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
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 VolunteeringInAmerica.org. )
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 Forbes.com