12. Waterville, Maine (C)

Population: 16,600| COL: NA| Median Home Price: $147,000 | 4-star Hospital: Northern Light Inland Hospital

The home of Colby College might work for musically inclined retirees who can audition for the Colby Symphony Orchestra and Wind Ensemble. But with winters in the single digits for cold and high double digits for snowfall, a summer place might be the better option. That said, retirees can deduct up to $10,000 in income from retirement funds from their taxes. (Photo: Shutterstock)

11. Fayetteville, Arkansas (C+)

Population: 87,000| COL: 87 | Median Home Price: $230,000 | 4-star Hospital: Mercy Hospital Northwest Arkansas (Rogers, Arkansas, 23 miles)

A “culturally diverse mecca in the Ozarks” may seem an oxymoron and retirees may beg for winter with Arkansas’ sticky, buggy summers, but the University of Arkansas offers free classes to those over 60 years old. Up to $6,000 of retirement income is tax-exempt. (Photo: Shutterstock)

10. Swarthmore, Pennsylvania (B-)

Population: 6,400 | COL: 113 | Median Home Price: $237,000 | 4-star Hospital: Penn Presbyterian Medical Center (Philadelphia, 17 miles away)

Known largely for the college that bears its name, this little town just outside Philadelphia may get cold in winter but residents have access all year to the school's libraries with just a local library card. Also, retirement fund withdrawals are exempt from state taxes. (Photo: Shutterstock)

9. Hanover, New Hampshire (B-)

Population: 11,500 | COL: NA | Median Home Price: $265,000 | 4-star Hospital: Alice Peck Day Memorial Hospital

The home of Dartmouth College provides much culture, especially for eggheads. And outdoor sporting activities are available year round. And of course there’s hockey! But for those who don’t like the winter cold and snow, there are Ivy League level indoor cultural events.
In addition to being able to cast the first primary state ballot for U.S. president, New Hampshire retiree residents get off tax free: no taxes on pensions or distributions from retirement plans — and there is no sales tax. (Photo: Shutterstock)

8. Claremont, California (B-)

Population: 36,500| COL: 148 | Median Home Price: $719,000 | 5-star Hospital: Chino Valley Medical Center, Glendora Community Hospital

Just east of Los Angeles, this hilly town might be overpriced for many retirees. But culturally, not only is it close to LA, it is home to seven Claremont Colleges that allow those over 60 to audit courses for free. Claremont also offers many outdoor activities, but can get very hot (“dry heat”) in the day but cool down at night. Social Security benefits aren’t taxed, but other retirement income can have a tax rate of up to 13.3%. (Photo: Shutterstock)

Advertisement

7. Savannah, Georgia (B)

Population: 146,000 | COL: 88 | Median Home Price: $225,000 | 4-star Hospital: Effingham Health System (Springfield, Georgia, 26 miles away)

The oldest city in Georgia, founded in 1733, this coastal town has architectural gems throughout and is home to Savannah State University. The weather varies through the year, typically 91 degrees on the high side and 42 degrees on the low side. But when it’s hot, it’s muggy: Humidity averages 98%.
Georgia is a tax-friendly state for retirees: Up to $65,000 of most types of retirement income is exempt for those 65 or older. (Photo: Shutterstock)

6. Oberlin, Ohio (B+)

Population: 8,300| COL: 98| Median Home Price: $154,000 | 4-star Hospital: University Hospitals Elyria Medical Center (Elyria, Ohio, 9 miles away)

This little gem is home to Oberlin College, which promotes programs for students to help or work with retirees. And if retirees can handle the weather in northeast Ohio (and Lake Erie and all that comes with it) as well as Ohio State University fans, sign on up. Social Security benefits are tax-exempt, but retirement income has a range of tax levels. (Photo: Shutterstock)

5. Evanston, Illinois (B+)

Population: 74,000 | COL: 123 | Median Home Price: $433,000 | 4-star Hospital: NorthShore University Health System Evanston Hospital

If retirees can stand the wicked cold wind blowing off Lake Michigan in winter, Evanston is a charming and culture-rich town — home to Northwestern University — that also offers Big Ten football, great architecture, as well as the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute’s educational options.
Just up the road from Chicago, Evanston has great transportation, restaurants, hiking and breathtaking fall colors. Better yet, Illinois excludes most retirement income from state taxes. That said, sales and property taxes are high, but seniors may qualify for homestead exemptions. (Photo: Shutterstock)

4. Flagstaff, Arizona (B+)

Population: 74,000| COL: 116 | Median Home Price: $362,000 | 5-star Hospital: Flagstaff Medical Center

Up in the mountains at about 7,000 feet, Flagstaff offers great outdoor recreational activities and “seasonable” weather. What it lacks in humidity it makes up in snow, about 100 inches a year worth, but come on, the Grand Canyon is only 90 minutes away. Northern Arizona University is located there and offers many activities for seniors. In addition, it’s tax friendly; up to $2,500 in retirement income is exempt. (Photo: Shutterstock)

3. Olympia, Washington (A-)

Population: 52,500| COL: 106 | Median Home Price: $345,000 | 4-star Hospital: St. Anthony Hospital (Gig Harbor, Washington, 38 miles away)

The capital of Washington, Olympia, offers several advantages over its larger sister to the north, Seattle. First, it’s more affordable, and the local college, Evergreen State, offers retirees classes for free. It’s a haven for outdoor activities with an average temperature of 50 degrees, but also gets an average 50 inches of rain a year. Washington also is tax-friendly: It has no state income tax, so retirement income and withdrawals are tax-free. (Photo: Shutterstock)

Advertisement

2. St. Augustine, Florida (A-)

Pop: 15,000 | COL: NA | Median Home Price: $343,000 | 5-star Hospital: Mayo Clinic (Jacksonville, 41 miles away)

Age goes hand-in-hand with St. Augustine, as every schoolchild learns; it was founded by the Spanish in 1565 and is the “oldest continuously inhabited” European settled town in the continental United States. For the most part the weather is good, although a hurricane affects the area about once every 2.4 years. Flagler College provides free lectures, plays and concerts. And Florida also is tax-friendly with no state income, estate or inheritance tax. (Photo: Shutterstock)

1. Richmond, Virginia (A-)

Population: 229,000 | COL: 95 | Median Home Price: $258,000 | 5-star Hospital: Bon Secours Memorial Regional Medical Center (Mechanicsburg, Virginia, 251 miles away)

Kiplinger highlights a hospital five hours away when Johns Hopkins, one of the better hospitals in the country despite its 3-star CMS rating, is “only” 150 miles away. Still, Richmond oozes with history and is close to Washington, D.C. On the banks of the scenic James River, it also is home to several local universities that offer cultural activities and classes — and did we mention it’s close to Washington? Virginia also is tax-friendly to retirees, with residents able to deduct up to $12,000 in retirement income. (Photo: Shutterstock)

Kiplinger has named 12 of the “smartest” places to retire in the United States, but we questioned the brilliance of some of the choices. Pluses, of course, are low cost of living (COL) and taxes (Social Security benefits typically are exempt) and a college or two offering benefits to seniors, but those upsides might come at the cost of subzero temperatures or desperately muggy summers.

Health care is always important to retirees, and Kiplinger names a four- or five-star hospital ranked by the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services that is within a short drive in most cases.

And education and culture? Perhaps beauty is in the eye of the beholder. We had visions of Cambridge, Berkeley, Madison or Austin — but those cities might be too big or too expensive for this ranking. Here is Kiplinger’s “smartest” towns for retirement list, graded A-F on ThinkAdvisor’s proprietary Reality-Adjusted Scale.

— Related on ThinkAdvisor: