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All Contents © 2019The Kiplinger Washington Editors
By Stacy Rapacon, Online Editor
| July 17, 2018
Trying to decide which way to head for retirement? One well-worn option: Follow the birds. Migrating south is a popular move, not just for the winter and not only among retirees. Since 2010, the South has experienced solid population growth, with a 10% increase in its large cities leading the nation, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
The mild climates, low costs and robust economies of many southern states are obvious draws for retirees. To come up with this list of great places to retire in the South, we first pinpointed one great retirement destination in each of the 50 states, taking into account living costs, safety, median incomes and poverty rates for retirement-age residents, as well as residents’ sense of well-being and the availability of recreational and health care facilities. Here are our retirement picks in the 16 southern states.
The list is ordered alphabetically by state and includes the 16 states in the South region, as categorized by the U.S. Census Bureau. See "How We Picked the Best Places to Retire" at the end of the list for details on our data sources and methodology.
Courtesy Huntsville/Madison County Convention & Visitors Bureau
Share of population 65+: 13.7% (U.S.: 14.5%)
Cost of Living: 4.7% below the national average
Average Income for Households 65+: $52,469 (U.S.: $53,799)
Community Score: 63.3 (U.S.: 61.9)
State's Tax Rating for Retirees: Tax Friendly
As one of the 10 Cheapest States Where You'll Want to Retire, the Heart of Dixie boasts many great spots for affordable living. And Huntsville, in northern Alabama, is one of the best. It offers all the low-cost, low-tax advantages as the rest of the state, but adds more generous incomes among retirement-age residents. The average household income for 65+ households in Alabama is $44,934.
Home to NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center, the Redstone Arsenal and the Huntsville campus of the University of Alabama, the city offers a robust economy and a highly educated population. There are plenty of cultural attractions, from a sculpture trail to a symphony orchestra, as well as opportunities for outdoor recreation (think bass fishing).
Share of population 65+: 12.1%
Cost of Living: 10.6% below the national average
Average Income for Households 65+: $49,168
Community Score: 66.3
State's Tax Rating for Retirees: Not Tax Friendly
The metro area of Fayetteville, which includes Springdale, Rogers and Bentonville, offers low costs but plenty of attractions. The surrounding Ozark Mountains afford residents outdoor recreation and natural wonder to enjoy while the downtown area, home to the University of Arkansas, provides restaurants, shops and a lively music and arts scene, including the Walton Arts Center.
Locals seem happy with what they have at their fingertips. Fayetteville ranks 11th for community well-being on the Gallup-Sharecare Well-Being Index with residents reporting high levels of liking where they live, feeling safe and having pride in their community.
Share of population 65+: 19.5%
Cost of Living: 0.8% below the national average*
Average Income for Households 65+: n/a
Community Score: n/a
If you're thinking about heading to one of Delaware's popular beach towns for retirement, brace yourself for sticker shock. Better yet, consider instead the more affordable Milford. About 40 miles north of Bethany Beach, Milford has a median home value of $174,900, well below the median of $477,900 in Bethany Beach, according to Zillow.
The small inland city is about 10 miles from Slaughter Beach. You can also enjoy some waterfront views in town along the Mispillion River. Downtown, there are numerous restaurants and boutiques, as well as the Milford Museum and the Riverfront Theater, where you can watch old movies. A community theater group, the Second Street Players, also performs there.
*Provided by Sperling's Best Places.
Share of population 65+: 26.3%
Cost of Living: 6% below the national average
Average Income for Households 65+: $50,143
Community Score: 64.8
State's Tax Rating for Retirees: Most Tax Friendly
With its desirable climate and favorable tax status, Florida is filled with popular retirement destinations. Many of our favorite retirement spots in the Sunshine State can be found along the Gulf Coast including St. Petersburg, Sarasota and Punta Gorda.
Cape Coral's metro area includes Fort Myers, yet another great place to consider for your retirement. But Cape Coral (city population: 183,365) is unique in its waterway access, offering 400 miles of canals for all your boating, fishing and water sports dreams. And land lovers can enjoy the area's beaches, golfing, tennis, parks and other recreational offerings.
Share of population 65+: 12.8%
Cost of Living: 10.2% below the national average
Average Income for Households 65+: $44,648
Community Score: 60.4
With its warm weather and low living costs, Georgia ranks third among our Best States for Retirement. The only two states to rate higher than Georgia for retirees are Hawaii and (surprisingly) South Dakota.
Savannah (city population: 146,444) is particularly peachy. The historic Georgia city offers beautiful sights, just right for strolling through retirement, including classic American architecture, town squares and riverfront views. Tybee Island, with its wide beaches and still-operating lighthouse, is just a 20-minute drive east of the city. You can also enjoy an array of restaurants, museums and theaters, particularly in downtown Savannah.
