The Best Places to Retire in 2013

Forbes
Mississippi River Bridge - Baton Rouge
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Mississippi River Bridge in Baton Rouge, La.

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.

[More from Forbes: Best Places For A Working Retirement In 2013]

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.

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.

[More from Forbes: The Best Foreign Retirement Havens]

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.

Alexandria, Louisiana
Fast Fact: Named for a coroner.
Pros: Balmy climate, above average air quality, good Milken Institute aging ranking, cheap living, median home price just $136,000.
Con: Crime.

Athens, Georgia
Fast fact: Home of the University of Georgia.
Pros: College-town cultural amenities, median home price $133,000, good state tax climate.
Con: Below average air quality.

Austin, Texas
Fast fact: State capital and University of Texas home.
Pros: Big culture scene, warm climate, adequate doctors, no state income tax, high marks for active lifestyles.
Con: Median home price of $208,000 is above national average.

Bangor, Maine
Fast fact: Named for an Irish hymn.
Pros: Reasonable cost of living, median home price $127,000, many doctors per capita, above average air quality, good metrics for aging, low crime rate. high level of volunteering.
Cons: Cold winters, poor state tax climate.

Baton Rouge, Louisiana

Fast fact: State capital and LSU home.
Pros: Low cost of living, median home price $168,000, good state tax climate, nearby college amenities, good Milken Institute aging factors.
Con: Crime.

Billings, Montana
Fast fact: Named for a railroad president.
Pros: Low cost of living, median home price $138,000, good state tax climate, abundant doctors, above average air quality, high Milken Institute aging rank, low crime.
Con: Cold winters.

Columbia, Missouri
Fast fact: Home of University of Missouri.
Pros: Aura of college town, reasonable cost of living, median home price $167,000, high doctors per capita.
Con: Weather extremes.

Fargo, North Dakota
Fast fact: Named for founder of Wells Fargo.
Pros: Low cost of living, median home price $158.000, above average air quality, high Milken Institute aging metrics, low crime rate, high volunteering level.
Con: Cold winters.

Huntsville, Alabama
Fast fact: Early center of rocket research.
Pros: Very cheap cost of living, median home price $176,000, good state tax environment, warm climate.
Con: Crime.

Mesa, Arizona
Fast fact: Most populous U.S. suburb.
Pros: Moderate cost of living, average home price $153,000, good state tax climate, warm weather, low crime.
Con: Low Milken Institute aging rank.

Orlando, Florida
Fast fact: Nicknamed Theme Park Capital of the World.
Pros: Low cost of living, median home price $135,000, no state income tax, good weather, above average air quality, good bicycling.
Con: Crime, low volunteering level.

Winston-Salem, North Carolina
Fast fact: Winston and Salem merged exactly a century ago.
Pros: Low cost of living, median home price $129,000, moderate climate, college amenities (Wake Forest), high doctors per capita, high Milken Institute aging rank.
Con: Crime.

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