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5 Reasons to Retire in Georgia

Tax breaks, mild climate and scenic variety keep the Peach State on retirees’ minds


spinner image mark and tracy esquenazi walking at a train station of the blue ridge railway
Mark and Tracy Esquenazi walk near the Blue Ridge Scenic Railway, a fully functioning historic depot in Blue Ridge, Georgia.
Audra Melton

When Larry Thomas, a veteran of the Los Angeles entertainment industry, and his wife, Tamara, visited Duluth, Georgia, it was love at first sight.

They were already tiring of the rush of Southern California when they traveled east in 2019 to see a friend of Larry’s who worked in the movie business in the Atlanta area. Mere weeks later, they made the move to Duluth permanent.

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Larry, 60, says Duluth’s friendliness and slower pace echo what he experienced growing up in Shaker Heights, Ohio, a Cleveland suburb.

“I’ve found that Georgia shares quite a bit of the hospitality and family-centric values that I was raised with,” he says. “You can see children playing in the streets or people going on walks with their family more commonly out here than California.”

As a destination state for retirees, Georgia may not get as much attention as its neighbor to the south. Nearly 12 percent of the 234,000 retirees who relocated to a new state in 2022 landed in Florida, according to a study by moving-services marketplace Hire A Helper. 

But the Peach State is no slouch, drawing 5.5 percent of those retirees, making it the fifth most popular destination. Financial services site Bankrate ranked Georgia second only to Florida in its 2022 list of the best states for retirement, citing its affordability and climate. 

“We are seeing an influx of buyers, specifically retirees,” says Karen Smyth, a real estate agent with Keller Williams in Atlanta. Georgia’s mild weather and friendly tax structure for retirees are big draws, she says, as is Atlanta’s status as “a tremendously large travel hub, [with] Delta headquarters and a great connection point to anywhere in the United States and abroad.”

Curious? Here are 5 reasons you might want to retire in Georgia — and one reason to be wary.

spinner image autumn skyline as seen from piedmont park in atlanta georgia
The Atlanta skyline in autumn, viewed from Piedmont Park
Audra Melton

1. Tax breaks for retirees

Georgia is one of 19 states rated by Kiplinger as tax-friendly for retirees. Though it taxes annuities, pensions and money drawn from 401(k)s and IRAs, Georgia does not tax Social Security benefits, and there are no inheritance or estate taxes, sparing heirs what can be a hefty burden at a dark time. 

The main upside is Georgia’s generous tax breaks for older residents. Those ages 62 to 64 can exclude up to $35,000 in retirement income (such as taxable annuities, pensions, interest, dividends and capital gains) from their state taxes. At 65, the deduction increases to $65,000. 

Both spouses in a married couple who file a joint return can take up to the maximum retiree deduction, if they each qualify. Snowbirds who live part-time in Georgia can get it, too, prorated for how much of the year they spend in the state.

Sales taxes can bite in Georgia: Though the state rate is a relatively low 4 percent, local levies boost the average combined sales tax rate to 7.4 percent, 19th highest in the country, according to the Tax Foundation.

But depending on where you lived before moving, you might be pleasantly surprised at Georgia’s personal property tax on vehicles. You’ll take a hit the first time you file and face the transfer rate (which is based on the vehicle’s market value), but after that, instead of paying an annual tax on the car, you just renew your registration at a gentle $20 a year. In Virginia, where I live, the annual effective vehicle tax of nearly 4 percent is a big shock every fall, especially if you have a newer model.

2. Relatively affordable housing

The average home value in Georgia at the end of June 2023 was about $319,000, according to the Zillow Home Values Index. That’s $30,000 below the national average and about $72,000 less than home values in Florida (if your pickleball pals who moved to the Sunshine State are still trying to convince you to join them). 

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Affordability is one of the factors that led the National Association of Realtors to name the Atlanta metro area its number 1 market to watch for 2023 and beyond (others include growing housing supply and strong demand fueled by population growth). And there are 125 active adult communities in the region, according to real estate site 55places.com.

That’s bustling Atlanta. If your retirement plans don’t include a major metropolitan area, Georgia is rife with midsize cities, beach communities and mountain towns with widely varied housing costs. The average home value in tony St. Simons Island, for example, is north of $600,000, according to Zillow, but other popular destinations are considerably more affordable, such as Savannah ($289,000), Stone Mountain ($282,000) and Augusta ($177,000). 

Reach out to real estate agents and agencies for advice on communities and, if you can, try before you buy — spend a few weeks or months in your prospective locale to see how everyday life plays out there.

spinner image sunset scene from saint simons island in georgia
Sunset at Saint Simons Island, Georgia
Getty Images

3. Mild climate

Georgia particularly appeals to older adults looking for a warm-weather home that still offers some seasonal variety. 

