Best States for Retirement – 2012

Category: Best Retirement Towns and States 

June 5, 2012 — When it comes to the best states for retirement the southern states dominate our new 2012 list. Every one of the top 10 states was from the southern part of the U.S., from Tennessee at number 1 (the northernmost state to make the list) to Nevada, the westernmost state. This year we’ve tried to make our selection process more objective. This list of the 10 best states for retirement uses a numerical scale with up to 1 point awarded on each of 7 factors related to economic issues, climate, and health care costs.

As always, we want to caution  that your best states to retire list might look completely different than this one. For example, this list might not work for you if:

- Your children or grandchildren live in another state
- Your income isn’t high enough to make taxes an important factor
- You won’t receive a pension
- Cold weather doesn’t bother you
- You have a strong preference for a geographic area like the mountains or city living
- You have enough money to retire anywhere you want.

Note that some of the states on our top 10 list do not have as many attractive places to retire as do others, which might make them less desirable for you. Every state has resort areas, places near the coast or a lake, or college towns. But states on our list like Florida and Texas offer more choices on places to live than Alabama, Louisiana, Oklahoma, or Mississippi. This might particularly apply to someone from the northeast who is looking for a more familiar environment to live in.

Fairhope Alabama attracts retirees from around the country

The seven factors we rated each state on were: Income tax, Taxation of Social Security, Taxation of Pensions, Property Taxes, Cost of Living, Health Care Insurance, and Climate. In most cases a full point was awarded for each positive applicable factor (e.g.; no tax on pensions), although a few states earned partial points. Warmer states received 1 point for more favorable climate. None of our top 10 states tax social security. All but Florida and Nevada have a very low cost of living.


The 10 Best States for Retirement – 2012
1. Tennessee – Taxes interest and dividends only, otherwise very tax friendly including low property tax. Lowest cost of living in the U.S. Contiguous to sunbelt. Has active program encouraging retirees to move here
2. Texas – No income tax, low cost of living, warmer climate. Property taxes higher than others in this group, although it offers some protections for seniors. Texas has 40 Certified Retirement Cities, including towns like Nacogdoches.
3. Louisiana – No tax on pensions. Lowest property taxes in the U.S. Low cost of living and warm. Louisiana used to have a program encouraging retirement districts but it appears to be inactive. The charming town of St. Francisville attracts a lot of retirees from everywhere in the country.
4. Mississippi. Pensions are not taxed, and property taxes are 4th lowest in the nation. There are 20 Certified Retirement Cities including towns like Hattiesburg and the college town of Oxford
5. Alabama – Pensions not taxed. Per capita property tax is 2nd lowest in the country. Fairhope and Huntsville are 2 interesting places to retire.

6. Arkansas – Taxes some pensions but not SS. Cost of living is 4th lowest in U.S. Hot Springs andEureka Springs are 2 popular towns for retirement.
7. Florida – No income tax, good property tax protection for full time residents against increases. Florida has dozens and dozens of nice towns for retirement.
8. Oklahoma – Taxes many pensions but low property tax. Cost of living is 3rd lowest in country. People looking for a low cost retirement by a lake might enjoy living in Lake Eufaula.
9. Georgia – Property tax higher than other states on this list. Generous income exclusion for retirement income
10. Nevada – No income tax, property tax higher than some

Please note that were several ties, which is why the ranking numbers look a little unusual. Kentucky and South Carolina were close at 11th and 12th. This link to our spreadsheet (best states retirement-2012) provides you with an excel doc that also allows you to customize the rankings/change the weightings in the event you want to use different criteria.

A word about each ranking consideration
Income tax. States that don’t have an income tax are triple winners, because they also get points for not taxing SS or pensions. It is difficult to generalize about state income taxes because most states have differing exemptions for very low income earners and/or for people over 65. Others have fairly low or high thresholds before income is taxed. Tennessee has a flat tax of 5%, other states have progressive rates based on income. Investigate before you make a decision based on income tax – in many states you might not pay any state income tax – or you might pay a lot.

Social security. It is no surprise that none of our top 10 states tax social security benefits, which supplies the bulk of most retiree income.

Taxation of pensions. This is one of the most complex areas for retirees to get good information on. Most of our top 10 states exempt all or most pensions. Some states exempt in-state, military, or federal pensions – but not private or out of state pensions. If you will receive a sizable pension — check before you move.

Property Tax. We used data from the Tax Foundation to develop our list. The 15 states with the lowest property taxes per capita got a positive point, the highest 10 states got a negative point.

Cost of Living. We used data from, awarding a positive point for being in the lowest 15 states, and a negative point for being in the 10 states with the highest cost of living.

Health Care Insurance Costs. Thanks to HVS Financial for providing us data on state by state cost of health insurance premiums. Their data estimated premium cost for a couple currently 65 years old, both of whom live to age 85. Premium includes Part B, D, and Medigap insurance. Although there are not tremendous differences between most states over this 20 year period, the top and the bottom are different (and they are all high!). Hawaii is the lowest with a total cost of $271,284, and New Jersey is the most expensive at $362,844. Florida was 2nd most expensive, at $362,544. We awarded .25 points to the 15 states with the lowest premiums, and a negative .25 points to the 10 highest states. Note that HVS Financial has an online health care expenses calculator that you might find useful. Thanks also to Robert Powell of WSJ MarketWatch, who suggested that we include this factor in our ratings.

Health care insurance costs are an example of yet another factor to take in consideration if you are shopping for a retirement state. And we need to point out that if you are not currently covered by an employer, COBRA, or Medicare – health care costs can be wildly different! Some states allow insurers to charge very high rates for individual policies, while others are more regulated. Check before you move!

Climate. States in or contiguous to the Sunbelt received a positive point.

We have done our best to make this list accurate and up to date. The states sometimes change their taxation policies which could affect these rankings without notice. If you are aware of something that affects these rankings, please let us know.