Dueling Retirement States: DE vs. VA vs. MD vs. NJ

Category: Best Retirement Towns and States

October 5 – 2010 Editors Note: This is the second in our series comparing various states as retirement destinations. Don’t miss the first one, Florida vs. Arizona Retirement, or the third, Dueling Carolinas: NC vs. SC. We welcome ideas for future comparisons.

In our previous retirement shoot-out we compared 2 states, Arizona and Florida, that are natural rivals but geographically quite distant. In this comparison we will compare 4 states that are very close geographically but have some other important differences.

Our approach here is to evaluate various factors for each state, letting our readers draw their own conclusions from the facts. As always, reader input is extremely important. We encourage you to use the Comments section below to tell your stories and express your preferences.

Population (Data from American Fact Finder-U.S. Census Bureau).
With the exception of tiny Delaware, all 4 of these states have fairly high populations. Maryland’s population is 5,476,100 with 11.8% of its population over 65. New Jersey has 8,462,300 residents; 13.1% are over 65. Virginia has a population of 7,449,200 with 11.8% over 65. Delaware’s population is by far the smallest at 837,700, but it has the highest proportion of residents over 65 (13.7%). These states attract most of their retirees from within their own borders or the northeast.

Economics and Home Prices.
All 4 states have higher home prices than the national 2006-2008 median of $192,400 (Census Bureau) or the Zillow 2010 median of $182,200. The national household income median was $52,175 in 2006-8. Of the 4 states compared here, Delaware has the lowest home prices and household income.

Delaware’s median home value in 2006-2008 was $239,700 (Census Bureau). Delaware is the only 1 of these 4 states where home values appear to have increased in the past few years. According to the Zillow Home Value Index the value of a home there had increased to $262,500 in 2010. DE household income is $57,270.

Maryland’s 2006-8 home value was $340,900 (Census Bureau), declining significantly to $246,400 in 2010 (Zillow). HH income was $70,000.

New Jersey’s 2006-8 home value was $367,600, declining $80,000 to $287,000 by late 2010 (Zillow). Median HH income was $69,674.

Virginia homes had a 2006-8 median value of $259,200 in 2006-8, according to the Census Bureau. That value declined slightly by 2010 to $231,800 (Zillow). HH income was $61,044.

There are no significant differences between these 4 states are far as climate goes. New Jersey has the coldest winters, but only by a few degrees.
State (City) Avg. July High Avg Jan Low
Delaware (Dover) 87 27
Maryland (Baltimore) 91 29
New Jersey (Trenton) 85 21
Virginia (Richmond) 88 28

Tax Environment
Delaware is by far the most tax-friendly state for retirees among this group. Delaware is ranked as having the 24th highest tax burden in the nation. It has no sales tax. It does have several pieces of good news for retirees: it is the 43rd highest for per capita property taxes; social security income is not taxed; and $12,500 of pension income is not taxed. DE does have an estate tax.
Maryland is a high tax state with the 4th highest tax burden in the nation, according to the Tax Foundation. It has a top income tax rate of 6.25%; sales tax is 6%. On the plus side for retirees, it is the 26th highest for property taxes, and does not tax social security. MD and NJ are among the few states that have both an estate and an inheritance tax.
New Jersey has the dubious distinction of being the #1 highest state for state/local taxes, according to the Tax Foundation. Its top income tax rate is 8.97%; sales tax is 7%. Particularly hurtful for retirees, NJ has the highest per-capita property taxes in the nation. Fortunately, social security is not taxed. It has both an estate tax and an inheritance tax.
Virginia could be considered tax-friendly, at least compared to NJ and MD. It has the 18th highest state/local tax burden. The top income tax rate is a relatively modest 5.75%; sales tax is 5% (plus localities must collect an additional 1%). It is ranked 18th highest in per capita property taxes. Social security is not taxed, nor are there any inheritance or estate taxes.

Physical Environment and Diversity
All 4 of these states are approximately the same from a geographic basis. All have a long coast line and/or waterfront on large bays. All are close to major cities in the Northeast. Virginia is the most distinctive and diverse of the 4, thanks to the mountains in its western half,

Places to Live
All 4 states have at least one important city, and all offer wide choices of college towns or livable small towns. Ironically, Delaware, by far the smallest state in terms of population, has the most number of towns on Topretirements’ list of 100 Best Retirement Towns (3). Those include Rehoboth Beach, Lewes, and Smyrna. Virginia has 2 towns on the list, Charlottesville (#13) and Williamsburg.

