30 things to look for when deciding where to retire
30 things to look for when deciding where to retire
On Jan. 1, 2006, the first baby boomer turned 60. Today, 10,000 people from that generation turn 65 every single day and more than 65 million of them call the United States home. Although many baby boomers are already retired, the very last one in the U.S. won't turn 65 until 2029. When that happens, a projected one in five Americans will be 65 or older—up from just 14% in 2012.
Retirees aren't hard to find, and many of them are looking to pull up stakes, hit the road, and grow new roots somewhere else. Those who aren't among the multitudes who haven't saved anywhere close to enough money to make that dream a reality, congratulations and bon voyage—but first, there are some things to keep in mind. While retirees are probably excited to get started in their new life, choosing a place to retire is something they definitely want to get right the first time.
From finances to culture and politics to proximity, retirees have all kinds of things to consider before they go for it and sign that lease or mortgage agreement. Some of those considerations have to do with age, others have to do with health, and most involve the almighty dollar. There are, however, plenty of things retirees on the move need to think about that are more obscure and harder to define but nonetheless just as important in terms of happiness, satisfaction, and quality of life.
Are you retired or close to it, and considering starting a new life in a new town or city? If so, you've probably already done plenty of planning and preparing of your own. This list, however, can remind retirees about some of the most important things that are easy to overlook and give a fresh perspective on considerations that they might have already thought through.
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Low cost of living
For all but those with ostrich-sized nest eggs, cost of living—the price someone pays for the stuff they need depending on geographic location—is going to be near the top of retirement list concerns. Cities like Fort Wayne, Ind., and Toledo, Ohio are some of the cheapest metros in the country. Those dreaming about retiring in the San Francisco Bay area, New York City, or Honolulu, on the other hand, should make sure that dream includes a 401(k) balance with two commas in it—and then some.
A safe neighborhood
Since budget dictates options, cost is the first consideration—but it's important to remember that in American neighborhoods, cheap often means dangerous. After compiling a list of maybes that match your financial realities, the next step is to weed out the locations that are affordable because of crime. The FBI's Uniform Crime Report is the most accurate, most thorough, and most widely cited source of information about crime by location in the U.S., but it's also wise to check with the local police department.
Affordable health care
There are many joys to getting older, but physical health is rarely one of them. Health care costs increase with age and are a big part of the average retiree's budget, so unless money is no object, this should be near the top of retirees' considerations. A recent examination of more than 1.8 billion health care claims by the Health Care Cost Institute (HCCI) revealed a gaping disparity in costs, not just from metro region to metro region, but within individual metro regions themselves.
Easy access to health care
Cost isn't the only consideration when it comes to staying healthy, living longer, preventing illness, and maintaining a good quality of life in retirement. Millions of Americans live in areas that are cheap but that have insufficient access to health care—long rides, long waits, and poor choices for limited services. While there's not a hard-and-fast rule that applies in all cases, the sad reality in the United States is that, with few exceptions, rural Americans almost always have less access to health care than their counterparts in the suburbs and cities.
Proximity to a top hospital
If cost and access are the two most important health care concerns when choosing a place to retire, the third would certainly be proximity to a good hospital. Good hospitals—the list of which usually excludes safety net hospitals and investor-owned hospitals—have more specialists, partnerships with research universities, access to cutting-edge testing and diagnosis labs, and, of course, better physicians. U.S. News and World Report publishes a widely respected annual "Honor Roll" of the top hospitals, both by state and by specialty.
Access to healthy food
It's no secret that a good diet is critical to a healthy life, particularly as a body weakens with age. Millions of Americans live in what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) refer to as food deserts, neighborhoods and entire regions that don't have access to fresh fruit, fresh vegetables, and other healthy foods. According to the CDC, poor, rural, and/or minority communities are most likely to be food deserts where there are no grocery stores and instead only convenience stores and fast food.
