Last month, even as they slapped a new tax on hospitals, raised dozens of user fees and eliminated a low-income tax credit, Georgia legislators passed income tax relief for one group: well-off retirees. For residents 62 or older, Georgia already exempts from its 6% tax all Social Security and $70,000 per couple of income from pensions, retirement accounts, annuities, interest, dividends, capital gains and rents. But in 2012, the exemption for couples 65 and older will rise to $130,000, and by 2016 all their retirement income will be exempt--a break Governor Sonny Perdue championed as a lure for well-heeled seniors.
If you're looking for a domestic retirement tax haven, Georgia is hardly the only place worth considering. Seven states--Alaska, Florida, Nevada, South Dakota, Texas, Washington and Wyoming--don't tax personal income at all. New Hampshire and Tennessee tax interest and dividends but not other income. The rest of the states have broad income taxes but give old taxpayers breaks, some quite generous. A recent study by Karen Smith Conway of the University of New Hampshire and Jonathan C. Rork of Georgia State calculates that retirees pay, on average, only half the state income tax of working folks with the same income.
That means the best tax locales aren't necessarily the same for retirees as they are for working stiffs. Some states, such as New Jersey, soak taxpayers of all ages (particularly affluent ones) with stiff income, real estate, sales and estate taxes. But others with a more moderate tax burden might compensate for having no income taxes with high real estate levies. New Hampshire, with no sales tax and a narrow income tax, has among the highest real estate burdens in the nation. Consider, too, the condition of local finances and prospects for tax hikes.