10 least tax-friendly states for retirees

When it comes to state and local taxes, retirees in these states are likely to pay more than retirees in other states.

  • By Rocky Mangle, David Muhlbaum,
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Whether you plan to retire at the beach, near the mountains, or to some other dream destination, make sure you check out the local tax situation before packing your bags and hiring a moving van. If you don't, you might be unpleasantly surprised by a hefty state and local tax bill in your new hometown.

State and local taxes can vary greatly from one place to another. The difference can easily exceed $10,000 or more per year for some people, which is enough to break the bank for a lot of retirees. So, to avoid this kind of bombshell, make sure you do some research before settling on a new location. You can start with Kiplinger's State-by-State Guide to Taxes on Retirees. This tool maps out the tax landscape for each state and the District of Columbia, and allows you to do a side-by-side comparison for up to five states at a time.

We also identified the 10 states that impose the highest taxes on retirees, which are listed below (we saved the worst state for last). Our results are based on the estimated state and local tax burden in each state for two hypothetical retired couples with a mixture of income from wages, Social Security, 401(k) plans, traditional and Roth IRAs, private pensions, interest, dividends, and capital gains. One couple had $50,000 in total income and a $250,000 home, while the other had $100,000 of income and a $350,000 home. Take a look to see if your state—or the state you've been dreaming about for retirement—made our "least tax-friendly" list for retirees (we hope it didn't).

10. Texas

  • State income tax range: None
  • Average combined state and Local sales tax rate: 8.19%
  • Median property tax rate: $1,692 per $100,000 of assessed home value
  • Estate tax or inheritance tax: None

You might be surprised to see the Lone Star State on the list of least tax-friendly states for retirees. Afterall, isn't Texas one of the handful of states with no income tax? Well, yes, it's true that there are no income taxes in Texas...which means no taxes on Social Security benefits, pensions, 401(k)s, IRAs, or any other type of retirement income. But a lot of states don't tax these types of retirement income anyway (or at least partially exempt them), so states without any income tax don't necessarily have an advantage over other states when it comes to taxes on seniors.

Texas' main problem is with its property taxes. The state's median property tax rate is tied for the seventh-highest in the country (the tie is with New York). For our hypothetical retired couples, that means an estimated annual property tax bill of $4,230 for the couple with the $250,000 home and $5,922 for the couple with the $350,000 home. Seniors may be able to get a $10,000 property tax exemption, have their tax bill "frozen," or delay payment of taxes.

Sales taxes are on the high end in Texas, too. The state imposes a 6.25% tax, but local governments can tack on up to 2% more. When combined, the average state and local sales tax rate in Texas is 8.19%, which is the 14th-highest combined rate in the country.

9. New York

  • State income tax range: 4% (on taxable income up to $8,500 for single filers; up to $17,150 for joint filers) to 10.9% (on taxable income over $25 million)
  • Average combined state and local sales tax rate: 8.52%
  • Median property tax rate: $1,692 per $100,000 of assessed home value
  • Estate tax or inheritance tax: Estate tax

Unfortunately, the Empire State's heavy tax burden for middle-class families carries over into retirement—especially when it comes to property taxes. Based on New York's statewide median tax rate, our first hypothetical retired couple would pay about $4,230 each year in property taxes on their $250,000 home in New York. For our second couple, the annual estimated tax bill is $5,922 for their $350,000 home. Those figures are tied (with Texas) for the seventh-highest amounts in the country for those home values. There are some property tax breaks for seniors, though. Local governments and public-school districts can reduce the assessed value of their home by 50%. Under another program, part of a senior's home value can be exempt from school property taxes.

New York has high sales taxes, too. There's a 4% state tax, and localities can add as much as 4.875% in additional taxes on purchases in the state. At 8.52%, New York's average combined (state and local) sales tax rate is the 10th-highest in the nation.

When it comes to income taxes, New York's tax bite is less severe for ordinary retirees when compared to other states. Social Security benefits, federal and New York government pensions, and military retirement pay are exempt. However, anything over $20,000 from a private retirement plan (including pensions, IRAs and 401(k) plans) or an out-of-state government plan is taxed. Also, for ultra-wealthy retirees, New York income tax rates were always steep, but they're even higher now — starting in 2021, the highest rate jumps from 8.82% to 10.9%.

