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Top retirement spots: Which ones really are best?

It appears that some of those Top 10 or Top 100 lists of best cities for retirees are better than others.

By Karen Datko Jun 9, 2010 5:18PM

Retirement is beckoning, but where should you live out your golden years? Luckily, several respected media outlets produce recommended Top 10 or Top 25 or Top 100 lists. (And not one of them includes a spot beneath the railroad bridge. Hope springs eternal.)

But how are these lists compiled? What are their criteria? Is one better than another for matching locations with your actual plans and income? Richard Eisenberg rated the raters for CBS MoneyWatch, and here's what he found:

 

TopRetirements.com produced the best list, according to MoneyWatch. In fact, Eisenberg says that "TopRetirements.com has become a prime site for people researching retirement destinations." The Top 100 list there is a popularity contest, featuring the communities that draw the most online visits at the website. That's a drawback, too, because more objective criteria may be lacking.

Still, you can match your personal preferences against other people's recommendations. And while the official list is heavy on Sun Belt states, TopRetirement.com's new "Most underrated places to retire" includes lots of towns where year-round air conditioning isn't a necessity. You've probably never heard of some of these communities. Best name on that list: Red Wing, Minn.

Forbes uses specific criteria to select its top retirement locations -- including health care availability and "the opportunity to enjoy a fulfilling second act." A "second act" with pay could be necessary because some of the Forbes locations are pricey. Westchester County, N.Y.? Before you plan your retirement there, you might want to check the local property tax rates.

U.S. News & World Report lets you tailor your search and also provides a variety of Top 10 lists, like "Great Places to Downsize in Retirement" and "Places to Launch a Second Career in Retirement." Those lists "are especially timely, given the recent rampant layoffs and 7% unemployment rate for people 55 and older," Eisenberg observes. (Thus our little joke about the railroad bridge.) But if you want lots of details about each location, you have to do some clicking.  

Eisenberg gave the lowest ratings to the lists from CNNMoney.com, Bloomberg Businessweek and CNBC.

 

Inevitably, some communities get top ratings on multiple lists, and Eisenberg identified 12 of those, leading with Tucson, Ariz., with four mentions. (Way too hot there!) Traverse City, Mich., also had four.

 

What's the takeaway here? The recently departed Dennis Hopper was essentially correct: If you're retiring and intend to move from your current home, you need a plan before you start a search. Figure out which factors are important to you: more affordable living, big-city atmosphere, golf courses, proximity to grandkids, access to quality health care, etc.

 

With those in mind, review each of these lists and see what fits. Maybe it's where you live right now. And, while you're at it, why limit your search to the U.S.?

 

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