North Carolina vs South Carolina: Which is Better for Retirement?

retirees choosing between north carolina and south carolina

Choosing the perfect retirement destination is an exciting yet challenging decision. As you weigh your options, South Carolina and North Carolina emerge as top contenders, each offering unique benefits for retirees. In this comprehensive guide, we'll delve into the key factors to consider when deciding between these two neighboring Southern states.

From taxes and healthcare to climate and cultural activities, let's navigate the journey together to find your ideal state for a long and happy retirement.

Cost of Living

As you approach retirement, financial considerations take center stage. One of the first questions you encounter might be as you choose between these states might be:

Is it cheaper to retire in SC or NC? 

Well, the answer depends on which part of the respective states you compare (as will be the case for many considerations). There are some parts of each state with relatively low and high cost of living. While the cost of living is on average 4.9% lower in South Carolina than North Carolina, according to data from MyLifeElsewhere, look how much cost of living varies from city to city:

  • Charlotte, NC: 1% lower than national average
  • Raleigh, NC: 4% lower than national average
  • Wilmington, NC: 4% lower than national average
  • Charleston, SC: 2% lower than national average
  • Myrtle Beach, SC: 8% lower than national average 📉
  • Greenville, SC: 9% lower than national average 📉

*All according to data from Payscale

As you can see, no matter where you end up in the Carolinas, you are making out better than the average American retiree in terms of cost of living. That’s thanks to a combination of low taxes, low cost of housing, and some additional savings on gas and groceries. South Carolina does emerge slightly ahead,

Housing Costs Compared

With the cost of housing being the most determinant factor of cost of living, it’s wise to compare the cost of a home in South Carolina with North Carolina. Again, the numbers vary on which market you examine. 

Here’s a comparison of the median sold price in markets around both states (according to January 2024 data from Rocket Homes):

  • Myrtle Beach, SC: $315,009 📉🏠
  • Raleigh, NC: $420,065
  • Charlotte, NC: $405,657
  • Charleston, SC: $531,728
  • Greenville, SC: $327,000
  • Asheville, NC: $489,445

Zooming out, the median list price of homes in North Carolina is $388,500 compared to $354,070 in South Carolina (according to Redfin data from January 2024). 

Who gets the edge? Depends on where you look, but the state averages suggest South Carolina is slightly cheaper than North Carolina for retirees

happy retiree seeing median home prices in north carolina and south carolina

Crime Rate

When it comes to choosing the perfect place to retire, safety is often a top concern. Both North Carolina and South Carolina boast picturesque landscapes and vibrant communities, but how do their crime rates stack up? Let's delve into the safety factors of each state to help you make an informed decision.

Is North Carolina or South Carolina Safer?

According to the most recent FBI Crime Data from 2022, North Carolina experienced a rate of 405.1 violent crimes per 100,000 residents. While this rate is higher than the national rate of 380.7, it has decreased from a high of 419.5 in 2011.

South Carolina, on the other hand, had a higher rate of violent crimes with 491.3 per 100,000 residents, slightly surpassing its northern counterpart.

In terms of property crime rates, North Carolina also fared better, reporting 1954.4 property crimes per 100,000 residents in 2022 compared to South Carolina's 2308.2.

It's important to note that there is a high degree of variance in crime rates within both North Carolina and South Carolina, from county to county. Additionally, differences in crime reporting and law enforcement procedures can obscure the data.

Who gets the edge? By the numbers, North Carolina reports lower crime rates than South Carolina. However, it is crucial to consult local statistics and conduct thorough research before making any determinations about the relative safety of an area.

Healthcare

Retirees often prioritize access to quality healthcare when considering where to spend their golden years. Both North Carolina and South Carolina boast renowned medical facilities and healthcare systems, but let's explore the healthcare landscape in each state to help you make an informed decision.

North Carolina

North Carolina features renowned healthcare institutions like Duke University Health System and UNC Health Care, offering comprehensive medical services and cutting-edge treatments. The Research Triangle Park area, comprising Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill, provides retirees with innovative healthcare options. Additionally, the state offers a widespread network of hospitals and clinics, alongside participation in Medicaid for eligible retirees.

