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Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Retire in Paradise: The Top 5 Most Affordable Places to Retire in the USA

 Retire in Paradise: The Top 5 Most Affordable Places to Retire in the USA

An important caveat: No list can truly tell you where to live out your retirement. Real life is affected by factors that far outweigh any listicle’s best efforts, including where your family and friends are and whether or not you really want to move.

Still, we’ve gathered a few of the best and worst states in the union for retirees who are considering a fresh start—or are simply curious.

Best and worst states to retire in the U.S.

Using data such as the cost of housing and the average age of the population (with an aim toward a higher proportion of seniors), here are TIME’s picks for the best and worst states in which to retire in 2024.

Best: Arizona

Warm weather, plenty of indoor and outdoor activities, and an affordable flat state tax rate of 2.5% put Arizona at the top of our list for retirees. Given the state’s size and geographic diversity, those planning to move to the Grand Canyon State can choose between the majestic cliffs and canyons of the high desert (e.g., Flagstaff) and the rolling sands of the intermediate desert (e.g., Tucson). No matter where you go, there’s hiking, eating, and no shortage of art.

  • Population: 7.4 million.
  • Percentage of population aged 65 and older: 18.8%.
  • Median monthly mortgage payment: $1,544.
  • Median monthly rent: $1,958.
  • Tax on Social Security benefits: No.

Best: Indiana

With the 14th-lowest cost of living overall per 2023 data from MERIC, a flat-rate state income tax of just over 3% (with no state tax levied on Social Security income), and an enviably low cost of living (including lower-than-average housing costs), Indiana easily makes the grade for one of the best places in America to retire. Plus, its central Midwestern location means it’s easy to travel to children and grandchildren who’ve spread far and wide… or to have them meet in the middle at your place.

  • Population: 6.9 million.
  • Percentage of population aged 65 and older: 16.9%.
  • Median monthly mortgage cost: $1,195.
  • Median monthly rent: $1,382.
  • Tax on Social Security benefits: No.

Best: West Virginia

John Denver famously said it was “almost heaven,” and for retirees, it may be even closer to paradise. Tree-covered Appalachian mountains speckled with thriving but close-knit communities, a lower-than-average crime rate, a higher-than-average senior population, and access to some of the most stunning outdoor recreation areas in the east—all at the fourth-lowest cost of living in the United States? Yes, please.

  • Population: 1.8 million.
  • Percentage of population aged 65 and older: 21.2%.
  • Median monthly mortgage cost: $1,071.
  • Median monthly rent: $995.
  • Tax on Social Security benefits: Yes, but “only to the extent that the income is includible in your federal gross income.”

Best: South Dakota

Home to more than its fair share of magnificent sites and sights—including Badlands National Park, Mount Rushmore National Monument, and Custer State Park, just to name a few—South Dakota offers retirees willing to weather its winters access to a wide range of beautiful scenery and plenty of city to-dos in its metropolitan areas. Plus, it’s one of the few states that carries no individual state income tax whatsoever.

  • Population: 919,000.
  • Percentage of population aged 65 and older: 18%.
  • Median monthly mortgage cost: $1,415.
  • Median monthly rent: $1,065.
  • Tax on Social Security benefits: No.

Best: Georgia

While Georgia retirees always have, and likely always will, flock to its neighbor to the south, many might consider stopping before they cross the Florida-Georgia line. After all, Georgia boasts the 11th-lowest cost of living among U.S. states (compared to Florida’s 29th-lowest rank). It also mixes big cities, biomes ranging from sandy Atlantic shorelines to rolling Appalachian foothills, and some of the best Southern comfort food you’ve ever tasted. There is truly something for everyone in Georgia.

  • Population: 11 million.
  • Percentage of population aged 65 and older: 15.1%.
  • Median monthly mortgage cost: $1,501.
  • Median monthly rent: $1,990.
  • Tax on Social Security benefits: No.

