You’re looking to relocate to the mid-Atlantic region. Perhaps you got a new job or you want to be closer to your family. Perhaps you’re just looking for a change of scenery. Either way, you’ve narrowed your search down to Virginia and Pennsylvania.
Those are good choices! Both states have a lot to offer in terms of history, beautiful scenery, vibrant industry and an affordable lifestyle. There are, of course, some key differences between the two states — not to mention differences within the states themselves. Each offers a variety of experiences. Let’s take a closer look.
Virginia is located in the mid-Atlantic region of the United States. Maryland, Washington, D.C., Tennessee, North Carolina and West Virginia share borders with Virginia, which has a population of about eight million. The major cities in order of size are Virginia Beach, Norfolk, Chesapeake, Arlington (in reality a suburb of Washington, D.C.) and Richmond, the state’s capital.
In many ways, Virginia is two states: the urban and dense northern Virginia region mostly centered around Washington, D.C., and the more rural southern region where agriculture has long been the dominant industry. Southern Virginia also features major U.S. naval installations in the Norfolk and Virginia Beach areas.
Virginia encompasses an area of about 43,000 mi.², which harbors a diverse topography. In the East, closer to the ocean, you’ll find the Tidewater — a coastal plain region with low marshlands. The farther west you move inland, the closer you get to the Blue Ridge Mountains. These different terrains also play a role in the weather. In the east, the Atlantic Ocean operates as a moderating influence on the weather, while the higher elevations in the western part of the state create a cooler climate.
It’s not unusual in the winter for a single storm to produce rain in eastern regions while the western regions will get several inches of snow.
Mountains also play a role in Pennsylvania. The Appalachian Mountains split the state into regions very similar to Virginia’s, where the eastern half, closer to the ocean, has more moderate weather while the western half features a cooler climate.
Pennsylvania is bordered by Ohio, West Virginia, New Jersey, Delaware, New York and Ontario, Canada. The major centers are Pittsburgh in the west and Philadelphia in the east. Thirteen million people call Pennsylvania home, making it the sixth-most-populated state. Much of the population is located in and around the Philadelphia area with a smaller concentration around Pittsburgh. Other major cities in Pennsylvania include Allentown and Reading in the east and Erie in the west located on Lake Erie.
it would be hard to find two states that played more important roles in American history. Virginia was home to the first English settlement in North America, while Pennsylvania nurtured the birth of the United States.
A few more interesting facts about Virginia’s history:
- Virginia was once much larger than it is currently, but history has trimmed it down. In 1792, nine of its counties became Kentucky. Then, in 1863, counties in western Virginia supported the Union over the Confederacy and Abraham Lincoln turned them into their own state, West Virginia.
- More U.S. presidents were born in Virginia than any other state: Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, Harrison, Tyler, Taylor and Wilson. That is why one of the state’s nicknames is “Mother of Presidents.”
- Virginia is home to the second-oldest university in the United States — the College of William and Mary, established in 1693. The first American law school was opened here in 1779.
- Virginia is known as the Old Dominion State and the Cavalier State. Its motto is “Sic Semper Tyrannis,” which you may remember as the words John Wilkes Booth yelled as he jumped onto the stage of the Ford Theater after shooting Abraham Lincoln.
Pennsylvania offers its own unique historical story:
- English King Charles II gave William Penn’s family the land that would become Pennsylvania in order to pay off a debt he owed them. Penn originally just wanted to call the land “Sylvania,” which is Latin for “lots of woods and forests.” But Charles II said, “No, we’ll call it Pennsylvania after your father.” Penn, who had founded the state as a refuge for his fellow Quakers, worried that they would think he had named the state after himself.
- Philadelphia was home to the First and Second Continental Congresses and became the nation’s capital from 1790 until 1800, until the establishment of the District of Columbia.
- Pennsylvania had the first U.S. stock exchange, the first zoo, the first hospital, the first medical school, the first U.S. mint, the first oil wells, the first fire department, the first railroad passenger service and, last but not least, the first live theater in the United States.
- Jonas Salk developed the polio vaccine in July 1952 at the University of Pittsburgh.
- The only president born in Pennsylvania, James Buchanan, was the sole bachelor president and has been ranked consistently by historians as the worst American president for his failure to prevent the Civil War.
- Pennsylvania is known as the Quaker State or the Keystone State.