Choice of Active Communities
Virginia and New Jersey seem to have the widest variety of active adult communities. At Topretirements we count 21 communities in our Delaware Directory of Active Communities, 16 in our Maryland Directory, 41 in the New Jersey Directory, and 38 in the Virginia Directory of Active Communities.

Retirement Popularity
Based only on the number of towns making the Topretirements’ list of 100 Best Retirement Towns, one could conclude that Delaware and Virginia are the most popular states for retirement among these 4. Delaware’s low tax environment is certainly a big reason for its popularity. New Jersey, as expensive as it is, does have many, many retirees living there and some attractive retirement towns like Princeton and those on the South Jersey shore (such as Toms River and Brick). In our opinion Maryland is an under-rated retirement destination. It might have high taxes, but it does have many charming and historic towns like Annapolis, Chestertown, and Leonardtown that make great retirement spots.

Aesthetics and Intangibles
All of these states have their admirers and each has its detractors. But all of them contain some wonderful places to retire, if the mid-Atlantic region is the region where you would like to retire. Rather than take sides on the issue, we recommend that you visit cities and towns in these states and see if you can’t find the place of your dreams. The region is not that big – in a few trips you should be able to get a good idea of the places that could offer you a happy retirement experience.

For your reference:
Arizona vs. Florida Retirement
The Best of the Best Places to Retire
How North Carolina Climbed over Florida as #1 Retirement State
Best States for Retirement
State Retirement Guides

What state do you prefer? Let us know in the comments section below.

Posted by John Brady on October 5th, 2010


  1. […] your reference: Part II: Comparing Mid-Atlantic States – DE, MD, NJ, VA The Best of the Best Places to Retire How North Carolina Climbed over Florida as #1 Retirement […]

    by » Dueling Retirement States: Arizona vs. Florida Topretirements — October 6, 2010

  2. There are many ‘tax friendly’ lists published for those who wish to move, but few especially for the retiree. A pretty long time ago I saw a Kiplinger’s article that specifically compared all states as regards to retiree finances, and Delaware was by far the winner. Of the three counties, the bottom two were preferable.

    Of course, there are other variables, such as proximity to a good teaching hospital and perhaps a college.

    by Joan Dalton — October 6, 2010

  3. I’m originally from NJ and am thinking of going back to retire there. Family is there. South NJ, Pine Barrens, Whiting area. In your “Dueling States, NJ, MD, VA, DE” article, DE is very enticing for retirees; especially with all the tax advantages etc. NJ is high. But to visit family the travel from DE to NJ is long. Is it worth it? Help! Comment/suggestions from any one?

    by Vincent Sabath — October 6, 2010

  4. @ Vincent Sabath: Depends on what you mean by “long”. Two possible alternatives to Delaware that would be within a reasonable drive to southern NJ would be the upper counties of Maryland’s eastern shore and southeastern PA. MD is a high tax state and the trip would be as long as from Delaware. Conversely, PA is more tax-friendly and if you retired to a community north of Philadelphia, a road trip over to the Whiting area would be a lot more doable. And the SEPTA rail system in SE PA would give you a lot of public transportation access all over the Philly area.

    by Glenn — October 10, 2010

  5. Hey Vinnie! I’m originally from Jersey. Retire in Lewes, DE, take the ferry and a short NJTransit train ride and you/re there! Good Luck. I’m thinking of DE as well!

    by Marie — October 13, 2010

  6. […] » Dueling Retirement States: De Vs. Va Vs. Md Vs. Nj Topretirements […]

    by Baltimore City Property Tax | Maryland | County Property Tax — October 19, 2010

  7. […] » Dueling Retirement States: DE vs. VA vs. MD vs. NJ Topretirements […]

    by Retirement Communities – Why Live in a Retirement Community — October 26, 2010

  8. […] retirement destinations. Don’t miss the first, Florida vs. Arizona Retirement, or the second, Delaware vs. Maryland vs. Virginia vs. New Jersey. We welcome ideas for future […]

    by » Dueling Carolinas: North Carolina vs. South Carolina As the Best Retirement State Topretirements — November 15, 2010

