Let’s face it. After retirement, most people are going to have less income than before. But at the same time they’ll have the opportunity to do something about it–like move to a place with cheaper costs, or at least one more to their liking in terms of population density, climate or economic growth. It’s a big country and there are a huge variety of places out there.
Toward that end, Forbes has pinpointed 25 communities of wildly differing sizes and styles for its 2015 list of The Best Places To Retire. This year’s edition include entries in 19 states in all four time continental zones. Five states–Texas, North Carolina, Florida, Kentucky and Arizona–have two or more listings. Most of our picks are in climates considered warm or moderate. But not all. Fargo, N.D. is back on for the fifth straight year, joined by some other places with cold winters, including Great Falls, Mont.; Casper, Wyo., Pittsburgh, Pa., and Colorado Springs.
25 Best Places To Retire In 2015
For the full list, click on the picture above. Our list is in alphabetical order. That means there’s no significance to where a place falls on the list.
Nine of the entries were also on last year’s list. All but three–Port Charlotte, Fla.; Raleigh, N.C.; and Rochester, Minn.–have been on some Forbes retirement list in the past five years.
As in previous years, our emphasis continues to be our highlighting places that offer what we consider good retirement value.
There are a number of reasons why on our towns may come and go from our list, including changes in relative underlying economics. Each year we screen more and more cities, and the competition gets more intense.
This year, we weighed data on nearly 500 cities from all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The most important factors were economic: overall cost of living and home prices as compared with national averages, and general state tax climate for retirees (a point that Forbes has been tracking for years.) These are also the main reasons why there are just a few locations (Pittsburgh, Pa., and the Portland, Ore., suburb of Oak Grove) in the pricey Northeast and West Coast.
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For cost of living, we largely used data from bestplaces,net. Home prices came from a number of sources: quarterly reports of the National Association of Realtors, trulia.com, zillow.com, topix.net, bestplaces.net, realestate.com and coldwellbanker.com
Assuming money is a consideration, cutting housing costs in retirement may be a big objective. According to the Realtors, the average national price of single-family home is $208,700, up 1% in a year. Seven places on our list come in at less than $150,000. The lowest is Pittsburgh at $133,000, followed by Bowling Green, Ky., $138,000; Athens, Ga, $139,000, and Lexington, Ky, $143,000. Three have a typical price more than 10% above the average: Oak Grove, $279,000; Casper, Wyo., $245,000; and Blacksburg, Va., $235,000.
Cost-of-living is expressed as an index, with 100 being the national average. We generally look for places with indexes no higher than 105. Two on the list are higher: Oak Grove (115) and Boise, Id. (107). Five places have indexes at 90 or lower, meaning at least 10% below the national average: Abilene and San Angelo, Tex. (83), Pittsburgh (84), Bowling Green (89) and Lincoln, Neb. (90).
With a significant number of retirees working at least part-time, especially in their early years, we also take into account estimates of current and future economic prosperity. This might also provide a boost to home prices down the road if you decide to sell. These stats include local unemployment rate as compiled by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and future growth projections as gauged by the Milken Institute. For January 2015, the national unemployment rate was 5.4%, the lowest in years. Only one place on the list is substantially above that, Tucson, at 5.9%. Most are below, and sometimes way below: Fargo, N.D., 2.9%, Rochester, Minn. and San Angelo, both 3.1%; and Abilene, 3.2%.
Our consideration of a state’s tax climate for retirees takes into account the notion that what is low tax for retirees isn’t always the same as for working-age folks. Nine states don’t have a broad-based state income tax–Alaska, Florida, Nevada, New Hampshire, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Washington and Wyoming. But such states tend to make up for that with other, higher taxes, most notably, higher sales and real estate levies, which can hit seniors harder. On the other hand, many states with income taxes give special breaks to retirees, such as light or no taxation of Social Security and pension benefits, and inheritances. 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.
Seniors rightly worry about physical as well as economic security. So we also give weight to violent crime rates for cities and their surrounding areas as calculated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.We look at the number of doctors per capita as a proxy for the accessibility of health care. We also take into account the latest Milken Institute report on “Best Cities For Successful Aging.” The study evaluates and ranks 352 metropolitan areas using a variety of factors touching on health care, wellness, transportation. living arrangements and economics.
Besides safety, retirees now want to keep fit and active. So we look at ratings for attributes that encourage an active retirement. One we use is Bicycling Magazine‘s ratings of cities for “bikability”. High grades here go to Boise, Columbia, Mo.; Colorado Springs, Pittsburgh and Tucson.
Another is walkscore.com ratings for walkability, or the ability to shop and get places on foot (great for both exercise and non-reliance on cars). Top grades go to Lexington, Ky.; Athens, Ga., and Pittsburgh.
Considerations beyond our ability to assess include personal tastes and needs, such as staying near friends and family. We also don’t directly evaluate intangible qualities such as cultural milieu and scenic beauty. But perhaps 10 cities on this list might be considered college towns, which often provide enhanced cultural and other opportunities for their communities. This group consists of Athens (University of Georgia), Blacksburg (Virginia Tech), Bowling Green (Western Kentucky University), Columbia (University of Missouri, Stephens College, Columbia College), Lexington (University of Kentucky, Transylvania University), Lincoln (University of Nebraska), Pittsburgh (University of Pittsburgh, Carnegie Mellon University, Duquesne University, Chatham University), Raleigh, N.C. (North Carolina State University, Shaw University), San Marcos, Tex. (Texas State University) and Tucson, Ariz. (University of Arizona).
And a fair number of our 25 offer mountain or water environments, including Asheville, Blacksburg, Boise, Cape Coral, Casper, Colorado Springs, Great Falls, Logan, Utah; and Port Charlotte,
Follow William P. Barrett on Twitter @WilliamPBarrett.