New York also has an estate tax—with an unusual "cliff tax" kicker. Generally, the tax is only imposed on that portion of an estate over the $5.93 million (for 2021) exemption. However, if the value of the estate is more than 105% of the exemption amount, the exemption won't be available and the entire estate will be subject to New York estate tax. Ouch!

8. Iowa

  • State income tax range: 0.33% (on taxable income up to $1,676) to 8.53% (on taxable income over $75,420) [For 2022, 0.33% on taxable income up to $1,743 and 8.53% on taxable income over $78,435.]
  • Average combined state and local sales tax rate: 6.94%
  • Median property tax rate: $1,529 per $100,000 of assessed home value
  • Estate tax or inheritance tax: Inheritance tax

The Hawkeye State's spot on our list of the least tax-friendly states for retirees is primarily based on high property taxes. The statewide median property tax rate in Iowa is the 11th-highest in the U.S. Our imaginary couple with a $250,000 home in the state would fork out about $3,823 per year in real property taxes. The couple with a $350,000 home can expect to pay about $5,352 annually. A property tax credit of up to $1,000 is available to lower-income seniors. (Beginning in 2022, special rules will allow residents who are at least 70 years old with an annual household income of not more than 250% of the federal poverty level to offset increases in property taxes.)

On the income tax front, Social Security benefits are tax-free. There's also a $6,000 exclusion ($12,000 for joint filers) for most types of federally-taxed retirement income. However, when compared to some ot the tax breaks for retirement income available in other states, the Iowa exclusion doesn't look all that generous. As a result, income taxes for retirees in the state can be a little on the high end, especially for wealthier residents. (Beginning in 2023, the lowest Iowa personal income tax rate will be 4.4%, while the highest rate will be 6.5%.)

Sales taxes in Iowa are middle-of-the-road. The state rate is 6%, and localities can add as much as 1%. The average combined state and local rate is 6.94%. That puts Iowa in the middle of the pack when it comes to overall sales tax rates.

The Iowa inheritance tax is another thing retirees need to worry about – at least for the time being. Beginning in 2021, Iowa is phasing out it's inheritance tax over a five-year period by reducing the rate of tax by 20% each year (the base rates range from 5% to 15%). Therefore, for 2021, Iowa's inheritance tax ranges from 4% to 12%, depending on the amount of the inheritance and the relationship of the recipient to the decedent. The tax will be completely repealed on January 1, 2025.

7. Wisconsin

  • State income tax range: 3.54% (on taxable income up to $12,120 for single filers; up to $16,160 for joint filers) to 7.65% (on taxable income over $266,930 for single filers; over $355,910 for joint filers)
  • Average combined state and local sales tax rate: 5.43%
  • Median property tax rate: $1,684 per $100,000 of assessed home value
  • Estate tax or inheritance tax: None

The Badger State suffers from weak income tax breaks for retirement income and high property taxes. While Social Security benefits aren't subject to Wisconsin's income taxes, income from pensions and annuities, along with distributions from IRAs and 401(k) plans, are generally taxable. Seniors can subtract up to $5,000 of retirement income (including distributions from IRAs) from Wisconsin taxable income if their federal adjusted gross income is less than $15,000 ($30,000 for a married couple filing jointly). But that exclusion is comparatively small and is only available to retirees with a relatively low income.

Property taxes are the eighth-highest in the U.S. For our hypothetical couple with a $250,000 home in Wisconsin, estimated property taxes would be about $4,210 per year. The make-believe couple with a $350,000 home would have to cough up about $5,894 each year for taxes. Plus, there are limited property tax breaks for retirees. For instance, unlike younger taxpayers, residents age 62 or older don't need earned income to claim an income tax credit for property taxes paid. Property tax deferral loans are also available for seniors with incomes under $20,000.

There are some bright spots for retirees, though. For example, sales taxes are actually low in Wisconsin. It has the ninth-lowest combined average state and local tax rate in the nation. There are no estate or inheritance taxes, either.