Virginia and Pennsylvania also have lively political histories that continue to this day. From the roles both played in the debates over the founding of America to their modern-day significance in American presidential and Congressional elections, Virginia and Pennsylvania residents love their politics:
- Both states fall into the category of “purple states” for federal elections. Virginia was a reliably red state for many years but has now trended blue in the past few election cycles while Pennsylvania, which had seemed to be predominantly a blue state (due to its long history of unionization) trended red in the last federal election cycle.
- It’s more or less the same story on the state level, but the politics of each state really depend upon where you live. In northern Virginia, the suburbs and counties near Washington, D.C. tend to be bluer, as are most of the state’s urban centers. More rural southern Virginia, which includes strong connections to the U.S. military, has been a red stronghold for many years.
- In Pennsylvania, it’s more of an east-west split with the urban areas around Philadelphia shading blue while the industrial areas in the West and Pittsburgh move more towards the red.
- If politics is one of the factors that tends to influence your decision about where to live, it should not make that much of a difference in either state. Both Pennsylvania and Virginia have vibrant, fluid political scenes that are often responsive to state or national issues and are seldom chiseled in stone.
While the political process may or may not factor into your decision between Virginia and Pennsylvania, tax policy is likely something you will want to be mindful of. There are some noteworthy differences in Virginia versus Pennsylvania taxes.
Let’s look first at the overall tax burden. Taxes are most definitely higher in Pennsylvania at first glance, but there are other factors that may be just as important depending on what age you are and what job you have:
- Pennsylvania ranks 20th in the nation, with an overall tax burden rate of 8.52%. Meanwhile, Virginia is 40th with an overall rate of 7.60%.
- When you look at the effective state and local tax rates on a median household in either state, Virginia ranks 27th, with 10.87%, and Pennsylvania ranks 41st, with 12.45%. So, in Virginia, you will pay around $6,000 a year in state and local taxes while in Pennsylvania it’s closer to $7,000.
But don’t let these percentage points fool you:
- Pennsylvania does not tax any retirement income, while Virginia does. This means there are more retirees in Pennsylvania than any other state except Florida. This could be an important factor depending on your age and your income.
- It’s relatively easy to figure out your property tax in Virginia, which charges 2.63% on real estate transactions because it’s based on the market value of the property. Pennsylvania charges 5.14%, but its system complicates the issue with a head-scratching system of property assessments. Virginia also has an annual car tax that Pennsylvania does not, which makes the two systems more even.
- Here’s another way these figures can be misleading: Pennsylvania charges a sales tax of 6% while Virginia charges 5.3% (although only 4.3% of that is state tax, while 1% is a local tax). Yet Pennsylvania does not charge sales tax on important items like food (“ready to eat” foods are not included), residential fuels such as oil, electricity and gas, and clothing, while Virginia does. For instance, if you have a large family and buying lots clothing is important or you need a big house that you know will be expensive to heat, this could be another factor in making your decision.
So let’s take a household that earns around $56,000 a year (the mean third quintile of U.S. income) and fits into the median U.S. household profile. What would they pay in taxes in each state?
- Your effective income tax rate would be 3.90% and you would pay $2,174 in income tax, which ranks 48th in the United States.
- Your effective sales and excise tax rate would be 3.40%, which ranks eighth best in the United States.
- Pennsylvania is one of seven states that uses a “flat tax system.” This means everyone in Pennsylvania pays a 3.07% state income tax regardless of how much money they make. Of the seven states which use the system, this is the lowest rate.
- Your effective income tax rate would be 3.49% and you pay $1,947 in income tax, which ranks 41st in the United States.
- Your effective real estate and excise tax would be 3.00%, which ranks seventh best in the United States.
- Virginia uses four different categories for its state tax system: 2% of the first $3,000, 3% between $3,000 and $5,000, 5% on income between $5,000 and $17,000, and 5.7% on any taxable income above $17,000. This means most people in Virginia have a 5.75% state tax rate.
Quality of Life
Both states offer a vibrant quality of life. Among the highlights of Virginia:
- Colonial Williamsburg is located halfway between Richmond and Norfolk. This 300-acre historical site recreates 18th-century Virginia. Not far away from Williamsburg, you’ll find the Yorktown Battlefield historical area, where the English surrendered to George Washington and effectively ended the American Revolutionary War.
- As we noted, Virginia is known as the Mother of Presidents. Mount Vernon, George Washington’s home, is just outside Washington and Monticello. Thomas Jefferson’s amazing house is located near Charlottesville. Both are must-sees for any fan of American history.
