Prescott Recognition

By William P. Barrett
Published on 2/25/2013

For many baby boomers, retirement is a time to try out something new—be it a new career or a new living environment. Perhaps you’d like to move to a place with lower costs or warmer weather or more recreational opportunities or better medical care. Whether such a move is imminent or you’re just beginning to dream, our new list of the The 25 Best Places To Retire is sure to offer some spots worth considering.

To compile the list, we crunched data on more than 400 cities from every state, looking at

Prescott Arizona

Prescott Arizona’s Whiskey Row

factors ranging from living costs and taxes to crime to the availability of doctors and the opportunity to stay active with outdoor exercise and volunteer work. This year’s list of the top 25 has locations in 16 states, across all four domestic time zones.

There is more than one entry in five states–Florida, Texas, Arizona, North Carolina and Louisiana. It’s no coincidence that these are all warm-weather jurisdictions. Climate is one of the factors we weighed–but only a factor. The list also contains a number of cold-weather towns, including Fargo, N.D.; Billings, Mont., and, for the first time, Bangor, Maine. After all, not everyone craves a retirement in the sun and many retirees want to stick to–or move to–a region where their kids or other relatives live.

To see the full list, click on the picture above. The listings are in alphabetical order, meaning that all 25 are considered meritorious and not ranked as 1 to 25.

Do you want or need to work for pay in retirement? This list doesn’t take into account the strength of the underlying economy or prospects for finding a new job. So unless you’ve self-employed or have a long distant consulting gig already lined up, you may want to look instead at a different list we published recently, on the 25 Best Places For A Working Retirement, which heavily weighs prospective job opportunities. Two of our coldest choices, Fargo, N.D., and Billings, Mont., make both lists. But a number of the Sunbelt locations on this list don’t make our working retirement picks because of their continuing high unemployment rates.

Some 15 of the 25 on our best list are new this year. There are a number of reasons for this. Every year we look closely at even more places, so the competition gets tougher. Plus, we’ve added some new metrics. The main criteria we look at, however, remain cost of living, median home prices and tax climate for retirees (an issue that Forbes has been tracking for years). These factors alone were enough for us to knock out every prospect in the high-cost, high-tax Northeast and the West Coast, with two exceptions, Bangor, Maine and Medford, Ore. (If New York or San Francisco, with all their cultural offerings, are part of your dream retirement, take a look at our picks here for the 10 top urban retirements neighborhoods.)

Generally, we sought communities with a cost of living below the national average, as calculated by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics or other sources. We also looked for median home prices below the current national average, which, as measured by the National Association of Realtors , is currently $186,000. Most of the 25 are way below. The cheapest is Clearwater, Fla., with a median home price of $116,000, followed by Bangor, at $127,000. Only two cities on the list are above the national average, Austin, Tex., at $208,000, and Prescott, Ariz., at $207,000.

When it comes to non-financial factors, besides weather, we looked at such factors as availability of doctors, crime rates and encouragement for an active retirement–good biking and walking trails (as measured by Bicycling Magazine) and a high level of community volunteering (as reported by the web site )

As for new metrics, for the first time we took into account rankings in the Milken Institute’s, “Best Cities for Successful Aging” report which weighs a wide range of factors, including some we didn’t rate separately, such as local investment in public and senior transportation. Nevertheless, the final judgments about which cities to include were entirely ours.

As always, we paid a lot of attention to tax climate. Keep in mind that the lowest tax states for working folks may not be the same as those for retirees. For example, nine states–Alaska, Florida, Nevada, New Hampshire, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Washington and Wyoming—lack a broad-based state income tax. But states without an income tax tend to make up for it with other, higher taxes, most notably, higher sales and real estate levies, which can hit seniors hard. Seattle, for instance, compensates for Washington State’s lack of state income tax with a 9.5% sales tax–no major U.S. city’s is higher. Texas imposes notably hefty property taxes. On the other hand, many states with income taxes give special breaks to retirees, such as light or no taxation on Social Security and pension benefits, and inheritances. (For more on state estate levies , click here.) After weighing all that, in our view, the best states for retirees from a tax perspective are Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Idaho, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Montana, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Nevada, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Utah and West Virginia.

