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All Contents © 2019The Kiplinger Washington Editors
By Stacy Rapacon, Online Editor
| Updated for 2016
Some like it hot; others not so much. If you dream of a retirement destination where you get to bundle up for long winters and enjoy jacket weather in the summertime, then head north.
Many of the following locales offer an abundance of winter activities, such as skiing and snowshoeing, as well as a number of other year-round benefits, including low taxes and affordable living costs.
Check out these extra-cool spots if you're looking to chill out when you retire.
Estimates of living costs for retirees, where available, come from the Council for Community and Economic Research. Populations and median home values are from the U.S. Census Bureau. Estimates of states' average lifetime health care costs during retirement for couples retiring at 65 are from HealthView Services. Tax rankings are based on Kiplinger's Retiree Tax Map, which divides states into five categories: Most Tax-Friendly, Tax-Friendly, Mixed, Not Tax-Friendly and Least Tax-Friendly. Crime statistics are from the FBI. Average temperatures are from The Weather Channel. Retirement destinations are listed in alphabetical order by state.
Average low temperature in January: 24℉
Average high temperature in July: 64℉
Cost of living for retirees: 32.6% above U.S. average
Share of population 65+: 8.4% (U.S.: 14.5%)
Alaska's tax rating for retirees: Most Tax-Friendly
Lifetime health care costs for a retired couple: Above average at $426,047 (U.S.: $394,954)
Seniors don't seem too interested in facing the Last Frontier in retirement. Only 7.7% of the entire state's population is age 65 and older. But if you crave adventure—and don't mind long winters and vast swaths of wilderness—it pays to live in Alaska. Literally. The state's oil wealth savings account gives all permanent residents an annual dividend. In 2015, the payout was $2,072 per person. Plus, Alaska has no state income tax or sales tax (although municipalities may levy a local sales tax), and the state doesn't tax Social Security or other retirement benefits. No wonder Alaska ranks as the most tax-friendly state for retirees.
The capital city offers seniors an additional tax perk. For $20, residents age 65 and older can purchase a card that exempts them from the local 5% sales tax. It entitles you to free bus rides, too. Naturally, Juneau offers endless outdoor activities, from kayaking to whale watching, as well as a charming downtown.
SEE ALSO: Great Places to Retire in All 50 States
Average low temperature in January: 14℉
Average high temperature in July: 86℉
Cost of living for retirees: 9.1% below U.S. average
Share of population 65+: 11.0%
Iowa's tax rating for retirees: Mixed
Lifetime health care costs for a retired couple: Below average at $372,712
There are retirement destinations of all sizes to choose from in Iowa, one of our 10 best states for retirement. For retirees looking to live in a big city on a small budget, Des Moines is a good choice. Affordability is just one reason the Milken Institute ranked the state capital seventh out of 100 large U.S. metro areas for successful aging. Des Moines also boasts a strong economy, numerous museums and arts venues, and plenty of health care facilities specializing in aging-related services.
Average low temperature in January: 7℉
Average high temperature in July: 79℉
Cost of living for retirees: not available
Share of population 65+: 14.4%
Maine's tax rating for retirees: Not Tax-Friendly
Lifetime health care costs for a retired couple: Below average at $372,692
The cold never bothered you anyway? Then Bangor is a lovely retirement destination. The area's great outdoors offer cross-country skiing and snowshoeing, as well as dog-sledding and snowmobiling. In the warmer months, the same trails can be used for walking, hiking or biking. And the waterfront along the Penobscot River is home to the annual American Folk Festival, as well as other concerts during the summer. Plus, despite being home to the King of Horror, Stephen King, you have little to fear in Bangor—there were only 55 violent crimes reported in 2014. That's just 168.8 per 100,000 residents, compared with the national rate of 365.5, according to the FBI.
While the Pine Tree State can be painfully pricey, the relatively small city (population: 33,000) is more affordable than other well-known areas such as Kennebunkport (where the wealthy Bush clan has a compound) and Mount Desert (a favorite of the Rockefellers). The median home value in Bangor is $145,400, compared with $174,500 for the state and $176,700 for the U.S.
