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30 things to look for when deciding where to retire

  • 30 things to look for when deciding where to retire

    On Jan. 1, 2006, the first baby boomer turned 60. Today, 10,000 people from that generation turn 65 every single day and more than 65 million of them call the United States home. Although many baby boomers are already retired, the very last one in the U.S. won't turn 65 until 2029. When that happens, a projected one in five Americans will be 65 or older—up from just 14% in 2012.

    Retirees aren't hard to find, and many of them are looking to pull up stakes, hit the road, and grow new roots somewhere else. Those who aren't among the multitudes who haven't saved anywhere close to enough money to make that dream a reality, congratulations and bon voyage—but first, there are some things to keep in mind. While retirees are probably excited to get started in their new life, choosing a place to retire is something they definitely want to get right the first time.

    From finances to culture and politics to proximity, retirees have all kinds of things to consider before they go for it and sign that lease or mortgage agreement. Some of those considerations have to do with age, others have to do with health, and most involve the almighty dollar. There are, however, plenty of things retirees on the move need to think about that are more obscure and harder to define but nonetheless just as important in terms of happiness, satisfaction, and quality of life.

    Are you retired or close to it, and considering starting a new life in a new town or city? If so, you've probably already done plenty of planning and preparing of your own. This list, however, can remind retirees about some of the most important things that are easy to overlook and give a fresh perspective on considerations that they might have already thought through.

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  • Low cost of living

    For all but those with ostrich-sized nest eggs, cost of living—the price someone pays for the stuff they need depending on geographic location—is going to be near the top of retirement list concerns. Cities like Fort Wayne, Ind., and Toledo, Ohio are some of the cheapest metros in the country. Those dreaming about retiring in the San Francisco Bay area, New York City, or Honolulu, on the other hand, should make sure that dream includes a 401(k) balance with two commas in it—and then some.

  • A safe neighborhood

    Since budget dictates options, cost is the first consideration—but it's important to remember that in American neighborhoods, cheap often means dangerous. After compiling a list of maybes that match your financial realities, the next step is to weed out the locations that are affordable because of crime. The FBI's Uniform Crime Report is the most accurate, most thorough, and most widely cited source of information about crime by location in the U.S., but it's also wise to check with the local police department.

  • Affordable health care

    There are many joys to getting older, but physical health is rarely one of them. Health care costs increase with age and are a big part of the average retiree's budget, so unless money is no object, this should be near the top of retirees' considerations. A recent examination of more than 1.8 billion health care claims by the Health Care Cost Institute (HCCI) revealed a gaping disparity in costs, not just from metro region to metro region, but within individual metro regions themselves.

  • Easy access to health care

    Cost isn't the only consideration when it comes to staying healthy, living longer, preventing illness, and maintaining a good quality of life in retirement. Millions of Americans live in areas that are cheap but that have insufficient access to health care—long rides, long waits, and poor choices for limited services. While there's not a hard-and-fast rule that applies in all cases, the sad reality in the United States is that, with few exceptions, rural Americans almost always have less access to health care than their counterparts in the suburbs and cities.

  • Proximity to a top hospital

    If cost and access are the two most important health care concerns when choosing a place to retire, the third would certainly be proximity to a good hospital. Good hospitals—the list of which usually excludes safety net hospitals and investor-owned hospitals—have more specialists, partnerships with research universities, access to cutting-edge testing and diagnosis labs, and, of course, better physicians. U.S. News and World Report publishes a widely respected annual "Honor Roll" of the top hospitals, both by state and by specialty.

  • Access to healthy food

    It's no secret that a good diet is critical to a healthy life, particularly as a body weakens with age. Millions of Americans live in what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) refer to as food deserts, neighborhoods and entire regions that don't have access to fresh fruit, fresh vegetables, and other healthy foods. According to the CDC, poor, rural, and/or minority communities are most likely to be food deserts where there are no grocery stores and instead only convenience stores and fast food.

  • Walkability

    For those planning on retiring in the suburbs or a city, walkability is one of the keys to getting the most out of a new neighborhood and keeping fit and active. Forbes recently ranked Nashville, Orlando, and Dallas as the top cities that are packed with affordable, walkable neighborhoods. MoneyTalkNews, on the other hand, ranked Fayetteville, N.C. and Tulsa, Okla., as the country's least walkable cities.

  • Public transportation

    Safe, reliable public transportation tends to be concentrated outside of rural areas, but even for those not retiring to the big city, it can be an important consideration—not just for retirees, but for their friends and family members. According to The Travel, Seattle, Philadelphia, and Morgantown, W.Va, have excellent public transportation systems, while Miami, Youngstown, Ohio, and Birmingham, Ala., do not.

  • Low average car insurance

    Even in cities that offer good public transportation, the U.S. is still overwhelmingly a car country that travels by automobile, and car insurance prices can be a big factor. Car insurance is cheap in states like Vermont, Ohio, and Idaho, where the average annual bill is only in the triple digits, according to Insure.com. Retirees who move to states such as Michigan, Louisiana, or Florida, on the other hand, can expect to pay more than $2,000 a year.

  • Affordable rent

    Many retirees sell their homes and rent their way through their golden years. But every single one of the top 10 most expensive metros for renters are on the East and West Coasts. This list includes San Francisco, New York City, Miami, Los Angeles, Seattle, and Boston. Those looking for cheap rent who still want to live in or around a city, might look to interior metro regions like Memphis, Kansas City, Mo., Toledo, Ohio, and Lincoln, Neb.

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