6. Vermont

  • State income tax range: 3.35% (on taxable income up to $40,350 for single filers; up to $67,450 for joint filers) to 8.75% (on taxable income over $204,000 for single filers; over $248,350 for joint filers)
  • Average combined state and local sales tax rate: 6.24%
  • Median property tax rate: $1,861 per $100,000 of assessed home value
  • Estate tax or inheritance tax: Estate tax

The Green Mountain State offers cold comfort on the tax front to retirees. It has a steep top income tax rate, and most retirement income is taxed. Vermont also taxes all or part of Social Security benefits for single residents with federal adjusted gross income over $45,000 (over $60,000 for married couples filing a joint return).

Vermonters also pay a lot in property taxes. If our first made-up couple owned a $250,000 home in Vermont, they'd pay about $4,653 in property taxes each year. Our second couple, with a $350,000 home, would pay around $6,514 annually. These property tax amounts are the fifth-highest in the U.S. for those home values. Homeowners age 65 and older may qualify for a tax credit worth up to $8,000 if their household income does not exceed a certain level.

Vermont also taxes estates that exceed $5 million in value (for 2021). The tax is imposed at a flat 16% rate.

Sales taxes aren't too bad in Vermont, though. Local jurisdictions can add 1% to the state's 6% sales tax, which results in an average combined state and local sales tax rate of 6.24%. That's below the national average.

5. Nebraska

  • State income tax range: 2.46% (on taxable income up to $3,290 for single filers; up to $6,570 for joint filers) to 6.84% (on taxable income over $31,750 for single filers; over $63,500 for joint filers)
  • Average combined state and local sales tax rate: 6.94%
  • Median property tax rate: $1,614 per $100,000 of assessed home value
  • Estate tax or inheritance tax: Inheritance tax

Nebraska is one of the least tax-friendly state in the nation for retirees primarily because of steep income and property taxes. With regard to the state's income tax system, the Cornhusker State taxes some Social Security benefits and most other retirement income, including IRA withdrawals, 401(k) funds, and public and private pensions. Plus, the top income tax rate kicks in pretty quickly: It applies to taxable income above $31,750 for single filers and $63,500 for married couples filing jointly. (Note that the state is reducing taxes on Social Security benefits starting in 2021 and eliminating taxes on military retirement pay beginning in 2022.)

Nebraska's inheritance tax ranges from 1% to 18%. The tax on heirs who are immediate relatives is only 1% and does not apply to property that is worth less than $40,000. For remote relatives, the tax rate is 13% and the exemption amount is $15,000. For all other heirs, the tax is imposed at an 18% rate on property worth $10,000 or more.

The median property tax rate in Nebraska is pretty high. For a $250,000 home, the statewide average tax in the state is $4,035 per year. It's $5,649 for a $350,000 residence. Those totals are the ninth-highest property tax amounts in country for homes at those price points. People over age 65 with income less than a certain amount may qualify for a homestead exemption that exempts all or a portion of their property's value from taxation.

The state sales tax rate is 5.5%, but local jurisdictions can add an additional 2.5% to the state rate. The average combined state and local sales tax rate is 6.94%, which is in the middle of the pack when compared to other states.

4. Kansas

  • State income tax range: 3.1% (on taxable income from $2,501 to $15,000 for single filers; from $5,001 to $30,000 for joint filers) to 5.7% (on taxable income over $30,000 for single filers; over $60,000 for joint filers)
  • Average combined state and local sales tax rate: 8.7%
  • Median property tax rate: $1,369 per $100,000 of assessed home value
  • Estate tax or inheritance tax: None

While there's no place like home, I wouldn't be surprised to hear that Dorothy (and ToTo, too) fled Kansas when she retired to avoid the state's high taxes. Looking at the state's income tax system, distributions from private retirement plans (including IRAs and 401(k) plans) and out-of-state public pensions are fully taxed. Kansas also taxes Social Security benefits received by residents with a federal adjusted gross income of $75,000 or more. Military, federal government and in-state public pensions are exempt from state income taxes, though.

Shopping in Kansas can be expensive, too. The Sunflower State's average combined state and local sales tax rate is the ninth-highest in the U.S. at 8.7%. Groceries, clothing, and even prescription drugs are subject to state and local sales taxes in Kansas, too.