  9. Hey Glenn, I live north of Philadelphia. It is a very nice area. But we will
    not be able to retire here because the taxes are very high. I have lived here
    all my life.

    by Ken — February 2, 2012

  10. Southern Delaware is wonderful and has tons of things to do. We live just above Lewes DE right off Coastal Highway. Easy trip to the beaches without the traffic hassels. (about 11 minutes from Milford) we have great food stores, Tanger Outlets, Hundreds of restaurants of all types, (we are the ‘Culinary Coast’), Classes for adults at University of Delaware, Lewes Campus, and of course, our gorgeous clean beaches. Retired here 6 years ago from PA to TAX FRIENDLY DE! Downsized and bought a beautiful new condo. Could not be happier!

    by Coastal Lady — August 29, 2012

  11. To Coastal Lady – thanks for the comments about DE. My husband and I are looking around the Lewes/Rehoboth area as our destination, sometime next spring. Hadn’t seen many comments here from DE retirees so yours were a welcome sight, especially since they were so positive!

    by KathyJ — August 30, 2012

  12. Coastal Lady, thanks for the DE update. I hope to fly up early next year to look at various communities – will probably start looking in the Lewes/Milton area. My husband and I are from NJ originally and are currently living in Houston (which I will be so glad to leave due to HOT HOT summers, high property taxes and terrible traffic.) We originally considered PA but decided on DE due to low property taxes and overall tax friendliness to retirees. Do you live in Milford? What is the name of your community? Thanks again for your positive comments.

    by Fionna — August 30, 2012

  13. I also live in Nj and looking at DE as a tax friendly state to retire. I love saltwater fishing and need beaches close to where i will live.Has anyone visited coastal DE community’s? I think i would like a all age community rather than 55 and over.

    by Snapper05 — August 30, 2012

  14. My wife and I have been investigating where our “best place to semi-retire” will be. We’ve used topretirements extensively, as well as many other sources – lots of them were gleaned from comments posted on this website. Our criteria are complex – family, home prices, taxes, weather, access to water/beaches, healthcare, and so on.

    Three criteria – home prices, access to water/beaches and family led us to focus on FL and DE. We both have lived in the MD/DC area most of our lives and much of our family is in the area. Over the past year, our research gave us insight.

    I favored it partly because one of my brothers lives in FL and I attended college for a year and lived in Boca Raton. But, for the past year, I kept records for temperature and dew point for Annapolis, MD and Melbourne, FL. [Dew point is a humidity measure of comfort/discomfort. Any dewpoint over about 70% is not comfortable.]

    The results were revealing. For FL, the DP was 70% or over 50% of 263 days (didn’t recored results all 365 days) whereas MD was 70% or over 17% of 263 days – and MD/DC is considered humid. And it is, but for far fewer days].

    We have decided to move to DE. Low taxes, most any town in Sussex county is close to the beach. Taxes of all kinds are very low. Home prices for a given floor area are higher on average than FL homes but not substantially so, and Annapolis is about 1.5-2.0 hrs away. Lots of other reasons too. We like DE.

    by Roger — August 31, 2012

  15. Concerning the information about Maryland Tax: you forgot to mention the additonal, up to, 3% county income tax which you must add to the 6% state income tax. 8.5% to 9% is probably more accurate.

    by Brent Cole — August 31, 2012

  16. Thanks for sharing your very interesting research. Delaware has come up as tops on tax-friendly screens, but I’d never before seen facts on humidity or the dew point. I’m not a major fan of humidity.

    by Linda — August 31, 2012

  17. For me the only down side for DE is winters same as NJ.Guess i can go to warmer climate for a long 3 month weekend.:lol:

    by Snapper05 — August 31, 2012

  18. As you can see, we live in NJ. Just got another tax hike :cry: and we are done with NJ. We too are looking at DE. For those of you who made the move any suggestions on how/what/where did you find your fav location in DE. Any suggestions on a real estate agency? We plan to visit Sussex county this month to look around.

    by Bernadetteinnj — September 1, 2012

  19. We live in Minnesota but my wife’s children reside in New Jersey. We have visited DE and fell in love with Lewes, but did not spent much time there. In addition to concerns about medical care, I am very concerned about public transprotation. I know about the Lewes-Cape May Ferry and the trolley service from Lewes to Rohebeth Beach(but nothing about the frequency). Can anyone give us information about other forms of public and private transprotation? Thank you.

