Best Places to Retire - 2010

Last Updated Nov 11, 2010 5:10 PM EST


New York financial advisor Gary Schatsky has a stock line that he reels off if he feels a client isn't saving adequately for retirement. As he looked at one couple's balance sheet recently, he said it again: "Where are planning to retire, Iowa?" The answer surprised him. "As a matter of fact, yes," said the future Hawkeye fan. "We can buy a house for $50,000 and live on about $28,000 a year and be near our kids."

“I’d waited 28 years to find someone retiring to Iowa,” said Schatsky.

For most people, the choice of where to spend your post-career years is based on many factors, some of them probably contradictory. (To cite just one potential problem: What if your kids live in an expensive state?) And the recession may have forced you to re-evaluate your plans.

To help you sort through a world of options, we’ve once again waded through a half-dozen of the popular “Best Places to Retire” lists to see which were the most credible. The raters are different this year: Forbes, Bloomberg Business Week, and CNBC.com have joined the scene, while Smart Money and Retirementliving.com haven’t updated their lists for 2010. Below, we’ll tell you what we’ve learned — some of the lists are more useful than others — plus our picks for the overall top spots.

But first: The best way to use the “best retirement places” rankings is to start with a narrowly focused list that reflects your priorities (cities dotted with golf courses, perhaps, or affordable homes) and find a handful of potential winning destinations. Then, use other lists and Web sites to see how these places stack up on broader criteria, such as livability or recession resistance. And of course filter all the information through your personal needs: Schatsky points out, for example, that certain states offer favorable treatment of some pension income.


MoneyWatch uses a scale of one to five stars to rate the raters themselves. Here’s how the latest “best places” lists stack up.

The ‘Best Places’ Contenders

TopRetirements.com


MoneyWatch rating:

How it rates places: This site’s 100 Best Places to Retire list is a self-described popularity contest. It includes the towns with the most online visits among the 450 reviewed at TopRetirements.com. While this methodology may make the list sound arbitrary, it actually isn’t, since TopRetirements.com has become a prime site for people researching retirement destinations. (A year ago, only 208 places were featured.) The site also sells 100 Best Retirement Towns as a book ($25.52) and an eBook ($9.95).

New this year are the site’s four specialized lists for people looking for particular attributes: Best Retirement Towns for the Arts, Great Bookstore Towns, Great Biking Towns, and Best Towns for Gardens. The site’s editors selected the arts towns, focusing on small and medium-size cities. Ten authors and TopRetirements’ editor picked the bookstore towns, the bike town list came from recommendations by cycling enthusiasts posting reviews on the site and a garden expert pruned the garden towns list.

What’s good: Site editors and members of the public have visited the winning places and drawbacks of the Top 100 are noted. You can now sort the list to find places matching certain criteria (state, cost of living, culture, geography, weather and taxes).

What’s not good: The Top 100 list is essentially a beauty contest and it’s impossible to tell how much better one place is compared with, say, one ranked 13 notches lower. The list skews heavily Sunbelt: 68 of the top 100 spots are there; 23 of those are in Florida alone.

Best for: Finding places that other retirees like and getting names of possible destinations based on particular key criteria that matters most to you.

Top picks:


  • Asheville, N.C.
  • Sarasota, Fla.
  • Prescott, Ariz.
  • All-Around Arts Scene: Traverse City, Mich.
  • Mountain Biking: Boulder & Colorado Springs, Colo., and Burlington, Vt.

Forbes


MoneyWatch rating:


How it rates places: A new entry since our last analysis, Forbes fires up its calculator by comparing 100 counties with at least 500,000 people. In short, the magazine says, it’s looking for places with “easy access to medical care, a healthy local economy and the opportunity to enjoy a fulfilling second act.” To find the 10 winners, Forbes starts with the number of residents 65 and older plus their median housing cost (lower is better) and income (higher is better). Then, it factors in the county’s unemployment rate. Finally, with aid from Onboard Informatics (a data provider U.S. News also uses), the magazine crunches numbers for hospitals, clinics and elder care facilities per 10,000 people.

What’s good: Clear explanation on how the magazine chooses the winners and lengthy descriptions about each of its Best Places to Grow Old.

What’s not good: Quality of life attributes, such as weather or culture, don’t seem to be part of the equation and Forbes doesn’t knock places for being expensive. In fact, the winners are mostly pricey locales (such as Westchester County, N.Y. and Montgomery County, Md.) There’s a strong Northeastern bias — six of the top 10 are located there.

Best for: Affluent people who want to live in thriving communities with ample medical care.

Top picks:


  • Montgomery County, Pa.
  • Nassau County, N.Y.
  • Pima County, Ariz.

U.S. News


MoneyWatch rating:


How it rates places: U.S. News doesn’t have one grand Best Places to Retire list. Instead, working primarily with Onboard Informatics, a data-gathering firm, the magazine churns out narrowly defined Top 10 lists from its overall proprietary Best Places database. You can create your own U.S. News list by checking off the criteria that matters most to you using the magazine’s “Find the Best Place to Retire” tool. Its latest lists (sharply reduced from a year ago): America’s Best Affordable Places to Retire, Great Places to Downsize in Retirement; Affordable Places to Retire on Water and Places to Launch a Second Career in Retirement.

What’s good: The data-driven picks are worth reading if you’re looking for places matching the magazine’s screens. The “second career” and “downsize” lists are especially timely, given the recent rampant layoffs and 7 percent unemployment rate for people 55 and older. This year, U.S. News has become more forthright noting the specific criteria it feeds into its grinder to anoint its Top 10s, such as below-average housing costs (in the downsizing list) and below-average unemployment (in the second-career list).

