20 best places to retire: whether you're retiring now or just thinking about it, these cities offer a great lifestyle without straining your nest egg.

Author:Taylor, Chris
Position:RETIREMENT PLANNING - Cover story
 
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WHEN CHUCK AND LORRAINE BRAUD Hill of Irvine, California, mulled over where to set down retirement roots, their decision was dictated by quality of life concerns. California's declining services, crumbling infrastructure, and crushing housing prices--even after the recent price slump--made the director of international alliances and business development for University of California, Irvine Extension and his banker wife look beyond the Golden State.

Their top choice for where they're planning to move within the next year: Nashville, Tennessee, a friendly locale where all the "streets and schools are still working." In the city of the Grand Ole Opry, the couple built a stately semi-custom house for $350,000--the equivalent in Southern California would have cost a whopping $1.2 million. "The cost of housing and living are so much lower, yet there's such a high quality of life raves Chuck, 64. "I don't plan on sitting in a rocking chair. I intend to open a professional mediation practice focused on intellectual property disputes. With so much of the music industry centered in Nashville, it's an ideal location for such a practice. Nashville just made a lot of sense for us."

Nashville may be the best fit for the Hills, but it may not necessarily be for others. And there's the rub: Retirement is something supremely individual. Some may fulfill their dreams with a seaside retirement haven on the East Coast, such as Virginia Beach. Others may be more inclined toward an outdoorsy life in the West such as that offered in Portland, Oregon. After all, no two retirees are alike.

It's up to you to figure out what place works for you--not just for the next year or two, but for the next 10 or 20 years since 65 these days is only the start of the next phase of your life. For those who have ditched the 9-to-5 life--or are planning to--you might start by thinking about what retiree group you fall into.

"We've identified three different stages of retirement," says Bert Sperling, an urban researcher and president of the consulting firm Sperling's Best Places (www.bestplaces.net). "There's a go-go phase for those just beginning retirement and wanting to do all the things they've dreamed of--like travel the world. There's the slow-go phase, when you might feel more like relaxing or playing with the grandkids, and then there's the no-go phase, when you might need some assisted care. You're going to have different needs at different phases of your life, and that's why it's so important to think through where you're going to retire."

We can't tell you where to live, of course. But we can give you the tools you'll need to make the right decision. To help on that front, our editors and BE Research developed a scoring system based on the following (see ranking):

* Quality of life (40% of the overall score): Using Expansion Management magazine, which advises executives of companies that are expanding or relocating, as one of our primary references, we identified cities that received the publication's highest ratings. We also included BE's 10 Best Cities for African Americans (May 2007) as another valuable source.

* Healthcare (20%): As indicated by Cities Banked & Bated by Sperling and Peter Sander, we identified locales based on two factors: hazards that reveal health problems and top-notch healthcare facilities and their costs.

* Taxes (15%): Using a variety of sources, including AABP, we developed a proprietary weighting to evaluate property, income, and sales tax burdens of cities within each state.

* Leisure (15%): Through Sperling's research, we found that it was important to identify factors such as shopping, entertainment, spectator sports, and outdoor recreation.

* Arts & Culture (5%): We found that other important elements were fine arts, performing arts, and museums. Access to African American culture was also taken into consideration.

* Climate (5%): Although cited as a factor in relocation, climate--defined as temperature, precipitation, cloud cover, humidity, and hazards--tends to be lower in priority than you might think. A recent Merrill Lynch survey found that climate was ranked No. 6 of nine retirement priorities.

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As a result, we've screened out subpar performers and singled out overall winners: 20 areas, coast to coast, which you should consider as you get closer to retirement. Among them are some perennial favorites, such as Durham, North Carolina, and Nashville. There are also some smaller locales that might not be on your radar such as Kent, Washington; and Johnson City, Tennessee.

By reviewing the key factors, you'll see we've done all the legwork Now it's up to you to decide.

QUALITY OF LIFE

"People need clear and objective information that establishes the differences in quality of living between cities." says Stacy Bronstein, a spokeswoman for human resources consulting...

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