Of course a good tax climate can be a double-edged sword. A relatively low tax burden might signal a lower level of governmental services for retirees to use. That’s one reason why we decided to add in the Milken rankings.

One thing this list doesn’t take into account is that intangible factor of scenic beauty. We might note there are some pleasant settings on the list, including Asheville, N.C.; Lexington, Ky.; and Medford, Ore. But maybe green or even mountains (like say, in Salt Lake City) aren’t your thing. And, of course, there are those personal relationships. Staying near children, other relatives and old friends easily might outweigh everything else.

Prescott, Arizona Entry:

Fast fact: Named for a Massachusetts historian. Pros: Reasonable cost of living, good state tax climate, good weather, above average air quality, low crime. Con: median home price above national average at $207,300.

Click here for article on

Best if you’re looking for: Small town
Median home price: $218,000
Top state income tax: 4.54%

Hot summers are usually a knock against moving to Arizona. Not so with this small town 100

Prescott's biggest draws: Mild temperatures; the vast Prescott National Forest; Old West downtown.

Prescott’s biggest draws: Mild temperatures; the vast Prescott National Forest; Old West downtown.

miles north of Phoenix, which boasts distinct seasons and temperatures that rarely hit 90° F.

All the better for exploring the hundreds of miles of trails in the adjacent Prescott National Forest, playing Prescott’s many golf courses, and enjoying its revolving door of art shows, craft fairs, and outdoor concerts.

While Prescott still looks like an Old West town (complete with saloons), retirees aren’t looking at a life on the frontier: The town also boasts quality health care facilities and enrichment classes for seniors.

By Alex Markels, US News & World Report
Sepetember 20, 2007

Wilson and her husband, Jack, 66, had been plotting their escape from Chicago for years, hoping to avoid its frigid winters and hot, humid summers. “I didn’t want to deal with extreme weather anymore,” says Elizabeth, 68.


Prescott Courthouse Square

Of course, when the Wilsons first arrived at the Phoenix airport, the weather was extreme, about 120 degrees extreme. But as Jack made the two-hour drive north to Prescott, the temperature soon dropped into the 80s as the Sonoran Desert gave way to scrubby chaparral, then to the cool ponderosa-pine-scented forests that surround the town at an elevation of 5,400 feet. After a day wandering along streets filled with boutiques, open-air bistros, and hundreds of Victorian-era buildings, there was no doubt. “Prescott [sounds like ‘press kit’] was exactly what we were looking for,” Jack says.
Set in a high valley smack in the middle of the 1.25 million-acre Prescott National Forest, the once sleepy outpost’s popularity among both retirees and younger Californians in search of less pricey digs has more than tripled the town’s population to about 40,000 over the past decade.

Of course, Prescott isn’t for everyone. Despite the clean mountain air, its mile-high elevation doesn’t agree with those with serious heart or lung conditions. And those who need quick access to an airport have just three daily flights from Prescott’s tiny Love Field on a 19-seat prop plane.

And while longtime residents are thankful for the economic boost retirees like the Wilsons have added—especially a doubling of the median home price to about $317,500 since 1997—Jack grumbles about a growth spurt that has brought new housing developments and a 500,000-square-foot mall to the area.

So two years ago, he and Elizabeth helped organize a group pushing sustainable growth. And after winning a landslide vote to change the city’s charter and rein in development, Jack decided to run for mayor. “I guess I’m an unsuccessful retiree,” he says of his election last week.

Not that Prescott is a bad place to be a working stiff. The digital economy has brought so many lone-wolf types to town that the downtown coffee shops are packed with folks plugging away on their laptops and BlackBerrys. Two thirds of residents are college educated, and with a median age of 46, “there’s a lot of people who plan to retire here but are still active in their careers,” says Jack of the influx of new residents. Lucky for him, “because I don’t plan on working [as mayor] forever,” he adds.