Difficult location choices for military retirees

Where should you retire? What state or city can have big consequences for finances and satisfaction. People retiring from military service have extra considerat...

Where should you retire? What state or city can have big consequences for finances and satisfaction. People retiring from military service have extra considerations, such as access to Veterans Affairs services or post-retirement job prospects. For some of the best and worst places to retire, the Federal Drive with Tom Temin talked with Wallet Hub analyst Cassandra Happe.

Interview Transcript:  

Tom Temin And you’ve done a study of the 50 states. Just maybe a quick rundown on what your criteria were in looking at the 50 states.

Cassandra Happe For this particular study. We looked at the 50 states and the District of Columbia, and we compared them across a total of 28 different metrics. Those metrics can be grouped into three key categories, which are economic environment, quality of life, and health care. So, we used a wide variety of metrics to try to get a very holistic picture of what it’s like to be a military retiree in each of these states.  

Tom Temin And military retiree, of course, you know, ranges from four-star flag officer to someone that might be toiling away for 20 years and reaches lieutenant colonel or below. So, the prospects are very different for when you’re coming out, depending on rank.  

Cassandra Happe Absolutely. And it can be difficult to really get into those little nuance things in a study such as this, since we looked at it from such a broad perspective. But we did try to take into consideration that individuals are going to have different experience levels when they come out of the military. So, we tried to look at it from a broad perspective, as far as what opportunities are there and how those opportunities might align with a military retirees’ prospects.  

Tom Temin Sure. And well, let’s get to it then. What is the number one state in wallet hub’s estimation?  

Cassandra Happe So the best state for military retirees is South Carolina. And they did really well when it came to the quality-of-life metrics we looked at. They ranked third overall in that particular dimension. But they did struggle just a little bit when it came to the health care dimension. They came in ninth overall in that particular dimension. So it is still in the top ten as far as the 50 states in the district go. But that’s where they could really improve when it comes to health care specifically. We looked more at the VA health system and how many hospitals are in the area, and also the quality of those hospitals and the treatments that they provide.  

Tom Temin And number two is Florida. Tell us more about the nuances there.  

Cassandra Happe So Florida again stood out with that quality of life. They ranked fourth overall in that particular dimension and plaudits, traditionally known for being a retiree friendly state in general. But they do struggle again with that health care dimension. They came in 18th overall in that dimension, and they did struggle a little bit with the economic environment as well, coming in 11th overall in that particular dimension.  

Tom Temin Yeah. So, you really have to balance your own personal needs versus these general metrics. Sounds like.  

Cassandra Happe Absolutely. And that’s why we group them into these key dimensions. Because depending upon your situation, you might want to focus more on moving somewhere with a great health care system. Or you might be more concerned about your economic future. So, it’s really important to look at the nuances that go into this study.  

Tom Temin And Oregon great facilities. Popular state was ranked 51.  

Cassandra Happe Yes. They really struggled with that quality-of-life dimension. They came in 51st overall in that dimension. And they also struggled with that economic environment dimension coming in 45th overall for that. But as you mentioned health care, they came in 35th overall. So, towards the middle of the pack, which is pretty good.  

Tom Temin We’re speaking with WalletHub analyst Cassandra Happe, and I wanted to ask you also about the District of Columbia, which came in pretty poorly at number 48. And I think their highest-ranking criterion at 32 was the one for economic environment rank, the district. You know, that’s where VA headquarters are.  

Cassandra Happe Yeah, it really came down to that quality-of-life dimension that we looked at. They came in 50th overall in that particular dimension. And that comes down to metrics such as the percentage of homeless veterans in the district and housing affordability in that particular district is really where they could improve to make it more welcoming for military retirees.  

Tom Temin And where do taxes and tax rates rank? Would that be part of the economic environment consideration?  

Cassandra Happe We didn’t look at taxes as far as whether the state taxes them. Military pensions either if they tax both retired pay and survivor plan benefits, or if they only receive a partial exemption in the state, or if they don’t have any exemption for that state taxation that fell into that economic environment category. So, for instance, the District of Columbia got a half point instead of a full point for that particular metric, because they have a partial exemption for some state taxation when it comes to military pensions.  

Tom Temin And one interesting characteristic of the rankings, 1 to 50, is that they don’t exactly fall along red or blue lines.  

Cassandra Happe And I think that’s a good point to make, is that it doesn’t seem to be necessarily that red states or blue states are really making an impact. It is very localized and has a lot to do with just the nuance. Things that go into each of these states.  

Tom Temin And contiguous states, you know, have vastly different rankings. I mean, Maryland and Virginia, I think are four and three, because that’s kind of like one big blob. But then you look at New Mexico, which was next to last at 50th, right next to Texas, which is a middling 28.  

Cassandra Happe Yeah, that is pretty fascinating to see. A lot of times when we do these studies where we’re ranking the different states, you’ll see more regional trends going on. But it does seem to have a lot to do with just the state itself and what investments they are making in that environment for military retirees.  

Tom Temin And with respect to the ranking. How would they map, say, to just retirees in general, are the better states for military retirees, the better states for just every other retiree?  

Cassandra Happe That really does depend on what you’re really looking at in this study, because we did try to focus on metrics that were more specific to military retirees, like veteran owned businesses and Defense Department contracts, which may not play a role for nonmilitary retirees as much. So I would say, if you’re looking at this study from a general perspective, as a nonmilitary retiree, focusing on the quality of life rankings would be my recommendation, because those metrics are a little more universal compared to a lot of the metrics we looked at for the economic environment and health care, which were very much focused on the military side of things.  

Tom Temin And your study doesn’t go to this depth, but within a given state, there’s a lot of variation depending on the metropolitan area or rural area, if that’s your choice that you’re into.  

Cassandra Happe Absolutely. That is a really good thing to keep in mind with this particular study, since we looked at it from a state level, is there are some more localized factors to keep in mind. As you mentioned, the rural versus urban environments may allow for more or less access to different health care options or different opportunities for retirees.  

Eric White WalletHub analyst Cassandra Happe, speaking there with Federal Drive host Tom Temin.

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