- If you’re close to the D.C. area, you can always drop by and see the Smithsonian museums, but plan to take at least two or three days to see them all.
- If history is not your thing, there are lots of other fun things to do. Luray Caverns in the Shenandoah Valley area must be seen to be believed. A true natural miracle, it offers a multitude of stalactite and stalagmite wonders.
- And if you’re looking for pure fun, try Kings Dominion Theme Park near Richmond or Busch Gardens near Colonial Williamsburg.
Pennsylvania has its fair share of sites to offer as well:
- You could spend days just in Philadelphia alone. Visit Independence Hall, see the Liberty Bell, pose with the Rocky statue near the top of the Museum of Art’s steps and try a real Philly cheesesteak.
- If you prefer chocolate to cheesesteak, you’ll want to visit “Chocolate Town USA.” Chocolate king Milton Hershey founded the town of Hershey, located about two hours from Philadelphia. Hersheypark, located in the town, features lots of fun rides and activities as well as more chocolate treats than you could consume in a lifetime. Truly fun for the entire family.
- Let’s not forget Pittsburgh. Art fans will want to visit the Andy Warhol Museum and the Frick Art and Historical Center. Have your kids take their picture with the statue of TV’s favorite neighbor, Mr. Rogers. Science and archaeology fans want to visit the Carnegie Science Center.
Cost of Living
When all things are said and done, Virginia ranks in the middle of American states when it comes to the cost of living:
- The overall index for Virginia is 108 (with 100 being the national average). Housing, which is a cost-of-living index of 132, is what makes the difference — especially near the D.C. area.
- Meanwhile, other necessities like transportation, healthcare and groceries all fall below the national average.
- Commute times in the suburbs around Washington, D.C. can be difficult. For instance, if you live in Loudoun County, which is about 35 miles outside the nation’s capital, you can count on a rush hour drive time of 75 minutes or more. As a result, Virginia ranks 43rd nationally in terms of commute time.
- Virginia ranks 12th in the nation in education, which breaks down to 17th for higher education and 12th for Pre-K to 12.
- Where you live in Virginia affects the cost of living. The capital Richmond comes in at 101. Alexandria, just across the Potomac River from D.C., is 142. But Roanoke in southwestern Virginia is only 86 and Lynchburg is 90.
- The average salary in Virginia in 2015 was $51,670 a year, which is brought up by the number of very high salaries in and around the D.C. area. Meanwhile, Roanoke’s annual salary was $42,630, but goes further than what you might make in Alexandria because the cost of living is so much lower.
How about Pennsylvania?
- The cost of living is a bit lower in Pennsylvania, with an overall index of 96.60. While the cost of utilities is high, with an index of 110, housing is an eye-catching 85.
- As in Virginia, where you live affects the cost of living. The cost of living in Philadelphia is 20% higher than the national average, but the median price for a home is $136,800. The cost of living in Pittsburgh is 20% lower than it is in Philadelphia, but if you’re a renter rather than a homebuyer, you’re going to pay the same price in both cities.
- One factor that may influence your decision to live in Pennsylvania is access to the internet — especially if your children have any say in the decision. Pennsylvania ranks 11th in the United States for internet access and 12th in broadband access. Compare that to Virginia, which ranks 43rd in internet access and 36th in broadband.
- Pennsylvania ranks 38th in terms of commute time, mostly because of Philadelphia and Pittsburg.
- Educationally, Pennsylvania ranks 38th overall but comes in at 50th out of 50 states for higher education. Pre-K-12 comes in at 11th place nationally.
- The average salary in Pennsylvania is $45,700. As expected, that goes further in Pittsburgh than it does in Philadelphia.
In the end, all these factors are important — but, ultimately, you will decide what the reasons are to live in either Virginia or Pennsylvania. Being close to your family may mean you are willing to pay a little more if they live in Philadelphia or Alexandria. If you have a business that is based online, perhaps Pennsylvania is a better option with its highly-rated internet access. If you like a smaller town with a lower cost of living, Lynchburg could fit the bill.
There are so many factors to consider. We understand how hard it can be to make a choice.
At CENTURY 21 Core Partners, we want to help make the decision easier. Our agents can sit down with you and look at the various factors involved in order to come to a decision that makes you and your family feel great. Contact us today.