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SNpa17

living on PhD stipend

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Hi all, 

I'm new, so apologies if this should be on another thread! I'm from the UK, and am currently applying to do my PhD in the US (UPenn). I would receive a stipend (I believe around $30k), and participate in some sort of teaching, although I am unclear if this is paid extra or included in the stipend. This is a much better deal than in the UK, funding for graduate study here is abysmal! However, I am a single parent and would be bringing my children with me (ages 10 and 8 currently). Would my stipend be enough to cover our living costs in the US? I'd want the children to have a really positive experience, and not be the 'poor kids in school' with rubbish clothes and no allowance, and living in a horrible student apartment somewhere. It would be fine if it was just me, I wouldn't care! Any advice on the realities of living costs on a PhD would be greatly appreciated! 

 

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You'd be "poor" in Philadelphia if you have 2 kids and no savings. If you aren't a citizen, or the kids aren't, you won't qualify for social services such Medicaid or SNAP (food subsidy). Medical insurance alone will ever expensive. Philadelphia is an expensive city to live in, especially if you want to live in a decent area and apartment.

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Yeah, on a PhD stipend of $30K with two kids in Philadelphia, you'd be low-income. You'd be low-income even if it was just you. Philadelphia isn't the most expensive city in the U.S., but it's still pretty expensive. A couple of sources say that the average rent for a 2-bedroom apartment in Philadelphia is around $1500/month. I don't know what a 3-bedroom would be from there - I'm not as intimately familiar with rents in Philadelphia - but I'd imagine the average would be closer to $1700-2000/month, which would be almost your entire stipend. However, I'm looking on Craigslist now and see 3-bedrooms in the Penn/Drexel neighborhood listed for lower than that, so hopefully you can chat with someone from Philadelphia or who has done school there and get a better grasp on real rents in the area - try the Philadelphia forum in the City Guide.

Also, health insurance in the U.S. is expensive. Your funding may cover health insurance for you, but you would have to purchase supplemental coverage for your children (unless your university is more generous than mine). You may be able to go through the school for that or you may have to purchase it on the market.

Teaching is usually included in the stipend. It's done partially in exchange - you do some teaching and some research.

Now, would you be able to live? There are many many families in the U.S. who live in our expensive cities on $30,000 a year. But by and large, they struggle. For reference the poverty line in the U.S. for a family of 3 is just over $20K per year, and families become eligible for a lot of benefits in the U.S. (health insurance, food assistance, etc.) at 133% of the poverty line, which is around $26K. You'd be making just over that. But that line is an average for the entire country - including our lower-cost and rural regions. And it's generally acknowledged that the U.S. poverty line is too low.

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Keep in mind cities in Pennsylvania also levy income taxes (almost 4% in Philadelphia), as well as federal and state income taxes. Utilities are expensive compared to many other cities, especially during the summer when you need air conditioning.

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@SNpa17 I am from the UK too, and will be moving to PA (although not Phillly). I will be living off $20,000 net for just myself, and I can't imagine only having a bit extra (taking off taxes) for kids. Yes the deal is a lot better than it is in the UK, one of the many reasons I'm going, but there are many considerations. One is the UK stipends are not taxed whereas American ones are. As you rightly say, the experience your kids have will be very important, and unfortunately $30k isn't much to play with in Philadelphia. Some schools are generous and include dependents in their health insurance (or at least a proportion of it) and this is a conversation you'd have to have with UPenn. Are you accepted yet? There are many great schools with great research and funding in cheaper locations so it might be worth having a look around and seeing if any other programs suit your interests.

In terms of Philadelphia itself, it's a pretty cool place but I was definitely a little freaked out by some of the sketchiness of neighbourhoods when I visited. Mind, I don't know where you are in the UK but homelessness, crime etc are generally much greater in the cities in the US than they are where I live in the UK (but I'm not in a city). I've spent a lot of time over there (I had an American boyfriend for 5 years) so if you want to talk more about UK perspectives in the US feel free to drop me a message. 

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Something that a lot of international students don't realise is that you don't have to be a US citizen to qualify for marketplace insurance plans, which might be more affordable than adding your children to your student's insurance plan. Most marketplace / obamacare / ACA websites say something like you must be a US citizen, permanent resident or lawfully present and as long as you are on F-1 or J-1 status legally, then you qualify. My spouse had this for awhile (we're Canadian, so also international) because their work didn't provide insurance and it was way too expensive to add my spouse onto my plan. 