Worst: Hawaii

As dreamy as it might sound to spend the rest of your days dawdling in an island paradise, there are plenty of reasons to rethink your ambitions to retire to Hawaii. Along with its substantial distance from, well, everything—it’s a six-hour flight at minimum to the mainland—Hawaii also has the single highest cost of living in the U.S., with median monthly rent and mortgage prices that almost triple those in, say, South Dakota.

  • Population: 1.4 million.
  • Percentage of population aged 65 and older: 20.4%.
  • Median monthly mortgage cost: $2,584.
  • Median monthly rent: $3,000.
  • Tax on Social Security benefits: No.

Worst: California

It’s not news that California has a high cost of living. But it also has a relatively low number of residents aged 65 or over, meaning retirees might find fewer peers to enjoy their newfound free time with—even in one of the most populous states in the nation. And it’s worth reiterating just how high that high cost of living can be: In sunny San Diego, the average home value tops $970,000, and that’s still substantially less expensive than, say, San Francisco.

  • Population: 39 million.
  • Percentage of population aged 65 and older: 15.8%.
  • Median monthly mortgage cost: $2,523.
  • Median monthly rent: $2,751.
  • Tax on Social Security benefits: No.

Why Arizona is the best state to retire

Arizona tops our list for its combination of warm weather, a high proportion of seniors and retirees, the many outdoor and indoor adventures in its countryside and cities, and a relatively affordable cost of living. Arizona has a lot to offer for seniors who want to live out their sunset years where the sun is almost always shining.

3 expert tips for retirement planning

Retirement planning is about more than where you’re going to live. Here are three tips to help you get the most out of your well-deserved retirement.

1. Consider more than just your finances

Obviously, saving for retirement is worth your time and attention. (According to data from the U.S. Census Bureau, almost half of adults between the ages of 55 and 66 had no retirement savings whatsoever in 2017.)

But finances are only one part of the overall retirement-planning process. To fine-tune those numbers, you must also consider other factors—like where you’ll live.

2. Start saving as early as possible

When it comes to planning and saving for retirement, the earlier you start, the better. Compound interest favors those who invest over the long run, so by starting to save at 25 rather than 35, you stand to gain an exponential reward for your efforts.

That said, it’s never too late to start. Fortunately, today’s savers have many tools at their disposal to make the process easier—including budgeting apps like Empower and investment planning tools like Playbook. You can even use an app such as Beagle to help you locate old retirement funds from previous jobs you may have forgotten about.

3. Remember: One size doesn’t fit all

There’s no simple answer to the age-old (and somewhat terrifying) question, “How much do I need to retire?” Online retirement calculators can help you determine your ideal personal goals based on your current income, projected cost of living, current age, and more.

How your state ranks for retirement


TIME Stamp: Consider states with a low cost of living and a high number of seniors.

Saving for retirement is much easier when you have a better picture of what you want your retirement to look like. Figuring out where to live is just one important step in that process—but a fun one to daydream about.

Frequently asked questions (FAQs)

What is the #1 best state to retire?

The very best place to retire is a highly individual choice that depends on various factors, including the cost of living and where most of your extended family is based. That said, warm-yet-affordable destinations like Arizona are popular, as are states like South Dakota that don’t levy personal income taxes.

Where is the safest and most affordable place to retire?

Affordability and safety are highly dynamic metrics that regularly change. That said, West Virginia is one of the safer states to consider retiring in 2024. It enjoys both a low cost of living and low crime rate relative to national averages.

What is the No. 1 retirement state?

TIME chose Arizona as its No. 1 choice for retirees. Thanks to its sunny days, temperate climate, variety of biomes and communities, and reasonably low cost of living, we think seniors would do well to consider the Southwest alongside the ever-popular options in the Southeast (we’re looking at you, Florida).

Where can I retire on $2,000 a month in the United States?

The amount of money you’ll need to live comfortably in retirement depends on many lifestyle factors—for example, will you already own a paid-off home, or will you be spending money on a monthly mortgage or rent? That said, choosing a city and state with a lower overall cost of living can make $2,000 stretch a lot further. Oklahoma, Mississippi, Kansas, West Virginia, and Alabama have the lowest costs of living per MERIC data collected in 2023.

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