Transitioning from service brings exciting changes, but also the opportunity to make decisions for the first time. Up until the point where a DD-214 is received, service members are told where to live (or at least given a list of places to choose from). Preparing for civilian life means picking a location to call home, with several factors to consider: Climate, career opportunity, proximity to friends and family, taxes, health care, and access to military facilities, are just a few.
Step one in preparing for this next big step is prioritizing what matters most to you and your family.
So, how do you decide?
The first thing to do is figure out what is most important to you. It is tempting to say that they’re all important, but you really do need to narrow it down to one or two. Once you’ve picked the key points, start doing your research.
Jobs or job opportunities
If you or your spouse plan to work in a career-type job after leaving the military, the location of the most desirable job may be the only factor you need to consider. Many military retirees move to their next job, just like they would while serving. Or, they choose an area with a large number of jobs that fit their skills and interests.
If you find yourself moving for a job, it’s important to know that nearly half of veterans change jobs within the first year of leaving the military. So if you pick a location for a job, you may not be in that location as long as you expect.
If you’re willing to compromise on the job, then you can start factoring in things like climate, distance to family, and economic pros and cons.
Outside of employment, there are several other financial issues that may impact your choice of places to live. These include taxes, healthcare, and availability of military services such as commissaries, cost of living, and more.
There are a wide range of taxes to consider, and it is important to look at them together. WalletHub put together a good analysis of the overall tax burden of each state, and the chart allows you to sort by income taxes, property taxes and sales taxes. However, the WalletHub tax analysis doesn’t include an important factor for military retirees: the taxation of military retirement income.
Individual states tax military retirement income in different ways, everything from a complete exemption from taxation for military retirement pay, to no exemption at all, with quite a few states exempting a portion of military retirement pay from taxes. Ryan Guina created a list of Military Retirement Income Taxes by State – Which States Don’t Tax Military Retirement Pay? (As always, verify the information listed here and in the linked articles – things change!)
Once you move beyond job and finances, then comes the fun stuff. This may be the first time in your life that you get to pick where you want to live. It’s both exciting and terrifying. Perhaps you have a strong preference for a particular climate, or do you want access to specific hobbies or sports? Is being near family a consideration? Do you prefer more rural areas, or do you want to be near a larger city? You may want access to transportation hubs, or great golf courses, or museums. There are so many things to consider.
If you want to look at a wider range of characteristics to consider, WalletHub released annual report on 2020’s Best & Worst States for Military Retirees. To compile this report, WalletHub compared the 50 states and the District of Columbia across 29 key indicators of retirement-friendliness toward veterans. The data set ranges from job opportunities for veterans to housing affordability to quality of VA hospitals. It is useful to see the factors that WalletHub considered, and compare it to the list of things that you think are important.
When picking your post-military home, remember two key points: First, there is no right answer. Every person, and every family, has individual preferences and values. Second, it doesn’t have to be permanent. Many military retirees move one more time after leaving the military.
It can be stressful, but try to enjoy the freedom and opportunity of picking a new place to live. Use the many tools available to compare locations, and you’ll have a better chance of finding a good fit for the next chapter of your life.
What factors are most important to you for life after the military?