However, in a Forbes Advisor article from 2023, North Carolina was ranked as the worst state in the nation for healthcare costs (with South Carolina tied with Utah at 7th worst). 

South Carolina

South Carolina features a thriving healthcare industry, anchored by leading medical centers like the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) and Greenville Health System. Its coastal regions offer retirement communities with on-site healthcare services and assisted living options. Additionally, South Carolina provides comprehensive healthcare coverage, including Medicaid, ensuring affordable medical services for retirees.

While major areas like Charleston, Greenville, and Myrtle Beach in South Carolina boast strong healthcare systems, it's important to note that rural areas of the state may experience challenges with access and quality outcomes in healthcare. If you require frequent or intensive healthcare, you may be better off considering one of the major areas we mentioned.

Who gets the edge? Ultimately, the best choice depends on individual healthcare needs and preferences. By researching healthcare options in both states and consulting with healthcare professionals, retirees can make an informed decision that prioritizes their health and well-being during retirement.

Weather & Climate

Weather and climate play significant roles in retirees' decisions when choosing a retirement destination. Both North Carolina and South Carolina offer diverse weather patterns and climates, each with its own unique appeal.

Which state has better weather, NC or SC?

North Carolina

North Carolina's climate varies from the coastal regions to the mountainous areas. Along the coast, retirees can expect mild winters and hot, humid summers, perfect for those who enjoy beach activities and outdoor living year-round. Inland areas, particularly in the Piedmont and mountain regions, experience more distinct seasonal changes, with cooler temperatures in the winter and pleasant summers.

Snapshot of Weather in Charlotte, NC:

  • Days of sun per year: 218 ☀️
  • Average July high: 89.7°  🌡️
  • Average January low: 30° 🥶
  • Rainfall per year: 43.1 in. 🌧️

The state's western region, including the Blue Ridge Mountains, offers breathtaking scenery and cooler temperatures, making it an ideal escape during the hot summer months. However, residents should be prepared for occasional snowfall in the winter, especially in higher elevations.

South Carolina

South Carolina's climate is characterized by its warm, subtropical conditions, particularly in the coastal regions. Retirees in cities like Charleston and Myrtle Beach can enjoy mild winters and hot, humid summers, perfect for outdoor activities and beach outings.

Snapshot of Weather in Myrtle Beach, SC:

  • Days of sun per year: 218 ☀️
  • Average July high: 89° 🌡️
  • Average January low: 34.9° 🥶
  • Rainfall per year: 51.9 in. 🌧️

Inland areas, including the Midlands and Upstate regions, experience similar weather patterns, though with slightly cooler temperatures during the winter months. The state's diverse geography, including coastal plains and the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, offers retirees a variety of landscapes to explore.

Who gets the edge? When it comes to escaping winter's chill, South Carolina takes the lead. With average winter low temperatures averaging 9 degrees higher than those in North Carolina, retirees can enjoy milder winters (and snow is a lot less common in South Carolina too).

happy retired people enjoying a variety of things to do in north carolina and south carolina

Culture & Activities

Retirees seeking vibrant cultural experiences and engaging activities will find both North Carolina and South Carolina rich in history, arts, and recreational opportunities.

But which state offers more things to do?

North Carolina

North Carolina offers a diverse cultural landscape, from the vibrant music scene of Asheville to the historic charm of cities like Wilmington and Winston-Salem. Retirees can explore the state's rich heritage through its numerous museums, art galleries, and cultural festivals.

For a regularly updated list of local happenings, check out these events calendars:

Outdoor enthusiasts will find plenty to do in North Carolina, with opportunities for hiking in the Great Smoky Mountains, exploring the Outer Banks' pristine beaches, and enjoying water activities on the state's many lakes and rivers.

Additionally, North Carolina is known for its culinary delights, including traditional Southern cuisine, barbecue, and craft beer. Retirees can savor local flavors at farm-to-table restaurants and food festivals throughout the state.

