What Is The Cost Of Living In Utah Vs. California?

Jessica Stone
by Jessica Stone

Although California has long been considered one of the most highly desired places to live in the U.S., you can’t deny that people are leaving and heading to other states in the country. In fact, nearly 18,000 Californians moved to Utah in 2019 alone. With its low crime rates, high quality of life, affordable housing market, job opportunities, and access to numerous breathtaking national parks, many view Utah as a more advantageous place to live than California. But, how do these two states stack up in terms of cost of living?

The cost of living index in Utah is 110.8, meaning it is only around 11% more expensive to live in Utah than the national average (100). California, on the other hand, has a cost of living index of 149.9, so it is considerably more expensive than both Utah and the national average. Utah’s median home price is $458,900, which is about 57% higher than the national average of $291,700. Meanwhile, the median home price in California is $684,800 – almost 50% higher than Utah.

Aside from median housing prices, let’s examine in detail how the cost of living compares in Utah vs. California.

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Housing Market in Utah vs. California

When you evaluate the fact that the median home price in Utah is close to 460,000, it is substantially more affordable to purchase a home here than in the state of California. In fact, you’re looking at spending almost double the amount on a house in California, with a median home price of nearly $700,000.

In 2020, the national housing market, especially in the West, saw record-breaking home sales. Although the home sales in Utah’s most populous county – Salt Lake City – seem to be slowing down, 2021 is projected to be the second-highest year for home sales ever. A slight slowdown in the summer was likely caused by higher prices and fewer listings on the market. While sales have slowed, the competition remains and multiple offers are common on most properties.

While the competition is fierce in Utah and housing prices are high, prices are still far more affordable than in California. California’s median home price hit a record high in May of this year and the state’s affordable housing crisis persists. As a result, Californians are flocking to rural locations in the state or leaving the state entirely, in search of cheaper housing.

Home Prices in Utah vs. California Comparison

Median home prices are ultimately based on the specific city and county that you live in, varying quite a bit across both Utah and California. The table below outlines some of the major cities across both Utah and California, along with their associated median home prices:

City Median Home Price
Los Angeles, CA$883,400
San Francisco, CA$1,471,200
San Diego, CA$812,100
Salt Lake City, UT$523,400
Park City, UT$1,116,500
Ogden, UT$325,400

As is evident above, more affordable housing can be considered a major advantage of living in Utah over California. Of course, homes are quite a bit more expensive in places like Park City, Utah, but if you opt to settle down in smaller cities like Sandy, Layton, Logan, and Orem, you’ll enjoy cheaper median home prices. In some cases, they are even below the national average.

While home prices in Utah may be higher than other states in the U.S., they are between 60 and 65 percent cheaper than California.

Rent Prices in Utah vs. California

With a statewide average rent of $1,037, Utah can be considered one of the more affordable places to rent in the U.S. Of course, the actual rent you will pay depends on the city you live in Utah. For example, apartments in Provo are considered the most expensive, with an average rent of $1,511 per month. Whereas, Ogden residents enjoy the cheapest rents, at just $1,051 per month.

With that said, refer to the following table for the average rent in some of the various cities across the state of Utah:

City Average Rent
Salt Lake City, UT$1,394
Park City, UT$1,425
Provo, UT$1,511
Ogden, UT$1,051
Midvale, UT$1,148
Sandy, UT$1,345

Like Utah, rental rates in California differ based on where you live in the state. With a statewide average rent of $1,503 per month, California is the second most expensive state for renters. Though, it’s important to note, that some cities in California have the nation’s highest reported rental prices – like San Francisco’s average monthly rent of $3,102.

The following table provides a more well-rounded look at the average rental prices you can expect in some of the most popular cities in California:

City Average Rent
Los Angeles, CA$2,518
San Francisco, CA$3,102
San Diego, CA$2,433
Long Beach, CA$2,333
Santa Clarita, CA$2,306
San Bernardino, CA$1,575

Taxes in Utah vs. California

There are some noteworthy differences between the taxes in Utah versus the taxes in California, highlighted in detail below.