For those planning on retiring in the suburbs or a city, walkability is one of the keys to getting the most out of a new neighborhood and keeping fit and active. Forbes recently ranked Nashville, Orlando, and Dallas as the top cities that are packed with affordable, walkable neighborhoods. MoneyTalkNews, on the other hand, ranked Fayetteville, N.C. and Tulsa, Okla., as the country's least walkable cities.
Safe, reliable public transportation tends to be concentrated outside of rural areas, but even for those not retiring to the big city, it can be an important consideration—not just for retirees, but for their friends and family members. According to The Travel, Seattle, Philadelphia, and Morgantown, W.Va, have excellent public transportation systems, while Miami, Youngstown, Ohio, and Birmingham, Ala., do not.
Low average car insurance
Even in cities that offer good public transportation, the U.S. is still overwhelmingly a car country that travels by automobile, and car insurance prices can be a big factor. Car insurance is cheap in states like Vermont, Ohio, and Idaho, where the average annual bill is only in the triple digits, according to Insure.com. Retirees who move to states such as Michigan, Louisiana, or Florida, on the other hand, can expect to pay more than $2,000 a year.
Many retirees sell their homes and rent their way through their golden years. But every single one of the top 10 most expensive metros for renters are on the East and West Coasts. This list includes San Francisco, New York City, Miami, Los Angeles, Seattle, and Boston. Those looking for cheap rent who still want to live in or around a city, might look to interior metro regions like Memphis, Kansas City, Mo., Toledo, Ohio, and Lincoln, Neb.
Low home prices
Those looking to buy might consider the Rust Belt when shopping for retirement homes. Virtually all of the top 12 housing markets where median home prices are still under $140,000 are in Ohio, western Pennsylvania, and western or upstate New York, according to Kiplinger.
No or low personal state taxes
Retired or not, federal income tax is an unavoidable fact of life. But in about 15% of the country, the state tax man does not cometh. Seven states—South Dakota, Nevada, Florida, Texas, Alaska, Wyoming, and Washington—levy no personal state income tax. States like Tennessee and New Hampshire do have state taxes, but they're famously low.
Low property taxes
Whether renting or buying, property taxes can be a minor inconvenience or a big chunk of your annual tally. A comprehensive WalletHub study ranked all 50 states by average property taxes based on a range of factors, including effective rate and median home value. Although the reality is far more nuanced, the concise takeaway from the study is that red states mostly have lower property tax rates than blue states.
A climate that suits you
Like health care and crime, climate requires a balance between cost and quality of life. Yes, Nevada and Alaska have no personal state income tax, but the former is almost entirely desert and the latter is frozen and dark for much of the year. So retirees should also think realistically about what they're willing to endure from Mother Nature before being lured by dollar signs.
Limited chance of natural disasters
Older Americans disproportionately get left behind or fare the worst during natural disasters, so it might be a good idea to consider Mother Nature's wrath before settling down. Popular Science points out that—while nowhere is truly safe—the Northeast is fairly benign in terms of natural disasters with the exception of winter storms. Wildfires and earthquakes ravage the West Coast, floods and severe local storms frequently punish the Southwest and Midwest, and tropical storms and hurricanes are the bane of the Southeast.
Population density that suits you
The rural-urban divide is part of a canyon that separates a painfully polarized country. Before choosing where to spend retirement, it can be helpful for retirees to think about what kind of neighbors they're looking for and how close they want to be. Whether separated by a ranch or an apartment wall, everyone does, after all, have to live with their neighbors.
A political climate you can live with
A sharply divided U.S. tends to look at the country's political landscape in terms of so-called red and blue states, but that's an oversimplification. Political divisions exist on a much more nuanced scale that varies from city to city and town to town within each state. The phenomenon might be best summed up by political strategist James Carville who once said: "Pennsylvania is Philadelphia in the east, Pittsburgh in the west, and Alabama in the middle."
