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Retiring In Montana: A Guide

With fresh air, big skies and famously friendly communities, it is unsurprising that when people start to think about retiring, they look to Montana. But there’s more than just the Rocky Mountains to consider when choosing the perfect location when looking at options for retiring in Montana.

Cost of living, taxes, lifestyle and proximity to facilities will have a huge effect on your retirement plans. So, get ready to start your adventure in Big Sky Country with the help of our guide.

Taxes

No-one is excited for this part of the process, but taxes are one of the inevitabilities of life. Montana is a bit of a mixed bag when it comes to taxes – especially for people of retirement age.

The state falls somewhere in the middle on a national scale for most taxes, but unlike many other states, Social Security is taxed here.

On the brighter side, there is no sales tax in Montana: what you see is what you get.

Individual Taxes

  • Income Tax Rate: From 1% to a maximum of 6.9%
  • State and Local Tax Burden: 8.7% (38th in U.S.)
  • State and Local Individual Income Tax Collections per Capita: $1119 (24th in U.S.)
  • Social Security income is taxed, but there are deductions for taxpayers below a certain income level.

Property Taxes

  • State and Local Property Tax Collections Per Capita: $1567 (22nd in U.S.)
  • Property Taxes Paid as a Percentage of Owner-Occupied Housing Value: 0.76% (32nd in U.S.)

Source: Tax Foundation

Population

best small towns in montana to retire

There’s plenty of space in Montana. It’s one of the largest states in the U.S., with one of the smallest populations – at only 6.8 people per square mile, Montana is ranked 48th in the country for population density.

Around 19% of the population in Montana is aged 65 or over.

In 2019, the population sat at 1,068,778, according to the US Census Bureau. People are starting to leave rural communities behind for the city, but this is only a gradual shift. Billings is the most populous city, with 117,116 residents – which isn’t large by any stretch of the imagination.

Cost of Living

Your budget has a huge impact on your retirement. It completely determines where you can live – and while some are fortunate enough to be able to pick and choose, others have to carefully consider their choice.

Montana as a whole is fairly average in terms of cost of living, but it does increase above the national average in some areas and lower in others.

Housing

The small population helps keep the small-town feel across Montana, and at one stage resulted in a fairly weak housing market – the median value of a house was $230,600 in 2019.

This has spiked in 2021 however: in Billings the median house price has increased from $294,000 in 2020 to $342,000 in 2021; a 16% jump. Demand has increased while supply hasn’t: the average house price in Montana has hit $394,498 in 2021.

Rental prices are lower than the national average in Montana, however. Though two-thirds of the state’s residents are homeowners, renting is definitely a viable option: the median rent for a two-bedroom apartment is $785. This does of course increase in the most popular cities, like Bozeman and Billings.

Utilities

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), the average monthly energy bill was $96.49 in Montana in 2020.

Food Costs

The cost of food is one of the few areas where Montana is above the national average. Based on the living wage, the cost of food in Montana amounts to 15% of your wages for a single individual (2% higher than average).

Best Places to Retire in Montana

The dream may be to spend the rest of your days on a ranch, living a salt of the earth kind of lifestyle surrounded by nature–but this does have its downsides. Ranch land has become very expensive to maintain while important facilities, like hospitals, are usually a little too far away.

For those hoping to retire to a famous ski resort like Big Sky, keep in mind that these are also only really a possibility for the very wealthy.

But there are some fantastic options that are far more accessible in the rest of Montana.

Here are just a few of them, or read our guide to the best places to retire in Montana.

Deer Lodge

deer lodge
Image: Jasperdo

If you want that small-town feel as well as a thriving retirement community, look no further than Deer Lodge. The town is located in the gorgeous setting of Western Montana, nestled in a lush valley between two mountain ranges. Charming and incredibly welcoming, Deer Lodge has a reputation for being one of the friendliest towns in the state.

That overwhelming positivity probably comes from the fact that Deer Lodge is a wonderful place to live. Sitting on the winding Clark Fork River, the town is no stranger to natural beauty.

Every day, you get to wake up to mountain views and rolling green fields, knowing that you can just step outside your door to take a deep breath of fresh, clean air.

There’s nowhere in Montana that can compete in terms of museums and historical artifacts. Places like the Old Montana Prison Museum and Powell County Museum are fascinating to explore.

Throw in parks, restaurants, and unique shops, and you can see why Deer Lodge is a popular choice for retirement.

The town combines rural and suburban life perfectly. You get to enjoy nature and belong to a great community while being close to vital facilities; like the Deer Lodge Medical Center.

Deer Lodge Statistics:

  • Population: 2,934
  • Median home cost: $193,229
  • Cost of living: 6.2% lower than the national average

Bozeman

downtown bozeman

Bozeman is known for being the trendiest city in Montana, with a youthful community of creatives starting up bars and boutiques left, right, and center. But what is often forgotten about Bozeman is that it is also a great location to retire.

Unfortunately, Bozeman’s budding popularity has seen an astronomical rise in house prices. But for those able to afford it, the city offers perhaps the most varied and interesting options in Montana.

You can enjoy theater, ballet and live music in Bozeman, stroll down streets of locally-owned shops and breweries, wander a farmers market or explore a museum; there’s nowhere in Montana that really competes for the sheer amount of entertainment options.