Share of population 65+: 12.5%
Cost of Living: 4.0% below the national average
Average Income for Households 65+: $52,301
Community Score: 62.9
As you'd expect, the Bluegrass State holds plenty of appeal for horse lovers and bourbon aficionados. But retirees can pursue other interests here as well. Lexington has more than 100 parks, six public golf courses and a 734-acre nature preserve with more than 10 miles of hiking trails. For indoor entertainment, check out the numerous galleries and theaters, including the Lexington Opera House and its schedule of ballets, Broadway musicals, comedy shows, operas (of course) and other performances. The University of Kentucky offers the Singletary Center for the Arts, too.
You can also satisfy your academic pursuits at the University of Kentucky. The Osher Lifelong Learning Institute offers various courses, forums, interest groups, trips and events to people age 50 or older; annual membership costs $25. The Donovan Fellowship allows Kentucky residents age 65 and older to take university classes free, space permitting. For all these reasons and more, Lexington ranks among our great college towns for retirement.
Cost of Living: 9.5% below the national average
Average Income for Households 65+: $52,059
Community Score: 62.4
If you're craving Cajun and Creole culture, Lafayette is the place to retire. Known as the "Cajun Capital City," the area is rich in history, distinctive foods and two-stepping tunes. Nature lovers can appreciate the area, too, located on the Mississippi Flyway and the Atchafalaya Loop of America's Wetland Birding Trail. Bird watchers have gotten a glimpse of 240 species, so far.
Unfortunately, the area's wealth does not reflect in many older residents' finances. Though the average income for people age 65 and older is just a bit below the national average of $53,799, the poverty rate for the age group is a high 14.1%, compared with 12.9% for the state and 9.3% for the U.S. On the bright side, the metro area has an abundance of health care facilities, with about 27 establishments per 1,000 seniors, compared with just 19 per 1,000 seniors in the U.S.
Share of population 65+: 15.5%
Cost of Living: 37.1% above the national average*
State's Tax Rating for Retirees: Least Tax Friendly
With more than 400 miles of shoreline, Annapolis offers water-loving retirees a torrent of activities. Kayaking, canoeing, boating and fishing are common enjoyments on the Chesapeake Bay. On land, the historical city is filled with 18th century buildings and is commonly referred to as "a museum without walls." And, as home to the U.S. Naval Academy, Annapolis draws a number of military retirees.
But you have to be able to afford it. Maryland is, by and large, a wealthy area, home to a great number of millionaires, and the living costs reflect that. The median home value in the Old Line State is $290,400, compared with just $184,700 for the U.S. In Annapolis, it's a whopping $377,200.
Cost of Living: 11.3% below the national average
Average Income for Households 65+: $50,801
Community Score: 57.8
Low costs and friendly tax policies can make for a sweet retirement in the Magnolia State, and the capital is particularly alluring. Jackson is a surprisingly eclectic city that holds appeal to Civil War buffs, blues music aficionados and even ballet fans. Dancers from around the world flock to Mississippi to compete for medals, scholarships and spots in ballet companies. Similar competitions are held only in Russia, Bulgaria and Finland.
The Milken Institute ranks Jackson eighth among the best large cities for successful aging. On top of its affordability, Jackson offers an abundance of nurses, nurse practitioners and orthopedic surgeons, as well as caregiving option and geriatric facilities. Note, however, that the area's residents are prone to unhealthy habits that you don’t want to pick up in retirement, including low levels of activity and high levels of fast-food dining.
Share of population 65+: 13.2%
Cost of Living: 0.8% below the national average
Average Income for Households 65+: $60,221
Community Score: 64.1
State's Tax Rating for Retirees: Not Tax Friendly
Duke University and the University of North Carolina may be bitter rivals, but their hometowns of Durham and Chapel Hill, respectively, team up to form a powerhouse metro area, and a great place to retire. Indeed, the Milken Institute ranks Durham-Chapel Hill as the third best large city for successful aging—crediting the area's economic strength, as two-thirds of North Carolina's Research Triangle (the other third being Raleigh), and quality health care. The universities play a big role in those two advantages and also boost up the local cultural and recreational scenes, like in many college towns.
Though not a deal-breaker for every retiree, it’s worth noting that violent crimes are slightly more prevalent in Durham than they are for the nation as a whole. The rate of violent crime is 4.1 per 1,000 residents, according to the FBI, compared with 3.9 per 1,000 residents for the U.S. A good real-estate agent can point retirees to safer neighborhoods with retirement-friendly amenities.