    by brutae — September 2, 2012

  20. All the info above is great. My husband and I are young retiree’s (59) and are looking to move closer to our grandchildren, currently have a 10 hr drive. DE sounds the best to us and will only be a 2-3 hour drive.
    We’re looking for 55+ communities with many activities; any suggestions?

    by leavingduxma — February 16, 2013

  21. Stay out of Maryland taxes and hidden fees going up all the time. We live in MD but cannot wait to retire and get out Just got hit with rain tax

    by skinsfan — June 17, 2013

  22. i believe nj is the best place to retire base on things to do and place to go . since i love the theater and art nj, with its access to new york , atlantic city, phyli , the beach,all one to two hours away . however with its tax burden new jersey have lots of room for improvement

    by roy b — September 11, 2013

  23. We live in Red Bank Nj (http://www.redbank.com/) and love it here. I’m retired 3 years and my wife retires next month. We would love to stay here but the real estate taxes are 9,000 a year. Plus state tax and sales tax. Roy B is right there is so much to do here. We are 6 miles from the beach, an hour and a half car ride to Atlantic City and Philadelphia, an hour and a half train to Penn Stataion NYC, an 8 mile drive and 45 minute ferry to South Street Seaport in NYC, Jets and Giants, Yankees and Mets, Rangers and Devils, Knicks, all close by. Red Bank has very walkable downtown (http://www.walkscore.com/score/red-bank-nj) with lots of restaurants and stores. Lots of events in the town: a food wine walk 5 times a year, Riverfest festival, Oyster festival, Classic Cars weekend, Street Fair, concerts in the park. Within 6 miles of Monmouth University which has Division 1 basketball and Brookdale Community College which offers classes at very reasonable prices. Lots of parks in the area for hiking (http://www.monmouthcountyparks.com/page.aspx?Id=2483), 2 dog parks within 6 miles, 1 mile from a Trader Joe’s and 3 miles to Whole Foods. A great area to live in. So why are we thinking of moving? I would love to have warm weather year round and the cost of living is high.

    by Mike Sinark — September 12, 2013

  24. There are also 2 theatres in town for plays and concerts.

    by Mike Sinark — September 12, 2013

  25. skinsfan-I too am a Skins fan – we will survive:) Okay, I have never heard of a rain tax before…could you explain that in more detail, all I can think of is now they are taxing water? Wow! The powers that be may add a tax to water bills, okay, but a RAIN tax? Really? I am just curious…

    by DianaF — September 12, 2013

  26. Can’t wait to escape NJ – as fast as possible. Property taxes are userous and traffic is omnipresent. Yes, there is lots to do, but I would gladly trade more boredom for less mass confusion and governmental control.
    We can move to practically any other state (with the exclusions of California and NY)and give ourselves a big raise. We;ll find things to do – not worried about that. Just hoep we find someone desperate enough to buy our house in NJ.

    by Kelly — September 12, 2013

  27. Kelly we moved from CT to Florida and then Texas and could not believe how much cheaper it was! We would never move back to the North East! Talk about a rat race! CT taxes you on everything although I heard taxes are worse in NJ! If you like the warm weather look south if you like the cold look into Co. Good luck where ever you end up.

    by Skip — September 13, 2013

  28. […] » Dueling Retirement States: DE vs. VA vs. MD vs. NJ Topretirements says […]

    by » How North Carolina Climbed over Florida as Favorite Retirement State Topretirements — September 30, 2013

  29. We too are looking to retire. I really love the jersey shore. My husband wants DE. The HOA fees in DE are high. Many rules and restrictions. No trees in the newer communities. Would like to be closer to the beach, but houses more expensive than jersey

    by Loretta Swope — July 31, 2014

  30. Still working and live in Va. Bought a short sale house in Frankford (1.5 miles from Bethany Beach ..a hidden gem). Can’t wait to fully port over out of Vriginia to Delaware. The winters are cold down there but the money you save in taxes you can rent a place in Florida. No brainer. Delaware is cheaper than Florida too (as far as full time living ). Something to consider.

