most affordable places to retireAre cost of living expenses a part of your retirement planning? They should be. An article in a recent issue of AARP The Magazine absolutely shocked me. It listed the most affordable places to retire. Yet Maine, which was on the list, has a property tax rate of 14.53 percent! With the average cost of a house around $200,000, your property taxes would be $28,000 each year. That’s considered affordable? I think not. Maine’s property taxes would exceed all my potential fixed costs in California.

What kind of living situation can your retirement savings support?

The real costs of retirement living

State income taxes. Nine states claim to have no income taxes. Only Nevada, Wyoming, and Alaska tax none of your income. Alaska even pays you to live there. Florida, South Dakota, Texas and Washington won’t tax your personal income, but they may tax business or corporate income.

New Hampshire and Tennessee tax you on dividends and interest. Indiana (3.4 percent) and Pennsylvania (3.07 percent) have flat tax rates. Colorado, Illinois, Michigan, Massachusetts, and Utah have flat rates ranging from 4.35 percent to 5.3 percent.

Social Security Income taxes. Although 36 states don’t tax Social Security benefits, avoid Iowa (8.98 percent), Kansas (6.45 percent), Minnesota (7.85 percent), Missouri (6.0 percent), Montana (6.9 percent), Nebraska (6.84 percent), Vermont (8.95 percent), and West Virginia (6.5 percent).

Colorado (4.63 percent), Massachusetts (5.3 percent) New Mexico (4.9 percent), and North Dakota (4.86 percent) have lower tax rates. And Alabama, Massachusetts, Mississippi, New York, Pennsylvania, and the nine tax-free states do not tax pension income or SSI.

Better options for your retirement

  • States with low (or no) sales tax. These include Alabama, Alaska (none), Louisiana, Delaware (none), Mississippi, Montana (none), Oregon (none), Vermont (none), and West Virginia. However, be careful. Some counties or localities assess taxes. (Update 10/28: Maryland has a 6 percent sales tax rate, and the post has been corrected to reflect that Delaware has no sales tax.) 
  • States with low real estate taxes. These include Alabama, Alaska, Louisiana, Mississippi, and West Virginia. Many states also offer generous exclusions for seniors. California’s property tax is limited to 1 percent of the acquisition value. Seniors residing in California, or who move within California, may take their lower tax to their newer, more expensive home.
  • States with low home prices. Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, and West Virginia have houses under $120,000. Another dozen states have prices under $143,000.

Reviewing the Data

The best option overall for retirement is Alaska—if you can handle the cold and the long, dark nights for part of the year. Plus, the state has jobs available, which is perfect if you need extra income.

Alabama and Mississippi don’t tax pensions or Social Security, have low property and sales tax rates, and feature home prices below $143,000. It’s worth looking at all 14 states that don’t tax pensions or Social Security income.

Retirement planning beyond the numbers

While the numbers can help with your retirement planning, take other important factors into account.

  • Where is your support system—your family and friends?
  • Can you make new friends easily in a new town?
  • Does the lifestyle in your potential community meet your tastes?
  • Can you get the medical services you will need?
  • Will your retirement health insurance cover you in that state?
  • Can you get part-time work to supplement your income if you need it?
  • Can you get the level of Internet/wireless service you need?
  • Do the locals welcome newcomers, or will you always be an outsider?

Once you’ve chosen your top three places, spend a few months living in those areas to see what life would be like as a local. Once you know you’ll be happy there, only then should you make your move.

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Eva Rosenberg, EA is the publisher of TaxMama.com , where your tax questions are answered. Eva is the author of several books and ebooks, including the new edition of Small Business Taxes Made Easy. Eva teaches a tax pro course at IRSExams.com and tax courses you might enjoy at http://www.cpelink.com/teamtaxmama.