Though a majority of newly minted Georgians come from other Southern states, according to U.S. census data, “many retirees are also moving from the Northeast and Midwest regions of the country, attracted by Georgia’s warmer climate and lower cost of living,” says Janice Overbeck, an Atlanta-area real estate agent with Keller Williams.

Georgia does have four seasons, more or less, but few extremes. Summer temperatures range from lows around 80 degrees to an average high of 95. Winters are brief and mild, generally bottoming out at about 50 degrees.

There are downsides. Georgia can be on the receiving end of severe storms traveling up the East Coast during hurricane season. And as in neighboring states, the hot summers come with a heavy dose of humidity.

4. Easy travel

Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport is the busiest airport in the world, according to Airports Council International, a trade association. For some, envisioning travel snarls and holiday backups, that may sound like a threat. For those who call Georgia home, it can be a blessing. 

spinner image tracy and makr esquenazi on a bench in front of a store in downtown blue ridge georgia
Mark and Tracy Esquenazi in downtown Blue Ridge. Native Floridians, they sought a mountain setting for their retirement and decided on northern Georgia.
Audra Melton
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As the main hub for Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines, Hartsfield-Jackson is an access point to the world. It’s a handy amenity for older adults whose retirement dreams include international travel, or who just want to be confident of plentiful options for flights to and from where the grandkids are.

5. Varied terrain

spinner image tracy and makr esquenazi on a bench in front of a store in downtown blue ridge georgia
Mark and Tracy Esquenazi in downtown Blue Ridge. Native Floridians, they sought a mountain setting for their retirement and decided on northern Georgia.
Audra Melton

From the Coastal Plain to the Piedmont to the Appalachian Plateau, Georgia has physical and cultural landscapes to suit any taste. 

Urban-minded transplants will gravitate to cosmopolitan Atlanta, with the activities, amenities and heritage befitting one of the South’s biggest cities (and, it must be said, traffic to match). Nearby suburbs Fayetteville, North Decatur and Stone Mountain balance access to Atlanta’s action with a quieter home life.

Prefer a college town? Try Athens, home of the University of Georgia (and the national football champion Bulldogs), a trendy Victorian downtown and a legendary music scene that spawned R.E.M., the B-52’s and Widespread Panic, among others. Retiree golfers might opt for Augusta, home of the Masters and an AARP-designated age-friendly community. Thomasville, near the Florida border, is widely reckoned the epitome of small-town Southern charm. 

Something by the sea? Say hello to quirky, charming Savannah, or the coastal hot spots of St. Simons and Tybee Island. Looking for an outdoor lifestyle? Check out mountain towns such as Blue Ridge, Clayton, Jasper and Toccoa, many featuring retirement communities that “offer a variety of amenities and services, including on-site health care, social activities and transportation,” Overbeck says.

Mark and Tracy Esquenazi, empty nesters who were ready to trade in the congestion of their native South Florida for life at a higher elevation, recently made the move to Blue Ridge, which topped Southern Living’s 2022 list of the best Southern mountain towns for retirement. 

“We’ve been talking about mountain living for years,” says Mark, 64, a former branch manager with a major brokerage firm. “We also explored Montana and North Carolina before deciding on Georgia.”

Why Georgia?

“Mountain and lush vista views in every direction,” he says. “The people are absolutely the nicest, most polite people we have ever met.” 

And one reason to think twice

Wherever you live in retirement, health care is a paramount concern, and in this area, Georgia lags, according to several recent national studies. 

The Commonwealth Fund, a research and policy institute focused on health care access and equity, ranked Georgia 45th overall in its 2023 scorecard of state health systems. In terms of access and affordability, Commonwealth rated Georgia 48th in the nation and last among 12 states in the Southeast.

Other recent examinations yielded similar diagnoses. U.S. News & World Report’s 2023 Best States report ranks Georgia 41st in health care access, quality and outcomes. America’s Health Rankings, a project of the United Health Foundation, rated the state 39th in its 2023 Senior Report, which assesses the health and well-being of older adults, and Georgia is the 19th most expensive state for health care, according to data from the Kaiser Family Foundation. 

Of course, that doesn’t mean you can’t get excellent care in Georgia. U.S. News & World Report lists Emory University Hospital in Atlanta among the nation’s top 50 hospitals in several treatment areas important to older adults, including cancer, diabetes, neurology and geriatrics, and the Commonwealth report notes improvement statewide in providing timely care to help people 65 and older avoid emergency room visits and hospital admissions. But the overall health care picture may be something to consider in weighing a move.

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