What Is Your Best State for Retirement?
Moving to a new state when you retire is a big decision. You trade what you know (and maybe don’t like) for what is usually a much different world – friends, family, church, clubs, and everything familiar. So if you are going to take that big step (and only a small percentage of retirees do, probably less than 10%), you had better make sure you know what you are getting into.
If you are considering moving to a different state to retire, the first thing you ought to know is that wherever you choose to go, it is a very personal decision. No list of “best states for retirement” will reflect the individual needs that you and your spouse or partner have when it comes to climate, lifestyle, cost of living, taxes, politics, culture, etc. You know if you want to be near where your family and friends live, those lists don’t have any idea.
Where retirees are actually moving
One way to approach evaluating the best state for retirement is to look at where other retirees are moving. Not that their decision is right for you, but their choices do suggest what is working for a lot of people. Using Census data from 2019, smartasset.com listed these states as the ones experiencing the most net migration of retirement age people:
Florida. There are a lot of good reasons to retire in Florida: no income or estate tax, a tax-friendly Homestead Law that helps keep property taxes in check, warm winters, and an endless variety of great places to live. It has a very long coast on both the Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico, plus countless lakes and rivers. It has bustling cities like Miami, Jacksonville, and Sarasota. Charming small towns like Dunedin or Fernandina Beach provide interesting alternatives as well.
Arizona. The Grand Canyon State is the usual go to retirement destination for people living in the western half of the country. Most of its regions have warm winters and beautiful scenery. There is a big choice of great places to live – down south in the mountains around Tucson, out west in more affordable towns like Apache Junction, in an active community in the huge Phoenix Metro, or up north in beautiful Sedona or scenic Flagstaff. AZ is relatively tax-friendly – it doesn’t tax Social Security and has relatively low property taxes.
North Carolina. A smart choice for a milder year-round climate. It features great variety in terrain – from the ocean to the piedmont to the mountains. Chapel Hill is a great college town for retirement, Edenton is a very charming old town on the coast, and Asheville is just one of the many towns in the mountains that offer great places to retire.
South Carolina. Both of the Carolinas are really popular with migrating retirees. South Carolina isn’t as populated and doesn’t have as many places to retire, but it does offer geographic variety like its northern cousin, plus slightly warmer winters. The Myrtle Beach and Hilton Head areas provide a great beach retirement, Clemson offers a college town plus nearby lakes, and Greenville has a fantastic and walkable downtown area. Both of the Carolinas are considered very tax-friendly if that is one of your considerations.
Texas. The Lone Star State offers a huge number of places to retire, many of them very affordable. Austin is a college town and outlier to the rest of the state with an exciting environment. Houston, Dallas, and San Antonio have large numbers of active adult communities that attract retirees, many of whom come from the Midwest. The Hill Country around New Braunfels and Fredericksburg offers a different and low-key kind of retirement environment. Texas has no income tax, a big attraction for many.
There are plenty of other great retirement states too.
Just because it isn’t the most popular doesn’t mean you should shut out other states from your retirement consideration. Any state can make a great place to retire if it meets your criteria. But just what is it you are looking for? Is it a certain kind of climate, lifestyle, cost of living, political or tax environment, availability of medical care, or nearness of friends and family? Are you thinking that if you sell your valuable home in California or the Northeast it would allow you to live a great lifestyle on a downsized budget in another area? Are you and your spouse or partner, if you have one, on the same page when it comes to what you are looking for? Agreeing upon and prioritizing these factors is essential to narrowing down your search. Websites like topretirements.com have state retirement guides and reviews of best places that will help you find out more, as well as spark your interest.
Time on the ground
Once you have selected some states that look like a good fit, it’s time to spend some time there. Let’s say that living in the mountains is very important to you. In that case, you might want to take long vacations or extended rentals in states like Colorado or Vermont to experience what it is actually like to live there. Or, if not having a state income tax is super important to you, explore one of the 8 states that have no income tax: Alaska, Florida, Nevada, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Washington, and Wyoming. If a certain lifestyle like being able to play golf all year or being on a lake is critical to your retirement happiness, spend time in a state that allows you to pursue that lifestyle.
The more time you spend planning and experiencing places the smarter your decision will be. Try to resist buying right away, and enjoy your retirement!
This site has been providing practical advice and unbiased information about places to retire since 2007. You can find hundreds of articles and thousands of community reviews at Topretirements.com/blog.