You can even qualify for government assistance. Generally, if your income is less than 400% of the poverty line then you will qualify for discounted marketplace rates. It might be tricky though, since sometimes you don't qualify for marketplace plans if your school offers a subsidized plan. So, whether or not this will work will depend on the details. (See: https://www.healthcare.gov/immigrants/lawfully-present-immigrants/)

As for taxes, you should expect to pay lower taxes than other graduate students because your children count as dependents which increase your deductions. Each dependent is about $4000 of deductions, so including yourself, you have at least $12,000 in deductions (i.e. you would be taxed on $18,000 instead of $30,000). As a non-resident, we don't get to claim a lot of the other deductions though.

Finally, don't forget to look on campus for resources for grad student parents too. One place might be cheaper/subsidized housing. My school offers family housing at a very subsidized rate---there are apartments that they rent for $900/month when the market rate for the same unit would be around $1700/month. And, my school also offers grants of up to $4000 to help pay for childcare. A look at UPenn shows they do have similar things, e.g. http://www.familycenter.upenn.edu/grants.php It looks like UPenn's grant is more generous than my school (we can only use it for childcare) but UPenn also allows you to put that $4000 towards health insurance costs etc. It's not 100% clear if this is money available to international students, but it doesn't say citizens only so it might be okay.

 

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Don't you have to be resident alient, as an international student with F1 o J1, to purchase health insurance at the marketplace?

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1 hour ago, uruguayo said:

Don't you have to be resident alient, as an international student with F1 o J1, to purchase health insurance at the marketplace?

Well, what do you mean by "resident alien", as different authorities define it differently (e.g. the IRS considers F-1 and J-1 present past 5 years as resident aliens for tax purposes, but we are still non-resident in the sense that are not on an immigration track and we're not on track to be a permanent resident [i.e. green card]).

Review the information here: https://www.healthcare.gov/immigrants/lawfully-present-immigrants/ For health insurance marketplace, the term they use is "lawfully present" and this includes F-1 and J-1 (and their dependents). You should also review the information on your future state's marketplace website (if they don't use the federal healthcare.gov, e.g. in California, we use "Covered California") because I think some states might have slightly different regulations. Note that on the website, it lists "valid non-immigrant visas", so you definitely don't have to be on track to residency.

The marketplace requirement is to be legally present. When my spouse (J-2) got on the marketplace, the evidence provided was I-94 (proof of legal entry) and DS-2019 (proof of legal J-2 status). I know many other international students with partners or dependents on the marketplace plan too. 

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On 17/04/2016 at 7:21 PM, GradSchoolTruther said:

Keep in mind cities in Pennsylvania also levy income taxes (almost 4% in Philadelphia), as well as federal and state income taxes. Utilities are expensive compared to many other cities, especially during the summer when you need air conditioning.

 

@GradSchoolTruther thanks that's useful to know. I found this site http://www.electricitylocal.com/states/pennsylvania/ to try get a rough idea, I'm not sure how accurate the site is

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@TakeruK I know that they offer the option to purchase additional cover for dependants to add on to the student health cover. Thanks very much for the marketplace info and links, I'm going to check them out to compare. Health insurance is a minefield! As for housing, I would actually prefer to live outside the city anyway. That's what I do at the moment, I currently commute 1 and a half hours each way into school, so it's not a problem. I have looked at real estate sites for the surrounding suburbs to get an idea of size and prices. As several of you have pointed out though, there are the tax and utility costs to consider on top of that. Thanks everyone for your massively useful feedback, I'm glad I started all this research early! 

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On 4/17/2016 at 10:49 AM, juilletmercredi said:

Yeah, on a PhD stipend of $30K with two kids in Philadelphia, you'd be low-income. You'd be low-income even if it was just you. Philadelphia isn't the most expensive city in the U.S., but it's still pretty expensive. A couple of sources say that the average rent for a 2-bedroom apartment in Philadelphia is around $1500/month. I don't know what a 3-bedroom would be from there - I'm not as intimately familiar with rents in Philadelphia - but I'd imagine the average would be closer to $1700-2000/month, which would be almost your entire stipend. However, I'm looking on Craigslist now and see 3-bedrooms in the Penn/Drexel neighborhood listed for lower than that, so hopefully you can chat with someone from Philadelphia or who has done school there and get a better grasp on real rents in the area - try the Philadelphia forum in the City Guide.