What’s not good: Descriptions of each winner are just a couple of sentences and links to data points, so you don’t get much detail about why a top place is tops. Nor will you read about drawbacks unless you delve into the data. No place in the Northeast shows up on any of the latest U.S. News lists.

Best for: Finding retirement destinations based on one or two top priorities (as long as you don’t want to retire in New England).

Top picks:


  • Affordable Places and Places to Downsize in Retirement double winner: Tucson, Ariz.
  • Downsize in Retirement surprise pick: Murfreesboro, Tenn.
  • Retire on Water surprise pick: Bella Vista, Ark.
  • Launch a Second Career in Retirement surprise pick: Harrisonburg, Va.

Money


MoneyWatch rating:


How it rates places: Hard to say for Money’s “25 Best Places to Retire,” because the magazine doesn’t divulge its criteria on its site. And all the magazine says about how the 20 towns were chosen for its “Best Places for a Healthy Retirement” is that their residents “live a long life, there are lots of doctors and hospitals nearby and you can pursue an active lifestyle.”

What’s good: You can easily find a long list of stats for each of these winners, from weather to house prices. And you can see how any of the Best Places to Retire measure up against Money’s overall Top 10 Best Places in the same key measurements.

What’s not good: Without explaining why the 25 Best Places to Retire made the cut, this list comes off as random. Are there truly no worthy candidates in the Northwest? Also, the list has only two major cities (Philadelphia and Miami), though it’s unclear why. By contrast, the Healthy Retirement places are mostly suburbs of metropolises; nearly a third are New York City bedroom communities (such as Stamford, Conn., and Woodbridge, N.J.).

Best for: Generating names of places you might not have thought about and then doing your own research about the ones that pique your interest.

Top picks:


  • Best Places to Retire: Port Charlotte, Fla., Palm Springs, Calif., and Traverse City, Mich.
  • Healthy Retirement Places: Anaheim, Calif., North Hempstead, N.Y. and Fort Lee, N.J.

Bloomberg Business Week

MoneyWatch rating:

How it rates places: To come up with its 50 Best Affordable Places to Retire, Bloomberg Business Week (and its partner, home valuations and listings site Cyberhomes.com) first found Zip codes with heavy concentrations of “affluent seniors (or residents nearing retirement age).” Then they screened out any whose cost of living was less than the average of those places. Next, they gave extra points to places with great weather, strong home price projections, and proximity to hospitals, golf courses, and amenities including theaters, shopping centers and airports.

What’s good: The Top 10 are indeed relatively affordable, with a cost of living no more than 13 percent above the average of the affluent-senior Zip codes. Independence, Ohio (sometimes called Cleveland’s Silicon Valley) was the least expensive of the bunch. Bloomberg Business Week threw into its calculations all the key factors prospective retirees would typically consider.

What’s not good: There’s practically no information about the winners — just a sentence or two of description, a few stats, and a fairly useless satellite photograph. The whole project looks like a blatant effort to boost page views; you must click 50 times to learn who all the winners are. Some picks in the Top 10 seem odd, given the criteria. Although the list was culled partly based on strong home price projections, Bloomberg Business Week says home values are projected to fall this year in three of its winners: Jekyll Island, Ga. (-4 percent), Apache Junction, Ariz. (-2 percent) and Reading, Pa. (-1 percent).

Best for: Prospective retirees with time on their hands.

Top picks:


  • Tucson, Ariz.
  • Richmond, Va.
  • Overland Park, Kan.


CNBC.com



MoneyWatch rating:

How it rates places: Essentially, CNBC.com cribs from AARP Magazine. The site reviewed AARP lists from “over the years” and then “picked the best and most unique locations.”

What’s good: The 15 picks, including Sarasota, Fla. and San Diego, Calif., seem as though they might be reasonable choices and AARP Magazine is a trustworthy partner. Each region has a winner.

What’s not good: The AARP Magazine lists CNBC.com uses are old, old, old. The most recent is from 2008 and the others were from 2003 (!) to 2007.

Best for: People looking for brief descriptions of familiar retirement spots.

Top picks:


  • Loveland/Fort Collins, Colo.
  • Las Cruces, N.M.
  • Rehoboth Beach, Del.

Best of the Best

These dozen places made the Top 10 in multiple “Best Places to Retire” Lists. Tucson was the star, showing up four times. Florida and (surprise!) Michigan each had two repeaters, but none of the 12 is in the Northeast or California.



























City Mentions
Tucson, Ariz.
  • U.S. News Affordable
  • U.S. News Downsizing
  • Bloomberg Business Week Affordable
  • CNBC.com Top Places for Boomers to Retire
Sarasota, Fla.
  • TopRetirements.com
  • TopRetirements.com Affordable
  • CNBC.com
Traverse City, Mich.
  • Money Places to Retire
  • U.S. News Retire on Water
  • Bloomberg Business Week Affordable
  • TopRetirements.com Arts
Ann Arbor, Mich.
  • U.S. News Affordable
  • CNBC.com
Fairhope, Ala.
  • U.S. News Retire on Water
  • TopRetirements.com Arts
Kansas City, Mo.
  • U.S. News Affordable
  • TopRetirements.com Bookstores
Loveland, Colo.
  • U.S. News Retire on Water
  • CNBC.com
Madison, Wis.
  • U.S. News Launch Second Career
  • TopRetirements.com Bicycling
Portland, Ore.
  • TopRetirements.com Bookstores
  • CNBC.com
Port Charlotte, Fla.
  • Money
  • U.S. News Downsizing
Richmond, Va.
  • TopRetirements.com Bookstores
  • Bloomberg Business Week Affordable
Winston-Salem, N.C.
  • TopRetirements.com
  • U.S. News Downsizing

Richard Eisenberg created Money magazine’s “Best Places to Live in America” franchise but is no longer affiliated with the magazine.

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