Most of those who move in retirement chose to stay within the same state. In recognition of that fact, Forbes has developed its first-ever list of the best two places to retire in each of the 50 states—even those with high costs and taxes that we generally avoid in our annual Best Places To Retire list.
The states are listed alphabetically, each with a best and runner-up. For the complete list, click here.
Assembling this list was no small task. On a state by state basis, we’ve applied most of our usual metrics, looking for relatively affordable places (as measured by housing and overall living costs) offering a high quality of retirement living (as measured by such factors as doctor availability, crime rates, air quality, ranking on the Milken Institute list of best cities for successful aging, walkability and bikeability). Since this is a retirement list, we ignore data on local school districts.
The key here is relatively affordable. Frankly, there aren’t many places to live in, say, Hawaii where the median home price is below the national average. And in any number of states, especially in the Northeast and along the West Coast, the cost of living persistently hovers above the national average.
For this list, we even had to relax our normal standard of only focusing on places with a population above 10,000 (and preferably a multiple of that) as a way of ensuring an adequate housing supply for arriving retirees. Thus, our No. 1 pick in Alaska, Homer, has a population of only 6,000.
We also had to ease back a bit on looking for places with a strong economy, which we figure is useful for obtaining part-time work now and reselling a house down the road. Some states just aren’t powerhouses. (The conclusions we draw on the health of an area’s economy are based on statistics, including local unemployment rates as collected by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, and growth projections made by the Milken Institute.)
While some of the 100 names on this new list are among our perennial retirement favorites (e.g. Athens, Ga.; Fargo, N.D.; and Pittsburgh, Pa.), a good number haven’t appeared on any other Forbes retirement list. Among, them, besides Homer: Alton, Ill.; Eureka, Calif.; Mansfield, Conn.; Newark and Smyrna, Del.; Columbus, Ind.; Kenner, La.; Northampton and Pittsfield, Mass.; Brandon, Miss.; Durham, N.H.; Manchester Township and Voorhees, N.J.; Sandusky and Parma, Ohio; Sioux Falls, S.D., and Eau Claire, Wis.
To make our picks, we looked at data on more than 650 cities across the nation. Housing prices were drawn from a variety of sources: zillow.com, trulia.com, and realtor.com, plus quarterly reports of the National Association of Realtors.
Despite including two places from every state, including expensive ones, only a quarter of our 100 picks show a median home price above the national average, which according to the latest report of the Realtors is $269,600. But there is a wide range, from $828,000 in Kaneohe, Hawaii, and $630,000 in Honolulu down to $60,000 in Alton and $69,000 in Sandusky.
Cost of living data came mainly from bestplaces.net. That metric is calculated as an index, with 100 as the national average by definition. We had to throw out our usual practice of seeking places with indexes no higher than 110. So we also have a wide range here, too, from 219 in Kaneohe and 200 in Honolulu down to 77 in Sandusky and 78 in Alton.
Normally, we factor state tax issues into our best-places-to-retire evaluations. But since this list includes every state, relative taxation isn’t a factor. Still, you should know what you’re in or getting into. So besides noting which states don’t have an income or sales tax, we include info on state income taxation of pension or Social Security income, the top marginal income tax rate, and the existence of a state estate/inheritance tax. Some top marginal income tax rates are from 2017. Most of the tax data comes from the Tax Foundation.
We look at general rates of violent crime (murder, rape, robbery and aggravated assault) for individual jurisdictions as provided by Federal Bureau of Investigation, and in some instances www.neighboroodscout.com, striking from consideration places with out-of-sight violence. (The national average is 383 incidents a year for every 100,000 residents.) For health care, we use physicians per capita data from various sources, including the U.S. Census and the Dartmouth Atlas of Health Care. We also consider air quality, as measured by the Environmental Protection Agency.
The latest Milken Institute report on “Best Cities for Successful Aging” was particularly helpful. The study ranks 352 metropolitan areas using such factors as wellness, health care, transportation and economics. Figuring that retirees want to stay active and fit, we also review attributes that foster an active retirement. One source is the ratings of Walkscore.com for walkability and bikeability, meaning how easy it is to shop and get places on foot or peddling.
Over the years we have found that college towns often offer additional value to retirees in the way of cultural and other amenities, including cut-rate or even free college classes. More than a quarter of the 100 towns on our list might be classified as college towns, and we’ve taken note of that status in the individual write-ups.