Some states offer attractive tax benefits for retirees. Then there are these ten tax hells, which have earned a place on our "do not live here for your second act" list either because of higher-than-average taxes across the board or because of policies that don't exempt much retirement income from state taxation.
For retirees living on a fixed income, high income taxes, burdensome real estate taxes and hefty sales taxes on daily purchases can really eat into a nest egg. Choosing to relocate to — or stay put in — a state with a low overall tax burden can help stretch your retirement income
#1 VERMONT State Income Tax:3.55%-8.95% State Sales Tax:6% (localities can add another 1%) Estate Tax/Inheritance Tax:Yes/No
There are no exemptions for retirement income in the Green Mountain State, except for Railroad Retirement benefits (which are exempt in every state). Out-of-state pensions are fully taxed. Vermont exempts medical devices and prescription and nonprescription drugs from its 6% sales tax. But it imposes a 9% tax on prepared foods, restaurant meals and lodging, and a levies a 10% sales tax on alcoholic beverages served in restaurants. Real estate taxes have two components: school property tax and municipal property tax collected by towns and cities where the property is located. The Tax Foundation, a nonprofit tax-research group in Washington, D.C., lists Vermont's property tax among the ten highest in the nation.
#2 MINNESOTA State Income Tax:5.35%-7.85% State Sales Tax:6.875% (cities and counties can add another 2.65%) Estate Tax/Inheritance Tax:No/No
Minnesota offers retirees cold comfort on the tax front. Social Security income is taxed to the same extent it is taxed on your federal return. Pensions are taxable regardless of where your pension was earned. Income-tax rates are high, and sales taxes can reach 9.53% in some cities. Food, clothing, and prescription and nonprescription drugs are exempt from sales taxes. The North Star State does offer some residents 65 and older who have income of $60,000 or less the option of deferring a portion of their property tax. But this is a low-interest loan, not a tax-forgiveness program.
#3 NEBRASKA State Income Tax:2.56%-6.84% State Sales Tax:5.5% (localities can add another 1.5%) Estate Tax/Inheritance Tax:No/Yes
There are no tax breaks for Social Security benefits and military pensions in the Cornhusker State. Real estate is assessed at 100% of fair market value. Residents 65 and older qualify for a homestead exemption on property taxes. Food and prescription drugs are exempt from state sales taxes. But Nebraska imposes an inheritance tax on all transfers of property and annuities.
#4 OREGON State Income Tax:5%-11% State Sales Tax:None Estate Tax/Inheritance Tax:No/Yes
First, the upside: There's no state sales tax in the Beaver State. But it shares the distinction with Hawaii of imposing the highest tax rate on personal income in the nation on taxable income of $250,000 or more. Although Oregon does not tax Social Security benefits, that's the extent of its income-tax breaks for retirees. And Oregon has an inheritance tax that applies even to intangible personal property, such as investments and bank accounts, no matter where it is located.
#5 CALIFORNIA State Income Tax:1.25%-9.55% State Sales Tax:7.25% (effective July 1, 2011) Estate Tax/Inheritance Tax:No/No
The Golden State has lost its luster for many retirees. Although Social Security benefits are exempt from state income taxes, all other forms of retirement income are fully taxed. Californians pay some of the highest income taxes in the U.S., with the top rate of 9.55% kicking in at $46,767 of taxable income. State and local sales taxes can reach 9.25% in some cities, although food and prescription drugs are exempt. Real estate is assessed at 100% of cash value, but taxes are capped at 1% of value.
#6 MAINE State Income Tax:2%-8.5% State Sales Tax:5% (counties can add another 0.5%) Estate Tax/Inheritance Tax:Yes/No
Like the majority of states, Maine exempts Social Security benefits from state income taxes. And residents can deduct up to $6,000 per person of eligible pension income. But remaining income in excess of $20,150 per year is taxed at a steep 8.5% rate. Residents of the Pine Tree State pay a 5% sales tax statewide on everything except food and prescription drugs. All real estate and personal property is subject to local property taxes (and, in some cases, state property taxes, too), but permanent residents can receive an exemption of $10,000 on the assessed value of their home. Maine is also one of only three states that do not allow cities and towns to impose their own local sales taxes.
#7 IOWA State Income Tax:0.36%-8.98% State Sales Tax:6% (localities can add another 1%) Estate Tax/Inheritance Tax:No/Yes
The Hawkeye State offers no feathered nest for retirees. Although it allows single retirees to exclude up to $6,000 of retirement-plan distributions from state income taxes, and married couples can exclude up to $12,000, the rest is taxed at rates as high as 8.98%. Iowa taxes a portion of residents' Social Security benefits, too, although it is in the process of phasing out the Social Security tax, which is scheduled to disappear in 2014. Food and prescription drugs are exempt from the statewide 6% sales tax. Real estate is assessed at 100% of market value, and most property is taxed by more than one taxing authority, such as cities, counties and school districts. There is a small homestead tax credit for residents who live in-state at least six months of the year.
#8 WISCONSIN State Income Tax:4.6%-7.75% State Sales Tax:5% (counties can add another 0.5%) Estate Tax/Inheritance Tax:No/No
The Dairy State exempts Social Security benefits and military-related pensions from its state income taxes, but it taxes most other pension and annuity income the same way the federal government does. Retirees 65 and older can subtract $5,000 of qualified retirement income, including IRA distributions, from their Wisconsin taxable income, subject to income restrictions. Some Wisconsin state- and local-government retirees qualify for a tax exemption. But out-of-state government pensions are fully taxed. Food and prescription drugs are exempt from state sales taxes. Some homeowners may qualify for a school property-tax credit against their state income tax.
#9 NEW JERSEY State Income Tax:1.4%-8.97% State Sales Tax:7% Estate Tax/Inheritance Tax:Yes/Yes
Its nickname may be the Garden State, but New Jersey is no Eden for retirees. The Tax Foundation says New Jersey's combined state and local tax burden is the highest in the nation, thanks in part to sky-high property taxes. But there are a few bright spots: New Jersey does not tax Social Security benefits and military pensions. It also allows residents 62 or older with incomes of $100,000 or less to exclude up to $15,000 ($20,000 for married couples filing jointly) of retirement income, including pensions, annuities and IRA withdrawals. Groceries, medicine and clothing are exempt from the 7% statewide sales tax. The state imposes an inheritance tax on the transfer of real and personal property worth $500 or more, but bequests to family members are exempt. Even with the bright spots, it's an expensive place to live for retirees.
#10 CONNECTICUT State Income Tax:3%-6.7% State Sales Tax:6.35%-7% Estate Tax/Inheritance Tax:Yes/No
Connecticut can be inhospitable to retirees, depending on their income and where they earned their retirement benefits. Although some residents of the Constitution State can exclude their Social Security benefits from state income taxes, the exclusion applies only if their adjusted gross income is $50,000 or less ($60,000 or less for married couples). All out-of-state government and civil-service retirement pensions are fully taxed. Effective July 1, 2011, the sales tax rate statewide is 6.35%, with luxury items taxed at 7%. Connecticut residents pay some of the highest property taxes in the U.S., according to the Tax Foundation, but residents 65 and older qualify for an annual property tax credit or rent rebate.