Georgia is now the best state for retirees, study finds: 'Florida is not as cheap as it once was'

"Florida remains attractive, [but] it's not the bargain that it used to be."

Atlanta's Centennial Olympic Park.

For decades, Florida has been a go-to destination for retirees, particularly those from states with cold winters. Nearly 4.5 million Floridians — more than 20% of the state's population — are older than 65, according to the Census Bureau, making the Sunshine State second only to California in the number of seniors who live there.

Florida's tropical weather, lack of state income tax, and relatively low cost of living can make it an attractive place to live, regardless of your age. However, when it comes to retirees specifically, a new state has pushed it off its top spot. Georgia is now the state where retirees can make the most of their golden years, according to a new analysis by Bankrate, which took each state's cost of living, wellness, culture, weather, and crime into account.

Part of the problem is that Florida's reputation as a haven for seniors has caught up with it, says Jeff Ostrowski, an analyst at Bankrate. It's now the 14th most affordable state in the U.S., while Georgia is in third place, tied with Missouri.

"Florida is not as cheap as it once was," Ostrowski says. "In terms of health care and entertainment and leisure activities, Florida remains attractive, [but] it's not the bargain that it used to be."

Georgia's housing prices can offer a peachy retirement

Housing prices are one of the key factors that give Georgia an affordability edge over Florida. According to Zillow, the typical home value in Georgia is $241,218, compared to Florida's $289,799. Hot markets like Miami and Tampa are even more expensive, with typical home values of $402,203 and $302,156, respectively.

By comparison, the Atlanta metro area, one of the hottest real estate markets in the country, still has below-median housing costs compared to the nation as a whole. "Median home price in the Atlanta metro area is $279,000, which is well below the national average of $319,000, and cheaper than most of the markets in Florida," Ostrowski says.

Like developers in Florida, who embraced the idea of marketing to older Americans decades ago, builders in Georgia are also constructing more projects targeted to the over-60 set, Ostrowski says.

"I did get to talk to some of the developers who are building active adult communities in Georgia, which is kind of a new concept to me," Ostrowski says. "I think of active adult communities as being in Florida and Arizona. But they're being built in Georgia now."

Weather and diversity are bonuses, too

While Florida is known for its temperate climate, residents pay the price in frequent hurricanes. Of the roughly 300 named hurricanes to make landfall in the U.S. since 1851, 120 have hit Florida, according to Finder. Despite being nearly as balmy, Georgia has clocked only 22 storms in that time. That earned it a No. 4 ranking for weather in Bankrate's analysis, compared to No. 14 for Florida.

While Bankrate didn't analyze the demographics of each state, Georgia also has the edge when it comes to retirees' ability to make a diverse group of friends. Census Bureau data shows that only 14.3% of Georgians are over 65, compared to 20.9% in Florida. Georgia retirees will also find a more racially diverse community — 77% of Floridians are white, compared to 60% of Georgians. The difference is especially stark for Black retirees: Almost a third, 32.6%, of Georgia residents are Black, nearly double the percentage in Florida.

The one area where Florida has Georgia beat: culture. Based on its number of restaurants and entertainment venues per capita, Florida ranks 15, while Georgia is 41. Georgia is particularly weak on spots for arts and entertainment, Bankrate says.

Moving for retirement is a big decision, so plan carefully

While Bankrate's analysis offers an interesting snapshot into what retiring in different states might look like, Ostrowski cautions that this bird's-eye-view approach can obscure big differences in the cost of living between ZIP codes.

Virginia, which ranked 31 on Bankrate's list, is a good example. "The Northern Virginia suburbs obviously are going to be much more expensive than places like Richmond or Roanoke, which are more affordable," Ostrowski says.

Median home price in the Atlanta metro area is $279,000, which is well below the national average of $319,000, and cheaper than most of the markets in Florida.
Jeff Ostrowski
analyst, Bankrate

Personal preferences matter, too. "At the end of the day, it's a very personal decision and very subjective decision where you want to retire," Ostrowski says. "This is really just one way of looking at that decision."

If you're still in the early stages of planning your retirement and think you might want to move, here are some steps you can take now:

  • Consider how a move might stretch your dollar. If you live in a high-cost area or high-tax state, your retirement savings might go further if you set up shop where those burdens are a little lower, experts say.
  • Take all your moving costs into consideration before booking your moving van. While the allure of a low-tax state can be strong, make sure you estimate all the costs associated with homeownership in your dream ZIP code. Even if you don't have to worry about paying state income tax, high property taxes or utility costs could be unwelcome financial surprises.
  • Get started early. If you have time before retirement, decide what your goals are and start saving and investing to make them happen. Think about "what you want your future life to look like," Erika Safran, a certified financial planner and principal at Safran Wealth Advisors, recently told Grow. "Make changes in your current life to meet financial goals, so you can live where you want to live."

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