NerdWallet Compares the Best Small Cities to Spend Your Retirement Savings

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Written by Courtney Miller

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You spent decades saving for retirement and now the end goal is in sight.

Where you choose to spend your golden years can help stretch retirement savings and maximize your investments, so NerdWallet crunched the numbers to find some of the best small cities for retirees.

To do so, we compared the data for cities with under 100,000 residents and factored in affordability, state taxes, local economic strength, transportation, health care quality and the size of the senior community.

Best small cities to spend your retirement savings

1. Fort Lee, New Jersey

Nestled along the Hudson River, across from Manhattan, Fort Lee is an option for retirees who want access to a major metropolitan area. Nearly a quarter of Fort Lee’s roughly 36,000 residents are 65 or older and a robust public transportation system makes it easy for retirees to get around Fort Lee and neighboring areas, including New York City. Here, you can quickly escape to nature, too, for fishing, hiking or boating at Palisades Interstate Park.

2. Bethel Park, Pennsylvania

Bethel Park offers retirees an affordable price without sacrificing access to activities, art and entertainment. The area’s average home price over the past 12 months was about $172,300, compared with an average of over $255,200 for the cities in this study. Bethel Park’s community center offers an indoor walking track and classes and clubs ranging from zumba to woodcarving. A light rail connects Bethel Park with downtown Pittsburgh, giving residents easy access to the city’s cultural district and the many theaters and galleries, as well as world-class museums in the Steel City.

3. Sarasota, Florida

Retirees flock to Sarasota for the sun and sandy beaches, not to mention Florida’s favorable tax structure. Nearly a quarter of the city’s residents are 65 or older, and those collecting Social Security pay no state tax on that income. Almost 80% of patients surveyed rated Sarasota Memorial Hospital a 9 or 10 out of 10.

4. Oro Valley, Arizona

Oro Valley is an established resort city and growing tech hub. This combination has helped the Tucson suburb build a strong economy and amass a sizable retiree population. Nearly 30 percent of Oro Valley’s estimated population of 42,000 are 65 or older, and the city’s economy grew 6% from 2011 to 2013. Retirees settling in Oro Valley can perfect their golf or tennis game at one of over a dozen courses and courts in the area.

5. Prescott, Arizona

Prescott sits near the Bradshaw Mountains, bordering the Prescott National Forest. The natural beauty and open space make Prescott perfect for retirees looking for access to trails and camping. In addition to a sizable community of retirees — 34% of residents are 65 or over — the area’s median home sale price from June  2014 to May 2015 was $267,922, just above the figure for all the places in our study.

6. Walnut Creek, California

Located just east of San Francisco, suburban Walnut Creek boasts access to urban amenities and rural beauty. Retirees in the city will find an extensive regional parks system, miles of hiking trails and Mount Diablo State Park. Walnut Creek’s temperate climate, stellar hospitals, easy access to public transportation — buses and trains — make the city a great option for retirement.

7. Brookfield, Wisconsin

Brookfield has an active retiree community, thanks in part to a local senior center that hosts fitness classes, movie nights, weekday meals and bus trips to attractions such as wineries and the Chicago Botanic Gardens. The Greenway Trail System connects many of the city’s parks and community centers with bike trails and footpaths. Local hospitals get a thumbs-up from residents, too. On average, 77.5% of patients surveyed gave hospitals a rating of 9 or 10 out of 10.

8. Saratoga Springs, New York

Saratoga Springs isn’t just one of the best cities in New York for young families, it’s also a place families can grow into. A strong local economy — median household income grew 4% from 2011 to 2013 — combined with ample cultural and outdoor activities make Saratoga Springs a great city for retirees. The Saratoga Performing Arts Center hosts a variety of performances and the Adirondacks are just a short drive away. An added bonus for retirees: Nearly 75% of patients rated Saratoga Hospital a 9 or 10 out of 10.

9. Bloomington, Minnesota

Bloomington gives retirees access to strong medical facilities, cultural activities and sports leagues. On average, 73.5% of patients rated area hospitals either a 9 or 10 out of 10. The Bloomington Center for the Arts curates more than a dozen art exhibits annually and stages several performances at the center’s two theaters. The city’s 50+ Program offers softball, tennis, yoga and other activities.

10. Northampton, Massachusetts

Dubbed “Paradise City,” Northampton is a utopia for retirees who want to immerse themselves in the art, music and progressive culture of this New England city. The city hosts an annual independent film festival and the local Academy of Music Theatre presents movies, ballets, operas and other productions. Retirees can also indulge their green thumb at Northampton’s community garden, which rents plots to residents.

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Best small cities to spend your retirement savings

Rank

City

Percentage of residents age 65 and older

Average house sale price June 2014- May 2015

Favorable score in Medicare hospital rating

State tax on Social Security benefits

Median household income in 2013

Median household income growth 2011-2013

Average unemployment rate April 2014-March 2015

Non-car commuters

Score

1

Fort Lee, New Jersey

0.237

375033

0.718

No

70374

0.032

0.041

0.246

67.44

2

Bethel Park, Pennsylvania

0.201

172254

0.688

No

71229

0.032

0.042

0.132

65.75

3

Sarasota, Florida

0.234

256864

0.745

No

42782

0.06

0.051

0.053

63.37

4

Oro Valley, Arizona

0.28

245738

0.72

No

75368

0.062

0.053

0.028

63.31

5

Prescott, Arizona

0.342

267922

0.74

No

42181

-0.016

0.066

0.086

61.66

6

Walnut Creek, California

0.266

579996

0.755

No

80192

-0.054

0.039

0.194

61.45

7

Brookfield, Wisconsin

0.21

264967

0.775

No

86703

-0.021

0.041

0.019

61.29

8

Saratoga Springs, New York

0.172

300513

0.74

No

68233

0.044

0.044

0.128

61.07

9

Bloomington, Minnesota

0.195

215008

0.735

Yes

61885

0.005

0.036

0.064

60.82

10

Northampton, Massachusetts

0.157

266853

0.71

No

57908

0.05

0.039

0.145

60.75

11

Roseville, Minnesota

0.212

213474

0.698

Yes

62161

-0.042

0.033

0.061

60.62

12

Orland Park, Illinois

0.213

211329

0.64

No

77582

0.008

0.056

0.079

60.07

13

Chesterfield, Missouri

0.206

320811

0.85

Yes

92837

-0.063

0.04

0.012

59.89

14

Northbrook, Illinois

0.234

478771

0.64

No

106922

0.002

0.048

0.154

59.83

15

Jupiter, Florida

0.219

293600

0.77

No

68068

0.033

0.041

0.01

59.81

16

Wooster, Ohio

0.17

129390

0.79

No

39022

-0.06

0.042

0.121

59.64

17

Deerfield Beach, Florida

0.227

113316

0.695

No

38629

0.055

0.051

0.044

59.62

18

Park Ridge, Illinois

0.172

365917

0.78

No

87055

-0.018

0.051

0.142

59.61

19

Westlake, Ohio

0.191

202427

0.75

No

77274

0.057

0.045

0.025

59.55

20

Monroeville, Pennsylvania

0.221

132988

0.695

No

59145

0.01

0.049

0.042

59.53

21

Highland Park, Illinois

0.202

467836

0.71

No

112686

0.045

0.046

0.137

59.52

22

Watertown, Massachusetts

0.159

376298

0.695

No

89414

0.055

0.037

0.188

59.42

23

Newton, Massachusetts

0.161

711076

0.79

No

120496

0.069

0.039

0.169

59.41

24

Downers Grove, Illinois

0.156

287975

0.74

No

83545

-0.007

0.047

0.122

58.96

25

Harrison, New York

0.133

179200

0.656

No

104340

-0.04

0.051

0.3

58.43

26

Wheeling, West Virginia

0.215

179200

0.695

Yes

35702

-0.003

0.058

0.075

58.14

27

North Olmsted, Ohio

0.19

136410

0.704

No

61296

0.075

0.051

0.05

58.08

28

Niles, Illinois

0.254

222746

0.64

No

43707

-0.083

0.058

0.087

57.91

29

Hackensack, New Jersey

0.135

203238

0.78

No

53903

-0.042

0.063

0.258

57.81

30

Arlington Heights, Illinois

0.181

298788

0.73

No

77280

0.02

0.05

0.078

57.79

Methodology

We examined data for 971 cities, all with populations under 100,000 residents, to determine the best small cities for retirement. Our analysis considered the following factors: size of the senior community, affordability, health care quality, taxes on Social Security benefits, strength of the local economy and access to transportation.

Senior community. The percentage of the population 65 and older, based on the 2013 U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, is 25% of a city’s score.

Affordability. The average home price from March 2014 to February 2015, based on data from Zillow Research, is 12.5% of a city’s score.

Health care quality. This is the percentage of patients who rate their care a 9 or 10 out of 10 on Medicare’s Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems. We used the average rating for hospitals in the city. If there wasn’t a hospital in the city, the county average was used to assess access to quality health care. This is 12.5% of a city’s score.

Taxes. Does the state tax Social Security benefits? This AARP data is 12.5% of a city’s score.

Local economy. NerdWallet examined median household income from the 2013 American Community Survey, and unemployment data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. We looked at household income growth over a three-year period from 2011 to 2013, and average unemployment rates from February 2014 to March 2015. These factors accounted for 25% of a city’s score.

Transportation. To weigh access to public transportation and a city’s walking options, we used a proxy: the number of commuters using public transportation or walking to work, according to the 2013 American Community Survey. This was 12.5% of a city’s score.

NerdWallet staff writer Kelsey Sheehy contributed to this article.

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