    by pete — December 6, 2014

  31. Can some of you who go South for the winter explain how you can leave your house unoccupied for 3-6 months of the year? We have a boiler in our home and although brand new, anything can happen to knock it out, not heat the house and the pipes could bust and flood the interior of our home? Sometimes when we lose power, the boiler may need to be manually restarted. Not to mention, a pipe under your sink could bust and it would be gushing water and flood the house and basement. It happened to my Mom where the kitchen pipe busted and she was bailing water while trying to call a plumber. Fortunately they rushed to her house and turned off the valve. Not to mention when my Mom passed and we sold her car that tipped off the insurance people and they would not insure an unoccupied house once the policy expired. This was AARP insurance. We had to pay HUGE insurance bills through another insurance company till the house was sold. If the insurance company should find out you had not occupied the home for months, and it got damaged, they may not pay if a disastrous event occurs. Another person I know had a fully electric home and turned off his thermostat and went away for a few weeks in the middle of the winter. When he got home, his pipes had busted somewhere in his house and when he came back his house was really a mess and he had many thousands of dollars in damages. A major renovation occurred to repair the disaster. Not to mention, burglars target houses that appear unoccupied. These are just a few worries I would have if I left my home for month’s at a time. On our previous vacations we put timers on lights all over the house to come on and off to make it look lived in and of coarse stopped newspapers and mail.

    by Louise — December 7, 2014

  32. Oh, and one more thing, during the winter we have had some particularly harsh winters where snow on the roof builds up, turns to ice and can be potentially bad as iced up gutters hold all this snow in place. Ice can cut into the roof and cause leaks through the ceilings in the house. About 4-5 years ago we had a long span of freezing weather and everyone was trying to buy ‘roof rakes’ to try to get some weight (snow) off the roofs. The hardware stores had never had so many requests for the rakes…we have two! We had a very tiny leak in our kitchen but it was nothing compared to others who were losing their minds while their ceiling were falling down! Winters are a challenge and always unpredictable. You can plan for everything then Mother Nature changes the rules!

    by Louise — December 7, 2014

  33. Sorry that you didn’t include Pennsylvania in the mix! Would like to see how that stacked up.

    by Joy — December 7, 2014

  34. Hey Pete,
    Is Delaware less expensive than all of Virginia? I’m interested in the extreme SW area. Have you compared it to Tenn., No. Carolina, or Georgia?

    by ella — December 8, 2014

  35. When we owned a house (now live in a townhouse condo), we had a plumber come in within two weeks after we left. Steve would turn off the water, the gas, and the electric (to the house, but would leave it on to the meters); then within two weeks of our return, he would turn everything back on, make sure there were no problems (there never was). We live in New England so the winters were harsh, but we never had a problem, ever. The key is to get a very good reliable plumber. Now that we live in a condo, we cannot do that. We can only turn off our water and turn our heat down to 55. Gas stays on and electric stays on (along with the condo fees with go on forever). Oh, and we’d be gone for 4-1/2 to 5 months.

    by Gail — December 8, 2014

  36. Pete: You make a good point. The savings in real estate taxes (or income taxes, if applicable to 401k withdrawals or other income) in some locations over the cost of taxes in another state could cover the rent for a place in FL or somewhere else warm for a month or two a year. Or free up disposable income for living expenses. We keep coming back to the same issue about trying to figure out the net cost of living in each state.

    by Ted — December 9, 2014

  37. Virginia is a big state. Hard to see how statewide averages have any useful meaning. Relocating is one part careful cost analysis and several parts intuitive response to a place. The cost of being miserable in an “affordable” retirement locale cannot be measured.

    by Sandie — December 9, 2014

  38. […] your reference: South Carolina North Carolina Arizona vs. Florida Retirement Dueling Retirement States: NJ vs. DE vs. MD vs. VA How North Carolina Climbed over Florida as #1 Retirement State Best States for Retirement State […]

    by » Retirement in the Mid-South Comparison: Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, and Alabama - Topretirements — December 10, 2014

  39. […] further reference: State Retirement Guides Retirement 101 Mid-Atlantic States: MD, DE, VA, NJ Florida Retirement 101 Dueling Carolinas: NC vs. SC Dueling States: Arizona vs. Florida California […]

    by » Dueling Retirement States: The Pacific Northwest (OR and WA) - Topretirements — February 16, 2015

  40. We are wrestling between Lewes, DE and Cape Coral, FL. We currently reside in MN. It is extremely difficult to figure out the differences in the cost of lving between these three diverse states. I would appreciate any imput from anyone. Thanks

    by Brutae — February 23, 2015

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