Also, health insurance in the U.S. is expensive. Your funding may cover health insurance for you, but you would have to purchase supplemental coverage for your children (unless your university is more generous than mine). You may be able to go through the school for that or you may have to purchase it on the market.

Teaching is usually included in the stipend. It's done partially in exchange - you do some teaching and some research.

Now, would you be able to live? There are many many families in the U.S. who live in our expensive cities on $30,000 a year. But by and large, they struggle. For reference the poverty line in the U.S. for a family of 3 is just over $20K per year, and families become eligible for a lot of benefits in the U.S. (health insurance, food assistance, etc.) at 133% of the poverty line, which is around $26K. You'd be making just over that. But that line is an average for the entire country - including our lower-cost and rural regions. And it's generally acknowledged that the U.S. poverty line is too low.

Hello SNpa17...

I'm from Philly - you can get a good apartment for $600-700. My mother raised two us on less than 20K without welfare and we lived in decent areas. Look at Mt. Airy, Germantown, and West Oak Lane. These are safe areas with trains nearby to get downtown. You can do it!!!

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14 hours ago, SNpa17 said:

@TakeruK I know that they offer the option to purchase additional cover for dependants to add on to the student health cover. Thanks very much for the marketplace info and links, I'm going to check them out to compare. Health insurance is a minefield! As for housing, I would actually prefer to live outside the city anyway. That's what I do at the moment, I currently commute 1 and a half hours each way into school, so it's not a problem. I have looked at real estate sites for the surrounding suburbs to get an idea of size and prices. As several of you have pointed out though, there are the tax and utility costs to consider on top of that. Thanks everyone for your massively useful feedback, I'm glad I started all this research early! 

Hi I'm from Philadelphia so I wanted to give you some insight! $1400 is not the average price of apartments. Living around UPenn will definitely cost you.  You can find some for cheaper that are still in decent neighborhoods (Mt. Airy, West Oak Lane) as stated above. I just want to caution you about living in the suburbs for two reasons. Philadelphia has horrible traffic and you may have to pay double taxes (taxes for where you work-Philadelphia and taxes where you live. 

Let me know if you have any questions! 

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2 hours ago, Love3 said:

Hi I'm from Philadelphia so I wanted to give you some insight! $1400 is not the average price of apartments. Living around UPenn will definitely cost you.  You can find some for cheaper that are still in decent neighborhoods (Mt. Airy, West Oak Lane) as stated above. I just want to caution you about living in the suburbs for two reasons. Philadelphia has horrible traffic and you may have to pay double taxes (taxes for where you work-Philadelphia and taxes where you live. 

Let me know if you have any questions! 

Ditto on the suburbs...I would not do it. There are nice areas of West Philly, too, in University City... and South Philadelphia bordering Center City (Graduate Hospital).

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On 18/4/2016 at 7:41 PM, TakeruK said:

Well, what do you mean by "resident alien", as different authorities define it differently (e.g. the IRS considers F-1 and J-1 present past 5 years as resident aliens for tax purposes, but we are still non-resident in the sense that are not on an immigration track and we're not on track to be a permanent resident [i.e. green card]).

Review the information here: https://www.healthcare.gov/immigrants/lawfully-present-immigrants/ For health insurance marketplace, the term they use is "lawfully present" and this includes F-1 and J-1 (and their dependents). You should also review the information on your future state's marketplace website (if they don't use the federal healthcare.gov, e.g. in California, we use "Covered California") because I think some states might have slightly different regulations. Note that on the website, it lists "valid non-immigrant visas", so you definitely don't have to be on track to residency.

The marketplace requirement is to be legally present. When my spouse (J-2) got on the marketplace, the evidence provided was I-94 (proof of legal entry) and DS-2019 (proof of legal J-2 status). I know many other international students with partners or dependents on the marketplace plan too. 

Thanks for the info! 

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I'm from Philly - you can get a good apartment for $600-700. My mother raised two us on less than 20K without welfare and we lived in decent areas. Look at Mt. Airy, Germantown, and West Oak Lane. These are safe areas with trains nearby to get downtown. You can do it!!!