Property taxes are above the national average as well. The statewide average property tax bill for our first hypothetical retired couple with a $250,000 home in Kansas comes to about $3,423. The bill for our second imaginary couple, with a $350,000 home, is estimated to be $4,792. Those amounts are the 15th-highest in the U.S. Homeowners who satisfy certain age and income requirements may qualify for a property tax refund, though.

The good news is that Kansas does not impose estate or inheritance taxes.

3. Connecticut

  • State income tax range: 3% (on taxable income up to $10,000 for single filers; up to $20,000 for joint filers) to 6.99% (on taxable income over $500,000 for single filers; over $1 million for joint filers)
  • Average combined state and local sales tax rate: 6.35%
  • Median property tax rate: $2,139 per $100,000 of assessed home value
  • Estate tax or inheritance tax: Estate tax

The Constitution State is a tax nightmare for many retirees...but at least things are improving on the income tax front. For residents with federal adjusted gross income over $75,000 ($100,000 for joint filers), 25% of Social Security benefits taxed at the federal level are taxed by Connecticut. (Social Security payments are exempt for taxpayers below those income levels.) Plus, for 2020, only 28% of income from a pension or annuity is exempt for taxpayers with less than $75,000 of federal AGI (less than $100,000 for joint filers). But the exemption percentage will increase by 14% each year until it reaches 100% for the 2025 tax year. Military pensions are also excluded from state taxes.

Connecticut has the third-highest property taxes in the U.S., so the $10,000 cap on the federal tax deduction for state and local taxes stings a bit more here. For our two make-believe retired couples, the statewide estimated property tax for a $250,000 home in Connecticut is $5,348 per year, and the estimated annual tax for a $350,000 home in the state is $7,487. The state des offers property tax credits to homeowners who are at least 65 years old and meet income restrictions. Income ceilings are $45,100 for married couples (with a maximum benefit of $1,250) and $37,000 for singles (with a maximum benefit of $1,000).

Connecticut imposes an estate tax on estates valued at $7.1 million or more (for 2021) at progressive rates ranging from 10.8% to 12%. Connecticut is also the only state with a gift tax, which applies to real and tangible personal property in Connecticut and intangible personal property anywhere for permanent residents. Only the amount given since 2005 and over $7.1 million is taxed. Gift tax rates start at 10.8% and go up to 12%.

There are no local sales taxes in Connecticut, so you'll pay only the statewide sales tax rate of 6.35% on your purchases (slightly below average). Clothing, footwear and accessories priced at more than $1,000; jewelry worth more than $5,000; and most motor vehicles costing $50,000 or more are taxed at 7.75%.

2. Illinois

  • State income tax range: 4.95% (flat rate)
  • Average combined state and local sales tax rate: 8.83%
  • Median property tax rate: $2,165 per $100,000 of assessed home value
  • Estate tax or inheritance tax: Estate tax

There's a bit of good tax news for retirees in Illinois: Social Security benefits and income from most retirement plans are exempt. Plus, the state's 4.95% flat income tax rate is relatively low.

Now for the bad news: Property taxes hit retirees hard in Illinois. The statewide median property tax rate in Illinois is the second-highest in the nation—a staggering $5,413 per year on a $250,000 home and a whopping $7,578 on a $350,000 home. Fortunately, there is some relief for qualifying seniors in the form of a homestead exemption of up to $5,000 ($8,000 in Cook County), the ability to "freeze" a home's assessed value, and a tax deferral program.

Sales tax rates are high in Illinois, too. The state has the seventh-highest average combined state and local sales tax rate at 8.83%. In some locations, the rate can be as high as 11%! And groceries (1% state rate; additional local taxes may apply) and clothing are taxable.

Illinois also has an estate tax that applies to estates worth $4 million or more. That can be bad news for your heirs.

