Your clients may have most of their ducks in a row – retirement accounts, life and health insurance, Social Security and asset draw-down strategies – but have they decided for sure they’ll be staying in place?
Different states’ taxes, costs of living and unique expenses can drastically affect portfolio longevity and ideal income strategies, and moving is a popular option among today’s retirees. In fact, a Brookings Institute study on aging in the United States showed that 31 metropolitan areas saw their senior populations grow by more than 25 percent between 2000 and 2010. In comparison, the same study found that the 65 and older crowd grew by just 15 percent nationwide.
Why do imminent and even current retirees often decide to move? The reasons differ from one family to the next, but a variety of tax burdens are top concerns, especially for well-to-do seniors. “Financially speaking, property tax is one of the biggest reasons to start the search,” said Hank Parrot, Estate and Financial Strategies President. Louisiana, Alabama and South Carolina are popular retirement spots with little to no property tax, while New Jersey, New Hampshire and Texas have some of the highest rates, for example.
For retirees of both substantial and average means, income tax is often an even greater concern. “The most important consideration is to look at your income and tax levels and determine what your costs will be in different states,” said Christopher Cannon, RetireRight Pittsburgh Wealth Management Advisor. “Social Security, private pensions, government pensions, IRAs, 401(k)s and other assets will all be taxed differently.” A few states have no income tax at all, while others still tax interest and dividends, a key distinction for well-invested clients. On the other hand, seniors who’ll be living on fixed incomes may want to consider Mississippi, Tennessee and other states that exclude Social Security and pensions from their income taxes.
A lack of income tax doesn’t tell the whole story, however. “Even if a state doesn’t tax income, they might have high sales and local taxes,” said Cannon. Florida, for instance, has no income tax but a six percent sales tax. In contrast, Alabama has income taxes ranging from two to five percent, but it only levies a four percent sales tax. Combined with differences in property taxes, these kinds of discrepancies can make a big difference in portfolio longevity for retirees more concerned with controlling costs than maintaining assets. For those who do have substantial assets to save and pass on, finding a state with low or no inheritance and estate taxes may be even more important.
In addition to taxes, state-to-state price differences on consumer goods, home maintenance and other regular expenses can have just as large an impact on retirees’ overall living costs. “We find that people who aren’t in the best financial situations and who live in expensive homes oftentimes can’t maintain their living standards,” said Drew Weckbach of Scaling Independence. “Many of them need to get away from high cost areas, and they need to adopt different lifestyles that aren’t so expensive.” Weckbach has found that many of his clients’ expenses are unique to their hometowns and social groups, and that they automatically cut costs by moving, finding new friends and taking on cheaper hobbies.
Financial considerations aside, there are plenty of other factors that push clients to either move or stay in place. “The family tends to be the biggest determinant, and it’s one of the only reasons I’ve heard of clients not wanting to move,” said Cannon. Distance from children and grandchildren often spurs retirees to move cross country, while staying near local relatives can be a reason to downsize within more expensive states. The year-round availability and affordability of golf, hiking, fishing and other outdoors activities also attracts many seniors to warmer states, even when they can afford to remain near their families in colder areas.
Ultimately, advisors and accountants need to help their clients weigh all of these considerations to determine whether a move fits within their overall financial plans. “The first thing to do is to look at the source of income and have a CPA run sample tax returns to see the difference in tax burdens from state to state,” said Cannon. “If possible, also have the client go and rent in an area before they make the decision to move.” These trial runs can help clients to make the most informed decisions to move, stay in place or split time between homes in different states.