A good 2 to 3 bedroom apartment? I'm skeptical. I'm from Atlanta, which is far cheaper than Philadelphia as far as housing prices go, and you can't even get a good 2-3 bedroom apartment in Atlanta for $600-700 a month. At minimum in Atlanta, you're going to pay around $900-1000 per month for that much.

Poking around on Craigslist and Apartments.com I did find some decent two-bedroom apartments relatively close to the university for $1000-1500 a month. It's harder to find one in the $800-1000 range, and there are few to none in the immediate area of the university that I saw, but there are some in Philly overall that you might be able to commute to. The only 2-bedroom apartments I saw that were less than $800 a month were in Camden. (And this is assuming you want your kids to share a room.)

Like I said in my first post - it's not a question of whether it's possible, because it certainly is; there are millions of families in the U.S. who live in expensive areas of the country on very little. The OP's question was whether or not she'd be poor, and the reality of it is as a single mom with two kids on $30K in Philadelphia, yes, she'd be very close to poor. My cousin raises two small children in the suburbs just outside of Philly (on the NJ side) on more than that, and it's a struggle for her sometimes - and she's got lots of family support in the area (free childcare for her kids in the form of her mother and our aunts; all three of her brothers live in the area and have children; we have lots of other family and friends there). It's a personal choice for the OP, of course, but she won't be living a middle-class lifestyle on $30K with two young children in Philadelphia.

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Generally it's a good rule of thumb to not pay more than 40% of your income in rent which for you would be 1k a month. You'll probably have to get closer to 50% of your income a month though living in an urban area. I calculated out once the minimum I could live on a year and it came out to about 14k but that's bare bones (0 entertainment budget but car insurance, cellphone, etc) and I don't have kids so I only pay about $700 in living expenses a month. With two kids that would be much harder considering that your kids will be close to that age where they eat and grow a lot. Since you don't need daycare which is expensive in the states you should be OK. Your kids will be relatively "poor" but you should be able to make ends meet. If I were in your shoes I would take on extra work if you could BEFORE you start your PhD to build up a bit of a nest egg (5k would be ok but anything about 8k would be much better), that way if your kids need new clothes or shoes or other random expenses you'll be covered for a while. Also your kids are near that age where they could put up some extra work for themselves (raking leaves, shoveling driveways, helping neighbors, etc). I did that as a kid I probably brought in a 500-$1000 a year and much more when I entered high school so I could buy things that I wanted. 

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On 18/4/2016 at 6:41 PM, TakeruK said:

Well, what do you mean by "resident alien", as different authorities define it differently (e.g. the IRS considers F-1 and J-1 present past 5 years as resident aliens for tax purposes, but we are still non-resident in the sense that are not on an immigration track and we're not on track to be a permanent resident [i.e. green card]).

Review the information here: https://www.healthcare.gov/immigrants/lawfully-present-immigrants/ For health insurance marketplace, the term they use is "lawfully present" and this includes F-1 and J-1 (and their dependents). You should also review the information on your future state's marketplace website (if they don't use the federal healthcare.gov, e.g. in California, we use "Covered California") because I think some states might have slightly different regulations. Note that on the website, it lists "valid non-immigrant visas", so you definitely don't have to be on track to residency.

The marketplace requirement is to be legally present. When my spouse (J-2) got on the marketplace, the evidence provided was I-94 (proof of legal entry) and DS-2019 (proof of legal J-2 status). I know many other international students with partners or dependents on the marketplace plan too. 

Hey there. I am about to apply. The only thing that worries me about obamacare and international students is that to get the tax credit you have to declare your dependents in your tax form. However, non resident aliens cannot have dependents. So, how did you solve this?

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8 hours ago, uruguayo said:

Hey there. I am about to apply. The only thing that worries me about obamacare and international students is that to get the tax credit you have to declare your dependents in your tax form. However, non resident aliens cannot have dependents. So, how did you solve this?

As far as I know, you cannot solve this. Non-resident aliens will be unable to get the tax credit. Note that there are two levels of premium reduction for ACA plans (at least in California). There is an "instant" premium reduction based on family size and income. If you are eligible for this (the income level has to be really really low though), you'll be offered plans at the reduced/subsidized rates. I think you must choose a Silver plan or higher to get this subsidy. 

Another thing to note is that the ACA law is changing each year and it seems like every year, there is a new interpretation or a new part of the law added. Maybe there will be a way for Non-Resident Aliens to get a tax credit for ACA plans in the future.

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