When thinking of places to retire in the sunbelt, Florida often comes first to people’s minds. But Georgia actually has a long history as a place to relax and retreat. Franklin D. Roosevelt often went to Warm Springs for rest and rehabilitation.
In recent years, tens of thousands of retirees have been moving to Georgia for its warm climate, sunshine, and beaches. Developers have been building active retirement communities to accommodate this influx. Georgia is a large state and has a diversity of environments: large metropolitan areas like Atlanta and Columbus, college towns like Athens, and lakefront and beach communities.
Georgia also offers mild weather, southern charm, history, and architecture, outdoor activities like world-class golfing, and a favorable tax structure. Although it has a state income tax, the first $65,000 of retirement income, including IRA and 401(k) distributions is exempt for those age 65 and over.
Kiplinger’s rates it one of the top ten most tax-friendly states for seniors. Social Security benefits are exempt, and up to $35,000 of retirement income is also exempt for those age 62 to 64. There is a property tax homestead exemption for all residents. Homeowners age 65 and up can apply for exemption from state property taxes, and for seniors who make $10,000 or less, $4,000 of their property’s value is exempt from county taxes. The income tax ranges from 1% to 6%. There is a state sales tax of 4%, and local districts may add another 4%. There is no inheritance or estate tax.
Georgia has a relatively low cost of living and housing prices below the U.S. median (although some areas like coastal communities are steadily rising in value as more retirees discover them). There are many large and relatively new adult communities that have been built. However, some of these communities are located in low-cost, rural areas. And although Georgia has mild winters, the summers can be very hot and humid.
Here are five retirement locations in the Peach State to consider.
St. Simons is a beach community on the Atlantic coast. It’s a barrier island and is next to the exclusive resort area of Sea Island. Its population of 13,000 enjoys the beautiful scenery and outdoor activities like playing on world-famous golf courses.
Its environment provides an escape from the commotion of the big city; Money magazine named St. Simons Island as the #2 best retirement destination in the nation. The town is small but there are shops and restaurants. The temperature ranges from 45 to 64 degrees in winter and 80 degrees in summer. The pleasant environment comes at a cost: the cost of living is much higher than average. The median age of the population is age 45-64.
Athens is the home of the University of Georgia and is a rather large (population 100,000) college town in the northeastern Georgia hills. The university contributes to a prosperous artistic, literary, musical, and cultural environment, including dance and opera troupes and symphony orchestra. The town was the starting point for several internationally known musical groups like the B-52s and R.E.M.
The university’s 26,000 students support a bustling shopping and dining district around the campus, with many restaurants, stores, bars, nightclubs, and shops. There are many housing choices for active seniors with more being added constantly. New high-rise condos are being built downtown.
Gainesville attracted attention when some of the 1996 Olympic canoeing and rowing events were held on nearby Lake Lanier. The small town beside a lake leads many active seniors to come to Gainesville for the mild climate and recreation in the Appalachian Mountains and forests.
The lake offers 700 miles of shoreline, 10 marinas, and is a favorite boating and bass fishing location. The local nature science center has a 1,500 acres of hiking and biking on 13 miles of trails. There are also 15 golf courses nearby. The cost of living is 7% lower than average and the median home price is much below the national median.
The small town does not support a wide variety of activities, but there is a downtown with trendy restaurants, and a nearby water amusement park. The town has a top healthcare center, the Northeast Georgia Health System. Many residents work in the poultry industry – the town is known as the “chicken capital of the world”. Some residents live in Gainesville and commute to Atlanta which is 54 miles away.
Thomasville is a small town close to Florida, and a short, scenic drive to Tallahassee. In the nineteenth century it was popular as a winter home for affluent northerners.
It retains its historic, old-world charm with a brick-paved downtown, live oaks with fragrant flowers and Spanish moss, and antebellum homes. The town was named one of the “12 best preserved and unique cities in the United States” by National Trust for Historic Preservation. Although some parts of the town are depressed and rundown, the surrounding areas and countryside are quite beautiful, with horse farms and pecan plantations.
There are a variety of housing options, from expensive older homes to newer houses, condos, and apartments in the downtown area. Median home prices in 2012 were $90,000 to $140,000Many active adult communities are being constructed. Many of the local historic plantations are open for tours, and there are 22 public parks, and a public and private golf course. The town is called the City of Roses and there is an April Rose Fest.
With over 5 million residents, Georgia’s capital is the ninth largest metropolitan area in the nation. Many retirees are moving to Atlanta for its mild climate and low cost of living, and many cultural and entertainment options.
Atlanta is home to major universities including Emory and Georgia State, hospitals, museums, national sports teams, and international businesses like Coca-Cola and CNN. Although it’s an active and growing city, its cost of living is relatively low. The median home price in 2014 was $167,000 in the Atlanta metro area. Like all cities, there are problems with traffic and crime. The summers can also be hot and humid.
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