Please stop giving me bad advice on where to retire

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John O'Connor
John O'Connor

It seems like hardly a month goes by without some organization posting a “best places to retire” list. Other than a tendency to be full of nonsense, I suppose most are harmless.

My main issue with these scorecards is that most have fallen victim to the same malady. Their overwhelming consensus seems to be that locations with the lowest taxes are inherently superior.

I'll admit there is some merit to such a prejudice. For when it comes to taxes, nobody wants to pay more than necessary. Most of us would like to pay a lot less. And as any person on a fixed income will tell you, it pays to watch every dollar.

But choosing where to retire strictly on the basis of lower taxes is sort of like buying a house based on utility costs. Should it matter? Yes. Should it be the main driver? Hardly.

And in both cases, the results can be a bit of a head scratcher. Consider this week's entry from an organization that calls itself Senior Advice.

Three of the five worst states on its list currently have more than 10 million inhabitants. California alone has more than 39 million, New York is home to nearly 20 million and Illinois has 12.8 million people within its borders. Also included in the yucky category are Maine and New Mexico, two of the more popular travel destinations you're likely to find. These are inferior to the nation's other 45 states? Apparently, a lot of people didn't get the memo.

As for those so-called best places to retire? I guess I can see the argument for Virginia, which comes in at No. Two. But Wyoming as the top choice? And South Dakota, Louisiana and Alabama in the top five? With all due respect, I don't think so.

For while these “top” states have relatively lower taxes, many also have some of the not-so-pleasant things that can accompany lower taxes.

And look, I'm sure they are all wonderful places. I'm not here to bash them. (And if you happen to reside in one of these great states, please don't send me a nasty note.)

But for my money, I think I'll opt for options with an abundance world-class restaurants, plays, concerts, sports teams, well-funded school districts and working safety nets.

Yes, these accoutrements may cost a bit more. But as the saying goes, you get what you pay for. And for my money, these “worst” places deliver a pretty good bang for the buck. 

John O'Connor is editorial director of McKnight's Senior Living. Email him at john.oconnor@mcknights.com.

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