South Carolina

South Carolina boasts a vibrant cultural scene, with cities like Charleston and Greenville offering a blend of historic charm and contemporary arts. Retirees can immerse themselves in the state's rich history by visiting landmarks like Fort Sumter, exploring historic plantations, and strolling through charming downtown districts.

For a regularly updated list of local happenings, check out these events calendars:

The state's coastal regions provide ample opportunities for outdoor recreation, including boating, fishing, and golfing. Retirees can also enjoy leisurely walks along the picturesque beaches or explore the natural beauty of parks like Congaree National Park and Hunting Island State Park.

South Carolina's culinary scene is equally impressive, with a focus on Lowcountry cuisine, fresh seafood, and Southern hospitality. Retirees can indulge in gourmet dining experiences, attend food and wine festivals, and sample local delicacies at farmers' markets and seafood shacks.

Who gets to edge? If you're seeking big city entertainment, North Carolina is your best bet. On the other hand, if you prefer relaxed days on the beach, world-famous golf courses, and charming downtown streets, choose South Carolina. 

Taxes

Understanding the tax implications of retiring in North Carolina or South Carolina is crucial for retirees seeking to maximize their financial well-being. Knowing the details before you make a move can potentially save you thousands.

Is South Carolina or North Carolina more tax-friendly for retirees?

Let’s compare…

North Carolina Tax Rates

  • Real estate tax rate: 2.82% (19th lowest in U.S.)
  • Vehicle property tax rate: 0.45% (32nd lowest in U.S.)
  • Income tax rate: 2.87% (36th lowest  in U.S.)
  • Sales and excise tax rate: 4.36% (27th lowest in U.S.)

South Carolina Tax Rates 

  • Real estate tax rate: 1.98% (5th lowest in U.S.)
  • Vehicle property tax rate: 0.99% (48th lowest in U.S.)
  • Income tax rate: 2.29% (23rd lowest in U.S.)
  • Sales and excise tax rate: 3.80% (13th lowest in U.S.)

According to a 2023 study by Wallet Hub, the annual state and local taxes for a median household were $6,302 in North Carolina, compared to only $5,288 in South Carolina. This makes South Carolina's taxes on median households 16% lower than North Carolina's.

In North Carolina, the state taxes most other retirement income at a flat rate of 4.75%. In South Carolina, retirement income is partially taxed, but individuals aged 65 and older can claim up to $10,000 in retirement income deductions from pensions, 401(k)s, IRAs, and other retirement accounts. Additionally, they can claim up to $15,000 in deductions from South Carolina's state income tax.

However, retirees can find relief in the fact that neither state taxes social security income.

Who gets the edge? The numbers clearly tilt in favor of South Carolina when it comes to taxes. For more information on the tax benefits South Carolina offers for retirees, check out our Myrtle Beach Retirement Guide.

infographic comparing tax rates in north carolina and south carolina for retirement

Final Verdict: South Carolina Wins, but Both States Shine

In the retirement destination showdown, South Carolina emerges as the top pick. With its lower taxes, lower cost of living and affordable housing options, and abundant cultural and recreational offerings, it's an unbeatable choice for retirees. From its mild climate to its scenic coastlines and charming towns, South Carolina has it all.

Yet, it's important to note that both North Carolina and South Carolina offer fantastic options for retirees. Whichever state you choose, you'll find a welcoming community, great amenities, and plenty of opportunities to enjoy your retirement to the fullest.

Falling in love with South Carolina? Ready to take the next step? Reach out to a Right Find Homes agent for expert guidance and find your dream home in Myrtle Beach or the surrounding area. Contact us today!

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Provided courtesy of the Coastal Carolinas MLS. Copyright 2024 of the Coastal Carolinas MLS. All rights reserved. Information is provided exclusively for consumers' personal, non-commercial use, and may not be used for any purpose other than to identify prospective properties consumers may be interested in purchasing, and that the data is deemed reliable but is not guaranteed accurate by the Coastal Carolinas MLS.

Listing information last updated on April 16, 2024 at 10:45 PM EST.

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