Population: 1.3 million
Share of population 65+: 12.7%
Cost of Living: 15.1% below the national average
Average Income for Households 65+: $50,224
Community Score: 60.3
The biggest city in the Sooner State charges residents little in living costs. Housing-related expenses are particularly affordable, at 27.4% below average. The median home value is $142,700, well below the nation's median of $184,700. A private room in a nursing home costs a median $72,270 a year, compared with a median annual $97,455 for the U.S., according to Genworth.
Cowboys may feel particularly at home in Oklahoma City—it has one of the largest livestock markets in the world, after all—but given the area's downtown revitalization effort, everyone can find something to enjoy. The Bricktown Entertainment District has a variety of restaurants and nightlife options. And in neighboring Norman, the University of Oklahoma plays host to bigtime sporting and cultural events.
Share of population 65+: 13.3%
Cost of Living: 4.0% above the national average
Average Income for Households 65+: $52,827
Community Score: 64.5
Southern charm, a rich history, city living and nearby beaches combine to make Charleston a uniquely attractive retirement destination. History buffs, in particular, can appreciate the city's well-preserved antebellum architecture (the Preservation Society of Charleston is the oldest community-based historic preservation group in the country) and Civil War sites, including Fort Sumter.
Foodies, too, can find plenty to enjoy along Charleston’s cobblestone streets, especially in the brunch and comfort food areas. And if you need to work off some of those calories, water sports, including surfing, paddle boarding and kayaking, are popular local activities—along with boating and fishing. The population of the city proper is a manageable 134,875.
Population: 1.8 million
Cost of Living: 7.9% below the national average
Average Income for Households 65+: $56,379
Community Score: 64.6
The Volunteer State, which we rank as the fifth-best in the nation for retirement, is a good choice for retiree nest eggs of all sizes. On top of its friendly-tax status, most parts of Tennessee have below-average living costs across the board for retired residents. And Music City couples low costs with above-average incomes, giving you a good shot at a harmonious budget.
Nashville’s vibrant music scene is, of course, a big draw, with more than 180 venues, including the historic Grand Ole Opry, and free live performances every day of the year. But you can also enjoy the abundance of dining options and outdoor recreation.
Population: 1.9 million
Share of population 65+: 9.5%
Cost of Living: 7.7% below the national average
Average Income for Households 65+: $62,940
Community Score: 64.2
There's nothing weird about wanting to retire in Austin. The metro area offers low living costs even while its older residents tend to bring in well-above-average incomes. And the population has the opportunity to be just as healthy as their budgets. A great place to retire for good health, Austin is home to Zilker Park, a 350-acre green space with a 10-mile hiking and biking trail that encircles Lady Bird Lake.
The area also has an abundance of health care facilities, with more than 29 establishments per 1,000 seniors in the metro area compared with just 19 per 1,000 seniors in the U.S. That includes St. David's South Austin Medical Center with specialties including women's health, heart and vascular care, and oncology. In fact, the Milken Institute credits the Austin metro area's sterling health care system and health-minded population as one reason it ranks sixth among the best large cities for successful aging.
Share of population 65+: 17.4%
Average Income for Households 65+: $38,973
Community Score: 67.1
Take a hike. Really. Retiring in the City of Seven Hills, nestled among the Blue Ridge Mountains and overlooking the James River, outdoorsy types can hike, jog and bike the more than 18 miles of urban trails on the city's 300-acre greenway. And if that's not enough activity for you, Smith Mountain Lake, Wintergreen ski resort and the Appalachian Trail are all within an hour's drive. It's no wonder residents award it some of the top marks in the country for community well-being, reporting high feelings of safety and community pride.
Low living costs are attractive, in general, but in particular as you age. A private room in a Lynchburg nursing home typically costs $83,950 a year, according to Genworth, compared with a whopping $97,455 a year for the U.S.
Cost of Living: 4.5% below the national average*
Average Income for Households 65+: $52,428
West Virginia University offers a number of benefits to retirees in Morgantown. Residents 65 and up can take WVU courses at a discount. Or if you're 50 or older, you can join the local chapter of the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute. Membership gets you access to interest groups, trips, social gatherings and program classes, including local and international history, music, computers and yoga. To be a full member for a year costs $100.
The university also helps boost local health care services with its many medical facilities, including the Eye Institute, Heart Institute and Ruby Memorial Hospital. The Milken Institute actually credits the area's large pool of doctors, orthopedic surgeons and excellent nurses for contributing to Morgantown's high ranking (18th) among small metro areas. Health care is also relatively affordable, at 8.3% below the national average.
To pinpoint one great retirement destination in each state, we weighed a number of factors: