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10 least tax-friendly states for retirees

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According to Kiplinger’s 2014 analysis of state taxes, retirees could find themselves paying state taxes on their Social Security income or laying it out for capital gains taxes, depending on where they live. 

In addition, lots of states don’t care where your retirement income comes from; they’ll expect you to pay them their share.

So, if you’re looking for ways to cut expenses in retirement, you might want to stay away from these 10 states, where taxes are definitely unkind to retirees.


1. Rhode Island. 

The smallest state has the biggest tax bill for retirees. State income tax rates range from 3.75-5.99 percent (and that’s after it lowered its top tax rate from 9.9 percent!), and the state will treat your Social Security checks the same as the federal government — taxing up to 85 percent of them. If you have a pension or other retirement income, don’t get cocky; you’ll be paying taxes on that, too.

In addition, the Ocean State has a sales tax of 7 percent and the 11th highest property taxes in the country, with Tax Foundation figures putting the median property tax on its median home value of $267,100 at $3,618. 

Little Rhody will also get you after your demise, with a tax on estates of more than $921,655 and a top estate tax rate of 16 percent. Good thing surviving spouses are exempt from it, but your kids and other kin won’t be. The only good thing is that it doesn’t have an inheritance tax as well. 


2. Vermont. 

Bet you didn’t know that “green” in “Green Mountain State” stood for all the money it will rake in at your (retired) expense. 

State income tax rates range from 3.55-8.95 percent. Most retirement income is taxed here, along with Social Security, just like they do in Rhode Island. 

The state sales tax is 6 percent, but before you get too excited, you might want to remember that local municipalities can tack on another percent. While food to be consumed at home isn’t taxed, and neither are clothing or prescription and nonprescription drugs, prepared foods, restaurant meals and lodging are taxed at 9 percent, and 10 percent if you just have to have that glass of Merlot or pint of stout with dinner. 

Vermont’s property taxes are even higher than Rhode Island’s, according to the Tax Foundation, the seventh highest in the country. If you have a median-priced home at $216,300, you’ll pay a median $3,444 a year for it. The town or municipality where you live will collect both parts of your tax bill — school property tax and municipal property tax. There’s also a state education tax on nonresidential and homestead property. And forget about getting a senior break on that bill. If your income is less than $99,000, though, you might qualify for a rebate on school and municipal property taxes, to a maximum of $8,000. 

Estates of more than $2.75 million are taxed at a rate of up to 16 percent. Surviving spouses are exempt, and there’s no inheritance tax. 


3. Connecticut. 

Military retirement pay is the only retirement income cut any kind of a break in the Constitution State, with half being exempt from taxes. Anything else, just fork it over. And Social Security? Single taxpayers with a federal AGI of more than $50,000 and married taxpayers filing jointly with federal AGI of more than $60,000 will have to pay on a portion of their benefit checks. 

State income tax ranges from 3-6.7 percent and the state sales tax is 6.35 percent, but if you’re into certain luxury items, you could be paying 7 percent instead. 

Real estate taxes here are the 10th highest in the country, and median tax on a median-valued home of $291,200 will set you back $4,738. Towns or taxing districts are the ones that assess the taxes, and to catch a break you’ll have to be part of a married couple 65 or older with an income of $39,500 or less; then you’re eligible for a property tax credit of up to $1,250. 

Estates valued at $2 million or more are taxed progressively; rates range from 7.2-12 percent. Surviving spouses are exempt, and there is no inheritance tax. 


4. Minnesota. 

You might almost as well call it the Land of 10,000 Taxes. Another state that treats Social Security income the same way the federal government does, Minnesota taxes pensions, too — not even the military catch a break here. Tax rates range from 5.35-9.85 percent, with that last a new tax rate added in 2013 just for those whose taxable income is more than $150,000 for single filers and more than $250,000 for joint filers.

State sales tax is 6.875 percent, with a few cities and counties adding their own on top. At least food, clothing and prescription and nonprescription drugs are exempt — but that’s from the state sales tax only. 

Property taxes aren’t quite so bad here, with a median-valued home of $200,400 being taxed at a median $2,098. Those whose taxes are high compared with income might be able to qualify for a state-paid refund, regardless of age. 

While estates more than $1.2 million are taxed at a maximum rate of 16 percent (surviving spouses are exempt), the state’s estate tax threshold will increase by $200,000 annually until it hits $2 million in 2018. There is no inheritance tax. In addition, while the state had passed a gift tax in 2013, it was repealed in March after having been in effect for less than a year. 


5. Oregon. 

One of the highest income tax rates in the country could keep you beavering away at looking for deductions or loopholes. Income is taxed at 5-9.9 percent (that last rate for taxable income of $125,000, $250,000 for married couples filing jointly). Social Security benefits aren’t taxes here, but most other retirement income is, and then there’s the combined federal and state capital gains tax — at 31 percent, the third-highest in the country. 

Fortunately, there’s no sales tax. And, to be fair, Oregon allows residents to subtract their current year’s federal tax liability, after credits, up to $6,250, depending on income and filing status. And there’s a retirement-income credit for seniors, subject to certain income restrictions. 

Counties in Oregon set property tax rates, and on a median home of $257,400, the median tax rate is $2,241. Homeowners 62 or older with income up to $42,000 in 2014 can defer property taxes, but not avoid them. When they sell, no longer live there permanently or die, those taxes will come due. 

The estate tax is on estates of more than $1 million, with a top tax rate of 16%. Surviving spouses or registered domestic partners are exempt. There is no inheritance tax. 


6. Montana. 

There’s no sales tax here, no estate tax and no inheritance tax. But before you pack and call the mover, you should know that you’ll be paying taxes on most of your retirement income. The state income tax rates range from 1.0-6.9 percent, and that top rate kicks in on taxable income of — are you ready for this? – $16,700. There’s a pension and annuity income exemption of up to $3,900 per person, with some limitations, and those 65 or older can exclude up to $1,600 of interest income from state taxes. 

Tourist taxes are heavy, though. What, you’re not a tourist? Too bad — you’ll still be paying a 3 percent tax on campgrounds and accommodations, a 4 percent tax on rental vehicles, and maybe a local sales tax of 3 percent, imposed by the local community, if the community is tourism-dependent. 

Median-valued homes of $176,300 will be taxed at a median rate of $1,465. Homeowners and renters 62 or older do get one small perk: they can be eligible for a refundable income tax credit worth up to $1,000 if they’ve lived in the state for nine months, occupied a residence for six months and have a gross household income of less than $45,000. 


7. California. 

While it’s not surprising California is on this list, what is surprising is that it’s not at the top of the list. Somebody’s got to pay for all that sunshine. Social Security benefits are exempt from state income tax (rates range from 1.0-13.3 percent), but no other retirement pay is. In fact, retirees who take money from their retirement plans before they hit 59½ get socked with a 2.5 percent penalty on top of the IRS’s customary 10 percent. 

California’s income taxes are the highest in the U.S. That 13.3 percent rate kicks in on income of more than $1 million for singles and for couples filing jointly. Capital gains will cost you, too; according to the Tax Foundation, wealthy investors can end up paying up to 33 percent on combined stare and federal taxes. 

State sales tax is 7.5 percent, with cities and counties adding more on top — in some places up to a total of 10 percent. Food and prescription drugs are exempt. 

Median property tax on a $384,200 median-priced home is $2,839, since while property is assessed at 100 percent of market value, taxes are capped at 1 percent of assessed value. And under the state’s homestead program, the first $7,000 of the full value of the home is exempt. Retirees, forget about property tax breaks. But at least there are no estate taxes or inheritance taxes. 


8. Nebraska. 

While Social Security benefits are currently taxed the same way as the federal government does it, that will start to change next year. Married couples with an AGI of $58,000 or less and singles with an AGI of $43,000 won’t have to pay. In addition, the state lowered its income tax range in 2013, to 2.46-6.84 percent on income of more than $29,000 for singles, $58,000 for married couples, and tax bracket thresholds changed a bit for the better as well. 

Starting in 2015, military retirees will catch a break, too. Within two years of retirement from the military, they’ll be able to make a one-time election either to exclude 40 percent of military retirement benefit income for seven consecutive taxable years, or 15 percent for all taxable years beginning the year the retiree turns 67. 

Sales tax is 5.5 percent. Real estate is assessed at 100 percent of market value, but agricultural land is assessed at 75 percent. A median-valued home at $123,300 will bring median property taxes of $2,164, which the Tax Foundation says is the sixth highest property tax rate in the country. Seniors over 65 earning less than $26,900 ($31,600 for married couples) are eligible for an exemption of $40,000 or 100 percent of the county’s average assessed value on single-family residential properties, whichever is greater. 

There’s no estate tax, but inheritance tax ranges from 1–18 percent, depending on the relationship of the heir. Charities and spouses are exempt. 


9. New Jersey. 

The Garden State grows taxes, depending on where you live. The Tax Foundation says it’s very good at it, too, with the highest state and local property taxes in the country. So retirees, beware. 

The good news is that while state income tax ranges from 1.4-8.97 percent, Social Security benefits and military retirement pay aren’t taxes. And for those 62 or older with gross income of $100,000 or less, up to $15,000 ($20,000 if married filing jointly) of retirement income from such 

sources as IRAs, pensions and annuities can be excluded. 

Sales tax is 7 percent. And median property tax on a median $348,300 house will cost you a whopping $6,579. If you make it to 65 or older, and you’ve lived in the state for at least 10 years and satisfy income requirements, you’ll be eligible for reimbursement of property tax increases. 

Oh, and on your way out, don’t forget to pay the estate taxes and the inheritance taxes. Close kin are generally exempt from the inheritance tax, but anybody else will get socked for between 11-16 percent on inheritances of $500 or more. Estates worth more than $675,000 could be in for taxes of up to 16 percent. Spouses and civil union partners are exempt. 


10. New York. 

While New York doesn’t tax Social Security benefits or public pensions, and allows an exemption of $20,000 for private pensions, out-of-state pensions, and IRA and Keogh plan distributions, it will get you on nonretirement income. State income tax rates range from 4.0-8.82 percent, but on capital gains it’s 31.5 percent — second-highest after California. 

Food, prescription and nonprescription drugs, green fees, health club memberships, and most arts and entertainment tickets are exempt from the state sales tax of 4 percent, but local taxes can add anywhere from 3-4.75 percent to your receipt. 

Real estate is taxed locally. There’s a cap of 2 percent or the rate of inflation, whichever is lower, on how much localities can collect. A median home of $306,000 will be taxed a median of $3,755, but seniors 65 and up with income at or below $81,900 are eligible to exempt up to $63,300 of their homes’ value from school property taxes. 

There’s no inheritance tax, and New York lowered the estate tax bill a bit by increasing the exemption to $2,062,500 in 2014 (it was “only” $1 million in 2013). It will continue to increase gradually until it meets the federal exemption, which is currently $5.34 million. Spouses are exempt.


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