1. New Jersey

  • State income tax range: 1.4% (on taxable income up to $20,000) to 10.75% (on taxable income over $1 million)
  • Average combined state and local sales tax rate: 6.6%
  • Median property tax rate: $2,417 per $100,000 of assessed home value
  • Estate tax or inheritance tax: Inheritance tax

Sorry, New Jersey, but you're the least tax-friendly state in the country for retirees. And, once again, it's the property taxes that are crushing retirees. The Garden State has the highest median property tax rate in the country. If our first make-believe couple bought a $250,000 home in the state, they would pay an eye-popping $6,043 in property taxes each year based on our estimates. Our second couple would pay a sky-high $8,460 on their $350,000 New Jersey home. The state does offer some property tax relief for seniors, though. Homeowners age 65 or older may qualify for a property tax credit of up to $1,000. There's also a program (the "senior freeze") that reimburses eligible seniors for property tax increases. And a $250 property tax deduction is available for senior citizens with an annual household income of $10,000 or less.

Income taxes are comparatively low for retirees in New Jersey, thanks in large part to a generous exemption for retirement income. For example, married seniors filing a joint return can exclude up to $100,000 of income from a pension, annuity, IRA, or other retirement plan if their New Jersey income is $100,000 or less. Single taxpayers and married taxpayers filing a separate return can exclude up to $75,000 and $50,000, respectively. We should also point out that Social Security benefits are not taxed in New Jersey, either.

Sales taxes are reasonable in New Jersey, too. The state sales tax rate is 6.625%, but because some areas charge only half the state rate on certain sales, New Jersey's average state and local combined sales tax rate is only 6.6%, which is a little below average.

Although New Jersey recently eliminated its estate tax, the state still imposes an inheritance tax. The tax rates range from 11% to 16% on inherited property with a value of $500 or more. The amount of tax due is based on who specifically receives the property and how much the property is worth.

About our methodology

Our tax maps and related tax content include data from a wide range of sources. To generate our rankings, we created a metric to compare the tax burden in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

Data sources:

Income tax – Our income tax information comes from each state's tax agency. Income tax forms and instructions were also used. See more about how we calculated the income tax for our hypothetical retired couples below under "Ranking method."

Property tax – The median property tax rate is based on the median property taxes paid and the median home value in each state for 2019 (the most recent year available). The data comes from the U.S. Census Bureau.

Sales tax – State sales tax rates are from each state's tax agency. We also cite the Tax Foundation's figure for average combined sales tax, which is a population-weighted average of state and local sales taxes. In states that let local governments add sales taxes, this gives an estimate of what most people in a given state actually pay, as those rates can vary widely.

Ranking method:

The "tax-friendliness" of a state depends on the sum of income, sales and property tax paid by our two hypothetical retired couples.

To determine income taxes due, we prepared returns for both couples. The first couple had $15,000 of earned income (wages), $20,500 of Social Security benefits, $4,500 of 401(k) plan distributions, $4,000 of traditional IRA withdrawals, $3,000 of Roth IRA withdrawals, $200 of taxable interest, $1,000 of dividend income, and $1,800 of long-term capital gains for a total income of $50,000 for the year. They also had $10,000 of medical expenses, paid $2,500 in real estate taxes, paid $1,200 in mortgage interest, and donated $1,900 (cash and property) to charity.

The second couple had $37,500 of Social Security benefits, $26,100 of 401(k) plan distributions, $18,200 of private pension money, $4,000 of traditional IRA withdrawals, $2,000 of Roth IRA withdrawals, $2,000 of tax-exempt municipal bond interest (from the state of residence), $2,000 of taxable interest, $4,000 of dividend income, and $4,200 of long-term capital gains for a total income of $100,000 for the year. They also had $10,000 of medical expenses, paid $3,200 in real estate taxes, paid $1,500 in mortgage interest, and donated $4,300 (cash and property) to charity.

Since some states have local income taxes, we domiciled both our couples in each state's capital, from Juneau to Cheyenne. We calculated their 2019 income tax returns using software from eFile.com.

How much they paid in sales taxes was calculated using the IRS' Sales Tax Calculator, which is localized to zip code. To determine those, we used Zillow to determine zip codes with housing inventory close to our sample assessed value.

How much each hypothetical family paid (and deducted on their income tax return, if allowed) in property taxes was calculated by assuming a residence with a $250,000 assessed value for the first couple and a $350,000 assessed value for the second couple. We then applied each state's median property tax rate to that appropriate amount.

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