to the bank. You will need to put down an amount of money that the bank holds and then you have that much credit on a ‘credit card’. I recommend $1000 if you have the spare cash however any amount at all will work. Buy at least 1 thing on your card each month and pay it off in full. There are articles and blogs that recommend only paying off the minimum amount each month however I paid all of mine off every month and after a year had a credit score of over 700 which is enough for almost all purchases. Also at this point, you will be inundated by credit offers from every bank in America. After a year I got a ‘normal’ unsecured credit card. After 2 years I had a score over 750 above which it doesn’t make a difference. Now my credit card company randomly increases my credit limit a few thousand dollars every 4-6 months.
Depending on where you are from banking is going to feel like you are stepping back in time. Times are slowly changing but get ready to write some cheques. Most Americans are very sceptical of electronic transfers and banks charge you a fee for them! When choosing a bank make sure you look into how big they are. I don’t mean physically – because here in the south the only thing bigger than the local bank buildings are the churches. The USA has thousands of small banks and the regulation is very fragmented.
Many small banks will not have international transactions and lots will even block other states within the USA. True story: a friend was road-tripping around the US in the summer and tried to put petrol in her car in Connecticut and her card wouldn’t work. She called her bank and they told her that they had a lot of fraud in that state so they blocked all transactions there – forever. Luckily she had enough spare change to put a few dollars of fuel in the tank and drive to the next state to use her card.
Cue the ‘big banks’ JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, Citigroup, Wells Fargo, and Goldman Sachs. The advantage is international networks but don’t expect much for free. Also if you are in a smaller town local businesses won’t accept ‘out of state’ cheques.
My recommendation: open 1 big bank and 1 local bank.
You know what they said about taxes… nothing else is as certain. While this is true, the USA taxation system makes the amount of taxes anything but certain. Income tax in America is taken by the federal government and also by some states as well. How much income tax will you pay? It depends on which state you will be in.
Other taxes that change are sales taxes (goods and services or value added tax). Again the amount will vary depending on the state you are in however it can also vary by town or street! Yes, I said street. When I lived in Manhattan, KS there was one block of the town that you paid .25% more sales tax than the rest of the town. When shopping remember that tax is not included in the price.
Check out my other posts on the USA academic job market: