The Most Tax-Friendly States for Retirement

Updated 03/11/19. Note: The tax bill that went into effect 2018 dramatically changes the landscape on state taxation. Residents in high tax states are losing most of the federal exemptions they have enjoyed on their state taxes (State and Local Tax - SALT -exemptions against federal taxes are now limited to $10,000). The result is that these states are now even more tax unfriendly. Also, state tax rates are changing constantly. While we do are best to keep this page up to date you should check with the individual states before you make any decisions based on taxes.

Are you concerned about finding the most tax-friendly states for your retirement? This website and our free weekly eNewsletter can help you cut through the confusing state tax picture and make sure you choose one that is truly tax-friendly. Although taxes are an important factor in choosing a place to retire,  they probably aren't as critical as climate and the kind of environment you want to retire to.  Don't miss our "10 Worst States for Retirement" article for more.

The major taxes you need to be concerned about are property taxes, income taxes, sales taxes, and how your pensions and social security will be taxed in the state. All of these factors need to be considered together for your particular situation. You should also be concerned about differences within a state - sales, income, and property taxes can differ significantly among cities in the same state.

Income Taxes. There are 7 states that have no income tax: Alaska, Florida, Nevada, South Dakota, Texas, Washington, and Wyoming. Tennessee and New Hampshire only tax certain amounts of dividend and interest income. Income taxes in the 43 other states can vary widely.  Many have generous exemptions for people over 65 or in certain classes, like public or military retirees. Others have high exemptions that mean people with middle incomes won't pay much income tax.  If income taxes are an important consideration to you, before selecting a state for retirement it is a good idea to run a practice state income tax return to see how you might be affected. The Tax Foundation has a very helpful chart showing 2018 income tax rates for all states.

Property Tax. Property tax is the enemy for most retirements. These taxes are based on the worth of your home, but they have no relation to your income or ability to pay. Most, but not all, southern states have low property taxes, whereas the old industrial states of the northeast and midwest tend to have high property taxes. Alabama has the lowest and New Jersey the highest property taxes in the nation. For example in a recent year, the per capita property tax paid in Alabama was $540, whereas in New Jersey it was $3,074 (of course the value of the homes was certainly higher in New Jersey).  California has a law limiting property tax increases. Florida's Save Our Homes law limits the amount of the appraised value of their home can go up by the cost of living or 3%, whichever is less, for permanent residents.

Taxation of pensions and retirement distributions from 401ks/IRAs is a very important consideration for retirees looking for a tax-friendly state, particularly if you are going to receive a sizable pension. Many states exempt some or all federal, state, and local government pensions from state income taxation - those include Alabama, Hawaii, Illinois, Kansas, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan (where the exemption is being phased out), Mississippi, New York, and Pennsylvania (plus, see above for the 7 states that have no state income tax at all). Georgia has phased out taxation of pension and social security income. More than half of all states exempt all or most income from military pensions from state income taxation.  Five states allow no exemption for pensions of any kind: California, Connecticut, Nebraska, Rhode Island, and Vermont.

Taxation of Social Security. The majority of states do not tax social security income. Thirteen states tax either part or all social security benefits. Those states are Colorado, Connecticut, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico,  North Dakota, Rhode Island, Vermont, West Virginia, and Utah. Beginning in 2020, West Virginia will eliminate taxation of Social Security over a 3 year period.

Sales Tax. This tax is probably not that major a factor for the average retiree, at least compared to the amount you might pay for income and property taxes. Obviously if you make a big ticket purchase like a car, it will be a factor. There are big differences between states, with some charging none at all (Alaska, Delaware, Montana, New Hampshire, and Oregon) - while others have whopping tax rates. Some states exempt food and clothing, others do not. Many counties and municipalities, such as New York City, tack on their own sales tax.

As you can see there are some states that are more tax-friendly than others. But the answer for you might not be as simple as a list of the lowest tax states - you need to evaluate your particular situation for the states you are considering. For example, if you have a military pension, you might want to consider a state that won't tax it - all other things being equal. But if you have no income other than social security or an exempt pension, then the presence of an income tax is of no bearing to you.

In general the states with the lowest state tax burden are:

  • South Dakota
  • Texas
  • Tennessee
  • Wyoming
  • Alaska

Taxes are not always the whole story though. Consider Alaska, which has almost no taxes and actually pays residents an annual dividend. But, because it is so cold and remote, is one of the most expensive places you can live. Family and friends should be more important than taxes. If your children and friends live in a high tax state, moving far away from them just to save money on taxes might make you miserable. Use this link to find the "20 Most affordable Places to Retire", or "These States Actually Encourage You to Retire There".

Estate and Inheritance Taxes
There are 12 states that have estate taxes, plus the District of Columbia. Six states have inheritance taxes (paid by your heirs on what they receive from your estate).  One state, Maryland, taxes estates and inheritances. Several states like Indiana and Tennessee have phased out these taxes, or are increasing the exemptions. Connecticut is going in the opposite direction. See the Topretirements article, "Best States to Die In" for more details. The Tax Foundation also a helpful article and chart, "States with Estate Taxes."

Find out more about taxation in the individual Topretirements state retirement guides

Get started by clicking on the state guides on the right. Or check out our reviews of the best retirement towns



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