Average low temperature in January: 13℉
Average high temperature in July: 81℉
Cost of living for retirees: 10.3% above average
Share of population 65+: 17.6%
Massachusetts's tax rating for retirees: Not Tax-Friendly
Lifetime health care costs for a retired couple: Above average at $445,666
New England is notoriously expensive, but Pittsfield offers a small pocket of relative affordability. Overall, living costs for the retired population are higher than the national average, but they're more reasonable than in Boston, where retiree living costs are 39.6% above the U.S. average, or Cambridge, at 32.9% above average. Utilities and health care in Pittsfield actually fall about 5% below the U.S. average for retirees. And housing is also notably affordable: The median home value in the city is $176,500, compared with $330,100 for all of Massachusetts, $371,000 for Boston proper and $532,400 in Cambridge.
Leaf peeping in the fall may be enough to draw you to the Berkshires. But you have plenty to enjoy all year round, including excellent sites for camping, fishing, hiking and skiing. You can also enjoy musical performances at the nearby Tanglewood Music Center, the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra.
Average low temperature in January: 18℉
Average high temperature in July: 83℉
Share of population 65+: 9.3%
Michigan's tax rating for retirees: Mixed
Lifetime health care costs for a retired couple: Above average at $411,820
Another college town well suited to retirees, Ann Arbor is home to the University of Michigan with all its educational programs (including the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute), sporting events and cultural affairs. The university also runs the Geriatrics Center and Institute of Gerontology, which focuses on health care issues that come with aging. Along with its research and medical facilities and staff, the Center offers programs and classes to help older adults maximize their good health and independence.
In fact, Ann Arbor's health care facilities are top-notch, earning it a number-8 ranking among small metro areas for successful aging, according to the Milken Institute, a think tank. Along with quality health care, Milken recognizes the area's public transportation options as a winning attribute for older residents. A downside, however, is affordability. The median home value is $230,700, versus $121,700 for the rest of the state.
Average low temperature in January: 8℉
Average high temperature in July: 82℉
Share of population 65+: 12.7%
Minnesota's tax rating for retirees: Least Tax-Friendly
Lifetime health care costs for a retired couple: Above average at $403,562
If the cold winters and equally harsh tax situation don't put you off of the North Star State, Rochester is a great place to retire. In fact, the Milken Institute rates it as the seventh-best small metro area for successful aging. It offers an abundance of health care providers, including the renowned Mayo Clinic; hospital units specializing in Alzheimer's; and top-rated nursing homes. The local population also exhibits a healthy lifestyle, with long life expectancies and low obesity rates.
Housing costs won't wipe out your nest egg. The median home value in Rochester of $163,700 is below the national median of $176,700 and the state median of $187,900.
Average low temperature in January: 15℉
Average high temperature in July: 84℉
Share of population 65+: 16.6%
Montana's tax rating for retirees: Least Tax-Friendly
Lifetime health care costs for a retired couple: Below average at $381,285
Adventurous retirees (with a high threshold for cold winters) can thrive in Great Falls, located on the high plains of Montana's Rocky Mountain Front Range. This portion of Big Sky Country hosts its fair share of hiking, skiing, mountain biking and kayaking. The area has about 60 parks and 40 miles of trails along the scenic Missouri River. If that's not enough, Yellowstone and Glacier national parks can be great weekend-trip destinations; they're about four and three hours away, respectively.
The cost of living is relatively affordable. The median home value in Great Falls is $157,300, compared with $184,200 in Montana. But your tax bill might be less affordable; the Treasure State is one of the worst when it comes to retiree taxes.
Aaron Webb via Wikimedia Commons
Average low temperature in January: 9℉
Share of population 65+: 26.1%
New Hampshire's tax rating for retirees: Mixed
Lifetime health care costs for a retired couple: About average at $391,311
Where better to retire and "realize life while you live it—every, every minute" than the place that (in part) inspired Our Town's Grover's Corners? Renowned author and playwright Thornton Wilder spent many summers in Peterborough and penned portions of his most famous play at the MacDowell Colony. The artist retreat continues its mission today, hosting and inspiring talented individuals while they create. And it invites the community to its various exhibitions every first Friday of the month from March to November for free.
The real-life representation of classic small-town America, Peterborough is a peaceful home to about 3,100 people. There's a nice selection of restaurants in town and plenty of outdoor recreation to enjoy, including nearby snowshoeing, hiking, skiing and just taking in the scenic mountain views. The town's recreation department offers a senior fit program with $8 walk-in classes.
