Choosing where to live during retirement becomes top of mind the closer you get to your targeted retirement age. Retirees are increasingly choosing states like Arizona, North Carolina and Florida as their retirement destinations of choice. But on a more granular level, many are choosing cities that are home to colleges and universities.
If you’re considering eschewing the rural paradise for a lively college town, you may find some surprises waiting for you — both good and bad. Before you make your retirement move to College City, USA, make sure to consider how college students and college hubs could impact your potential lifestyle and the costs of living.
1. Con: You may not have peace and quiet most of the year
Although the primary goal of a college or university is education, college students don’t spend all of their time in class or buried in books at the library. Parties and bar hopping are common weekend occurrences for college students. Add in sporting events that can draw in thousands and your retirement town could feel like one endless parade — at least from late August through May.
And when the colleges and universities in the area don’t have adequate on-campus housing for students, especially among larger universities, students are forced to find off-campus housing often well within residential neighborhoods.
Professor Kate Rousmaniere of Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, calls the off-campus housing situation “the neglected stepchild of university life.” It’s no insignificant issue, as she points out that off-campus housing in dense college towns can lead to “the deterioration of lovely old homes now packed with student renters and the increased litter and noise in high-student-density areas.”
2. Con: You may have a higher cost of living
When you move to a college town for retirement, you may want to anticipate higher living expenses, especially for those costs that you may often overlook on a day to day basis. For example, once you registered your car in your new state and transferred your insurance, your provider will run its algorithm to determine your new rate. Depending on where you’re moving from, you run the risk of paying higher car insurance due to the increased number of high-risk drivers in the area.
Drivers between the ages of 16 and 19 tend to get in the most car accidents. That being the case, car insurance providers assess a higher rate on that age range. You certainly won’t be paying the 18-year-old rate, but there’s a downwind effect that typically makes car insurance more expensive for everyone in the area if there are a large number of high-risk drivers.
Finding a cheap rental or low-cost house to purchase may also be difficult if you decide to move to a college town. Rental prices in most college towns are exceptionally high because landlords have what is essentially guaranteed income. As long as the colleges are doing well and attracting students, there will always be a pool of renters, leading to stable demand and increasing rental prices.
This also means that there will be increased interest from investors who want to snag properties to use as rentals. Buying a house may mean getting into a bidding war and spending more than you planned, or being forced to rent or buy outside of your desired neighborhood.
3. Pro: You may have access to better health care services
Many colleges and universities are now connected to hospitals or even operate their own. Typically, this is beneficial for the college if it’s a research institution operating a medical school. As such, moving to a college town may mean you have better access to cutting-edge health care services.
Only a small percentage of all colleges and universities have the kind of funding to make this happen. If being connected to a university with a major medical research arm is important to you, you may want to do a bit of extra research to find the colleges with the top medical school programs.
4. Pro: Many colleges offer free resources for retirees
Cognitive decline is a major concern for retirees, as it can lead to memory loss, forgetfulness, anxiety, depression and other health issues. An easy fix to ward off cognitive decline is to stay mentally engaged. You may be surprised to learn that many colleges and universities offer free courses to retirees. In Florida, for example, residents aged 60 or older can get tuition waivers for any of the state’s colleges or universities. The same is true for several other popular states for retirees, including North Carolina and Nevada.
Like your mental health, your physical health can decline if you’re not staying active, so living in a university town couldn’t be better. Over the past 20 years, colleges have spent millions of dollars building up their athletic facilities. To help recoup the cost and to make sure these facilities aren’t stagnant during the summer months, most colleges sell memberships to nonstudents. Some even offer discounts to retirees.
Beneficially, this means being close to a college or university ensures easy access to state-of-the-art and typically well-maintained gymnasiums with a wide range of equipment and activities to enjoy.
If the idea of noisy students and a higher cost of living would ruin your plans for a peaceful retirement, you may want to shy away from a town with too many nearby colleges. However, those older Americans who can benefit from the services that are unique to a college ecosystem will find distinct advantages to retiring in a college town.
Maxime Rieman is Product Manager at ValuePenguin. Educating and assisting shoppers about financial products has been Rieman's focus, which led her to joining ValuePenguin, a consumer research and advice company based in New York. Previously, she was product marketing director at CoverWallet and launched the personal insurance team at NerdWallet.
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