State Income Tax

In Utah, there is a single personal income tax that has a flat rate of 4.95%. This simply means that there is a flat rate that is paid by all income earners in the state – 4.95% of their taxable income. Taxable income is determined by subtracting all personal exemptions from the total income. In the state of Utah, you can claim a personal exemption of $579 for each of the dependents that you claim on your federal tax return.

Unlike Utah, California has what is known as a progressive income tax. Instead of a flat rate for all income earners, the state income tax that you pay in California is based on income brackets. California has ten total income brackets, with the lowest earners paying only 1% and the highest earners paying 13.3%. This top marginal rate is the highest in the country, but only applies to Californians who make over $1 million in taxable income.

Sales Tax

Utah has both state and local sales tax rates. The state rate is 4.85% and the local rates, which are collected at the city and county level, range from as little as 1.25% to as much as 4.20%. This means that the actual sales tax rate in Utah ranges from 6.10% to 9.05%. With this in mind, Utah’s sales tax is pretty on par with the national average.

California also collects a sales tax on goods and services. Although, the state is known for having the highest base sales tax rate in the country, at 7.25%. Because of the numerous additional city and county sales taxes, most California cities actually have much higher rates. In fact, less than half of the cities in California have a sales tax rate of 7.25%. For example, the sales tax rate in Los Angeles County is 9.50%, but the rate in Glendale (located in LA County) is a staggering 10.25%.

Property Tax

Fortunately, Utah has some of the lowest property tax rates in the nation. The total amount of taxes paid each year as a percentage of the home’s market value – or statewide average effective tax rate – is just 0.58%. This rate is the 11th-lowest in the U.S.

As far as property taxes go in California, the average effective rate is 0.73%. This is considerably lower than the national average of 1.07%, but still higher than Utah’s property taxes. Proposition 13 was passed in 1978, which set the maximum allowable property tax rate in California at 1% of the home’s assessed value. It also constrained the increase in assessed value to 2% every year, unless the home had undergone construction or changed ownership.

This law has continued to help property tax payments in California stay below the national average.

Taxes in Utah vs. California Comparison

StateIncome TaxSales TaxProperty Tax
Utah4.95% flat rate6.10% – 9.05%0.58% (average effective rate)
California1% – 13.3%7.25% – 10.50%0.73% (average effective rate)

Transportation Costs in Utah vs. California

Whether you plan to settle down in Utah or California, transportation costs are another factor that you must consider when determining cost of living. Transportation costs include things like bus fares, gas prices, vehicle purchase costs, transit passes, and other public transportation expenses. The transportation costs in Utah are almost 10% lower than the national average, likely contributed to the gas prices being significantly more affordable.

Additionally, with California’s transportation cost index of 133.1 and Utah’s transportation cost index of 91.2, these transportation expenses are almost 50% more in California than Utah.

Cost FactorUtahCalifornia
Gallon of gas$2.60$3.48
Monthly public transit pass$64.12$67.11
Taxi trip in downtown (approx. five miles)$16.83$17.42
New Volkswagen Golf$23,297$23,327

Entertainment & Miscellaneous Costs in Utah vs. California

Cost FactorAverage Price in UtahAverage Price in California
Monthly local gym membership$26.72$47.20
Movie ticket$9.52$12.93
Pack of cigarettes$6.75$9.22
Domestic beer (1 pint)$4.19$5.83
Cappuccino (mid-range area)$4.60$4.39
Pair of running shoes$76.72$77.14
Fast food combo meal$7.71$8.29

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Utah vs. California: Which is More Expensive?

When you consider cost of living index, both Utah and California sit above the national average in terms of affordability. However, when you stack these two states against each other, it is about 35% more expensive to live in California than Utah. The majority of the cost savings in Utah is contributed to cheaper housing costs, with Utah being about 40% more affordable. In fact, this is one of the main reasons that California residents choose to relocate to the Beehive State.

Though, in addition to housing costs, healthcare, groceries, utilities, transportation, childcare, and pretty much everything else is cheaper in Utah than California.

Jessica Stone
Jessica Stone

Jessica considers herself a home improvement and design enthusiast. She grew up surrounded by constant home improvement projects and owes most of what she knows to helping her dad renovate her childhood home. Being a Los Angeles resident, Jessica spends a lot of her time looking for her next DIY project and sharing her love for home design.

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