Bobak HaEri via Wikimedia Commons
Average low temperature in January: 2℉
Average high temperature in July: 85℉
Cost of living for retirees: 0.8% above U.S. average
Share of population 65+: 15.4%
North Dakota's tax rating for retirees: Not Tax-Friendly
Lifetime health care costs for a retired couple: Below average at $372,433
The capital of the Peace Garden State offers a strong economy that allows your retirement to bloom. Especially if you're considering an encore career, Bismarck is a good choice. It boasts employment opportunities for older adults, particularly in the service sector. For this reason, as well as the robust presence of quality health care, the Milken Institute ranks the city the fourth best small metro area in the country for successful aging.
If you're hoping for a more leisurely retirement, there are a number of biking and hiking trails and parks around the city, as well as on the banks of the Missouri River. You can also enjoy cruising, boating, kayaking and canoeing the river during warmer months. Living costs are on par with the national averages but pricier than most of the rest of the state. The median home value in Bismarck is $163,900, while the rest of the state sports a $132,400 median. A one-bedroom occupancy in a local assisted-living facility costs a median $41,010 a year, compared with $43,200 for the U.S. and $38,865 for North Dakota, according to Genworth.
James Bilbrey via Flickr/Creative Commons
Cost of living for retirees: 5.8% below U.S. average
Share of population 65+: 10.9%
South Dakota's tax rating for retirees: Most Tax-Friendly
Lifetime health care costs for a retired couple: Below average at $370,154
If you've never considered moving to South Dakota, perhaps you should. For one thing, it's really easy to avoid crowds there. The entire Mount Rushmore State is home to fewer than 900,000 people, or 10.7 people per square mile. (By comparison, New Jersey, the most densely populated state, holds 1,195.5 people per square mile.) But Sioux Falls is filled with advantages, including a booming economy, low unemployment and hospitals specializing in geriatric services. For all these reasons, plus the city's recreational activities (including regularly scheduled pickleball), the Milken Institute dubbed Sioux Falls the best small metro area for successful aging.
And all that comes pretty cheap for retirees. Along with low overall living costs in Sioux Falls, the median home value is $152,200, compared with $176,700 for the U.S. (The median for the state at $132,400.) Plus, the state's tax picture is one of the best for retirees.
Average low temperature in January: 10℉
Cost of living for retirees: 19.4% above U.S. average*
Share of population 65+: 9.4%
Vermont's tax rating for retirees: Least Tax-Friendly
Lifetime health care costs for a retired couple: Below average at $377,302
This small mountain city on the shores of Lake Champlain is a picturesque setting for tree-hugging retirees. Outdoor recreation is plentiful with miles of hiking and biking paths, nearby beaches where you can swim, kayak or paddleboard in the warmer months, and numerous skiing options in the area. An eco-friendly vibe permeates the town, from the businesses bolstering the city's economy, such as household-products maker Seventh Generation, to the local food movement feeding the neighborhood.
But being green isn't easy on your wallet. Taxes and living costs are high. The median home value is $216,800 in the Green Mountain State and $253,300 in Burlington. A private room in a metro area nursing home costs an annual median of $122,275, compared with $91,250 for the country. At least you can save money on academic pursuits; the University of Vermont will cover tuition costs for state residents age 65 and older who wish to take a class or more, even if it's for credit.
*Based on cost of living for retirees in Burlington-Chittenden County
1Flatworld via Flickr/Creative Commons
Cost of living for retirees: 5.0% above U.S. average
Share of population 65+: 9.6%
Wisconsin's tax rating for retirees: Mixed
Lifetime health care costs for a retired couple: Above average at $425,003
The Badger State capital and home to the University of Wisconsin, Madison has a strong economic base to support a thriving retirement. That's part of what makes it the best city for successful aging among 100 large metro areas, according to the Milken Institute. Other winning attributes: an abundance of quality health care, academic and other opportunities afforded by the university, and plenty of museums, libraries and recreational facilities.
The downside: Living costs are high for a midwestern city. Housing- and health-related costs for retirees are 10.8% and 12.3% above average, respectively.
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