Where Should I Retire?: Florida is still tops, as retirees flock to warm weather and tax-free locales

Warm climates and tax-free havens top the list for the fastest-growing population of retirees. 

Florida was still the top state for retirees overall, but among cities with the biggest growth in older population, Mesa, Ariz., took the lead.

According to a new report from SmartAsset, which looked at U.S. Census Bureau migration data, older Americans are increasingly leaving higher tax states in favor of more affordable parts of the country. SmartAsset looked at migration data for 146 of the largest cities in the U.S. 

Mesa, Ariz., topped the list for the nation’s highest net gain of seniors for the third consecutive time. In fact, the influx of retirees more than doubled that of the second place city of Henderson, Nev. The cities of San Antonio; North Las Vegas, Nev.; and Boise, Idaho rounded out the top five cities.

In Mesa, 4,967 new residents aged 60 and older came from other states in 2021. Meanwhile, only 1,338 people 60 and older left the city that year, resulting in a 3,629 net gain. Of the half million people that call Mesa home, nearly a quarter (24.33%) are 60 and older. The warm, low-humidity climate is a lure and Mesa charges a slightly lower sales tax rate than neighboring Phoenix, SmartAsset said.

In a sharp reversal, Charlotte dropped more than 100 spots. The North Carolina city fell from No. 6 to No. 130. In the last study, Charlotte had a net gain of 1,290 residents 60 and older. But according to the most recent data, 3,150 retirees left Charlotte while only about 1,860 moved to the Queen City from other states.

For this study, SmartAsset said it analyzed the inflow and outflow of retirees for Charlotte, but the data itself did not address the reasons behind the change in rankings. Still, the state of North Carolina overall ranked fourth-highest for net gain of retirees, so on a regional level, the state as a whole remains one of the most popular destinations for retirees. Also, both Wilmington, N.C. and Raleigh, N.C. ranked among the top 10 cities where retirees are moving.

Read: I’m looking for a place that has year-round mild, sunny weather and is near or on the water, and my budget is $125,000—where should I retire?

For statewide results, the tax-free state of Florida was still the retiree favorite. Florida netted more than 78,000 senior residents from other states in 2021—three times as many as the second-ranked state of Arizona. Miami, Jacksonville, St. Petersburg and Tampa all placed among the top 20 cities gaining the most seniors, SmartAsset found. About 54% of seniors who moved into the state in 2021 were in their 60s compared with 46% who were 70 and older.

Four Sunbelt states—Arizona, South Carolina, North Carolina and Tennessee—had the next largest net migrations of people 60 and older. Census data show that there were net inflows of 25,090 to Arizona and 19,004 to South Carolina in 2021. Meanwhile, North Carolina and Tennessee recorded net migrations of 18,996 and 14,767, respectively.

Read: Need to rethink retirement? These areas face the biggest climate-change risk.

The biggest losers statewide included California, New York, Illinois, New Jersey and Massachusetts, SmartAsset found.


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