An ideal blend of residential zoning regulations
Regulations can protect, but they can also be a burden. Before planting retirement roots, retirees will want to be comfortable with the local laws, codes, and regulations as they pertain to residence. If the ordinances are too tight, retirees could be forced to go through a maze of paperwork, bureaucracies, and fees for any kind of minor construction project.
Relaxed homeowners associations rules and fees
For many, a condo, co-op, or townhouse offers the perfect mix of owning the property but also receiving maintenance and upkeep assistance like renters do. The problem is that the organizations that provide those services, called homeowners associations (HOAs), charge fees and impose rules, both of which can be mild, severe, or somewhere in between. Retirees will want to know exactly what they'll pay each month, what their money buys, and how the regulations will affect their freedom.
From museums and galleries to theaters and festivals, cultural amenities give flavor to any city or town. It's no secret that big, expensive, coastal cities are packed with more cultural draws, but in places like New York City and San Francisco, the cost can be high. There are plenty of hidden gems that offer all the trappings of the big city without the big city prices. Earth Matters recommends Portland, Maine, Ashland, Ore., Marfa, Texas, and Santa Fe, N.M.
The great outdoors
The mountains of West Virginia and the ski slopes of Colorado have been drawing outdoor enthusiasts for generations. If you choose a spot with nearby parks, trails, beaches, lakes, or whatever your choice of outdoor fun happens to be, you can dramatically increase your health, longevity, quality of life, and mental wellness as you age. Eldercare Alliance research shows that older Americans can reap significant benefits by exercising outdoors or simply by spending time in nature.
For retirees who move away, smartphones and computers are often the gateway to the family and friends they left behind. Much of the rural U.S., and even plenty of people who live in bigger towns, spend their days negotiating cellular "dead spots" or dead zones, where spotty, minimal coverage leads to terrible or nonexistent wifi and cell reception.
A good senior center
Cities and towns across the U.S. are adapting to the crush of baby boomers joining their ranks by building senior centers that are nothing like the shuffleboard-and-card-night senior centers of old, according to the Boston Globe. Yoga, martial arts, computer classes, art, music, and good old-fashioned mingling can be found at these new senior centers.
College students and retirees are on polar ends of the demographic spectrum, but oddly enough, older Americans often fare best in college towns. According to The Balance, college towns tend to have better public transportation, lower cost of living, and more cultural, recreational, and educational amenities.
By moving to a new place in retirement, retirees can experience new people, new cultures, new food, new music, and new ideas just by heading to a diverse metro area. Four of the top 10 most diverse cities in the U.S. are in Maryland, two are in California, and one each is in Nevada, Washington, New York, and New Jersey.
Proximity to an airport
Travel is one of the most commonly cited retirement goals, and having a major airport close by can be extremely helpful in achieving that goal. A trek to a distant airport adds time, money, aggravation, and planning to every trip.
High median income
Although income levels shouldn't matter after retirement, many retirees soon find that they want to—or have to—go back to work. If that's the case, it's best not to come to that revelation after moving to a rural outpost characterized by low wages. Ann Arbor, Mich., Provo-Orem, Utah, Barnstable Town, Mass., and Madison, Wisc., have among the highest median household incomes in the U.S..
Nightlife, entertainment, and restaurants
Even if your partying days are in the past, there's an upside to retiring in a place that has at least some access to good restaurants, shows, and nightlife. Entertainment options can be one measure of the health of a town, and those amenities will surely be appreciated by friends and family who stop by to visit.
Proximity to your family (or not)
Among the single most important factors to consider when choosing a place to retire is a new home's proximity to your family. Familial connections can be crucial to mental health, wellness, and stability in the aging process. The reality for some, however, is that those three things can only be achieved if relatives are kept at a distance.
Similar community values
Retirement can be a new chapter in life where to make new friends and spark new relationships, and the transition will likely be a whole lot smoother if surrounded by fellow retirees. The top five destination cities for retired transplants are Henderson, Nev., San Antonio, Scottsdale, Ariz., Mesa, Ariz., and Las Vegas, according to a 2018 report from SmartAsset.