The community is warm and welcoming, the city vibrant, the facilities – like healthcare – are excellent, and the scenery is spectacular; Bozeman really is a fantastic place to live.

Bozeman is also a great place to live for ski lovers – Big Sky Resort and Bridger Bowl are within an hour’s drive from the city.

Bozeman Statistics:

  • Population: 49,831 (2019)
  • Median home cost: $760,850
  • Cost of living: 21.6% higher than the national average (due to high house prices)

Libby

libby

Libby is situated in the Kootenai National Forest, with the Cabinet Mountains to the south and the Purcell Mountains to the north.

You can enjoy a quiet retirement on the banks of the Kootenai River here in Libby. However, it’s not the kind of place for those who wish to be coddled.

The town is home to a close-knit but rugged community of people, with an ethic of determined hard work that helps to keep the city flourishing. You can expect all the usual shops and facilities of a small town in Libby, with the odd golf course for entertainment.

The real marvel is the natural beauty of the area – you can live in a spot of great beauty without breaking the bank in Libby.

Libby Statistics:

  • Population: 2,703
  • Median home cost: $239,267
  • Cost of living: 24.9% lower than the national average

Whitefish

whitefish

Spend the next phase of your life in the gateway to Flathead Lake and the Glacier National Park. Northwest Montana is famous all over the world for its rugged mountains, pristine lakes, and alpine forests.

Retiring in Whitefish ensures that you will be able to explore this gorgeous corner of the country as thoroughly as you would like. It’s the perfect location for people who love to spend as much time as possible outdoors.

Life generally moves at a slower pace in Whitefish – the easy-going community and relaxed feel is well-suited to retirement. Whitefish also always ranks well for cleanliness, and the high standard of medical facilities in the area is another positive for the town.

Though expensive, Whitefish is a lovely town. It’s one of the best in Montana for the sublime scenery that surrounds it.

Whitefish Statistics:

  • Population: 7,714
  • Median home cost: $755,767
  • Cost of living: 20% higher than the national average

Helena

helena

Why not try Montana’s state capital out for size? Helena is a beautiful city, with some of the best-preserved architecture of the Italianate, Queen Anne, and Revival styles in all of North America. It’s a city that blends the Old West heritage of Montana with modern sensibilities seamlessly.

You can go for a drink in an old-style saloon or a hip new brewery, visit the winding piece of history that is Reeder’s Alley or stop by a stylish boutique.

Helena can suit a number of different personalities and styles – whether you’re the type of person to enjoy lounging outside a cafe dining al fresco, or go on a grand outdoor adventure into Lewis and Clark County, there’s something here for everyone. At its heart though, Helena is a typical Montana town: family, friends, and community come first.

The facilities in Helena are fantastic, and there are a number of museums and historic buildings to visit. This is undeniably one of the prettiest cities if you are looking at retiring in Montana.

Helena Statistics:

  • Population: 32,024
  • Median home cost: $368,100
  • Cost of living: 0.6% lower than the national average

Conrad

conrad
Image: Jimmy Emerson, DVM

Conrad is a quiet, suburban kind of town in Pondera County, Northwest Montana. It has a very rural feel, though the larger city of Great Falls is only an hour’s drive away.

This small town has proven popular with retirees thanks to its excellent parks, facilities, and welcoming community. You can sit down for a meal in a local restaurant, wander through  Williamson Park or take the short drive to Maria’s Valley Golf and Country Club for a game; there’s plenty to keep you entertained.

For those with an adventurous spirit, the east entrance to the Glacier National Park and all its beauty is only an hour and a half drive away.

As for facilities, the Pondera Medical Center is on the edge of town, and everything from dentists to electricians can also be found in Conrad.

Conrad Statistics:

  • Population: 2,318
  • Median home cost: $159,700
  • Cost of living: 20.8% lower than the national average

Kalispell

kalispell

Health is just a part of life that can’t be ignored, and it becomes a greater focus as we get older. In 2018, the Kalispell Regional Medical Center was named one of the top 100 performing hospitals in the U.S. by IBM Watson Health.

As well as excellent healthcare facilities, Kalispell has a great selection of parks – including a few impressive golf courses – so you can enjoy some greenery and wide-open skies within the city limits. There’re museums, galleries, restaurants, coffee shops, boutiques: it’s a city filled with culture and interesting things to do.

Kalispell becomes a hot spot in the summer months due to its close proximity to the Glacier National Park. While this does make the town a little busier at this time of the year, it also allows more exciting and varied businesses to thrive in the town.

In Kalispell, you get to be on the doorstep of one of the best national parks in the world–few people get to experience it to the extent locals do.

Kalispell Statistics:

  • Population: 25,329
  • Median home cost: $448,200
  • Cost of living: 2.4% lower than the national average

Climate

Finally, the weather. Montana has famously cold winters, with temperatures getting well below freezing in some areas. The lower parts of the state are slightly warmer, but if you aren’t prepared for chilly weather, Montana probably isn’t the right place for you.

Retiring in Montana: A Quick Roundup

Pros

Cons

Astounding Natural Beauty Harsh Winters
Low Population Density Limited Housing
Close-knit Communities Social Security Taxed
No Sales Tax  

Sources: United States Census Bureau, Zillow, Bozeman Real Estate, Taunya Fagan Real Estate