The Ten Best and Worst States to Retire

My childhood friend was visiting me last month when she asked me, “Where do you want to retire?”

retirementWe both turn 56 this month, an age where boomers typically start dreaming about where they’d like to retire. Interestingly, we both reside in places known to be pretty popular for retirees.

My friend is from Asheville, North Carolina. She enjoys mountain biking in the scenic Great Smoky Mountains, the robust arts community – and since her late husband was a musician – she loves the live music scene that ranges from bluegrass to classical. Asheville consistently receives great rankings as a great place to retire for those reasons as well as its typically mild weather (with the exception of this year!) and unique art deco architecture. In fact, recently US News & World Report named Asheville one of “10 Best Places to Retire.”

My friend is currently retired and active in her volunteer work and she likes living in Asheville. However, she is considering whether that’s the spot she wants to settle in for good.

Me – I’m from the Palm Springs, California area, which has long been one of the most famous retirement communities. Snowbirds love this place with over 300 days of sunshine a year. Golfing, casinos, hiking, and cycling are popular activities. Places to shop and dine abound. In addition, a fairly strong economy and low unemployment rate make the Palm Springs area a popular destination for baby boomers and retirees.

But do I want to retire here? Not especially. Some people love the heat, but I’m not a fan of the long, hot summers with temperatures that exceed 115 degrees. However, I have time to consider my options. Like many boomers, retirement is nowhere in sight for me at the time being.

But of course, a girl can dream, right?

That’s why I found Bankrate.com’s survey interesting. It used six criteria to determine which states are the best and worst for retirees that included cost of living, taxes, health care, weather, crime, and residents’ overall well-being.

The results were surprising. Traditional retirement spots like Florida and California didn’t make the top 10 while other states, not usually considered as premier places to retire, like South Dakota and Wyoming, made the top five.

So, exactly what are the ten best and worst places to retire according to the survey and why?

The Ten Best States

Colorado came in at #3 as one of the best states to retire.

Colorado came in at #3 as one of the best states to retire.

Wyoming: Low taxes, a low cost of living, and a low crime rate puts this state in the top ten. The sheer beauty of this state is appealing with seven national parks, including the famous Yellowstone National Park, and plenty of expansive land to roam. In fact, Wyoming is the least populated state in the nation. Maybe that’s why this state scores so high in the well-being of its residents and is considered a “happy” place to retire.

South Dakota: This state scores high for its low taxes, living costs, unemployment rates, and crime rates. South Dakota offers a rugged retirement destination to those looking for new adventures, affordable housing, and a sense of seclusion. Nonetheless, South Dakota scored low for the well-being of its residents. Perhaps that’s, in part, because of its typically brutal winters and hot summers.

Colorado: What’s not to love? Gorgeous scenery with low taxes and living costs. Compared to the two states above, Colorado has fairly mild weather with few rainy days that is conducive to lots of outdoor activities like hiking, cycling, and skiing. In fact, the latest U.S. News & World Report recently ranked Denver as the best place to live in the country. Colorado Springs ranked fifth.

Utah: This state made the list with its pleasant weather and abundance of natural attractions and activities for outdoor lovers. Housing costs, however, are higher in Utah than the national average as is the state’s overall tax rate. Utah has recently began  attracting retirees, mostly in the St. George and Park City areas.

Virginia: This state rated highest east of the Mississippi. A vibrant economy and plenty of historic destinations put it on Bankrate’s top five list. According to their study, Arlington is the best place to retire in the state and nearby Alexandria came in second.

These five states were followed by Montana for its temperate weather that ranks above the national average and residents reporting being happy with their gorgeous surroundings, 
Idaho
 for its affordable housing, low crime rate, and many natural treasures, Iowa for its quality health care system and low crime rates, Arizona for its great weather and high scores in well-being, and Nebraska with its relatively low cost of living and low crime rates.

It should be noted some of these states (South Dakota, Idaho, Arizona, and Utah) made the top 10 Kiplinger list which also included the states of Florida, Washington, South Carolina, Alabama, Tennessee, and Georgia on its top ten list of places to retire.

The Ten Worst States

New York was the worst state to retire in, according to Bankrate.com.

New York was the worst state to retire in, according to Bankrate.com.

New York: Known for its high cost of living and high taxes, this state also had the lowest well-being scores in the nation, especially on feeling a sense of satisfaction with their lives and where they live, according to the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index.

West Virginia: While the state offers a low cost of living, natural beauty, and lots of activities, for the 6th straight year, West Virginia received the worst scores in the country for personal well-being by the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index. In addition, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality gave West Virginia its 7th lowest rating in the country for its high rates of hospitalizations for conditions such as hypertension, asthma and diabetes, as well as potentially avoidable hospitalizations for acute conditions.

Oregon: The state’s high cost of living and high taxes along with its stormy weather put this state as one of the worst places to retire according to Bankrate.com. However, it’s interesting to note that Portland, Oregon often tops lists of great places to retire with its beauty, ocean access, great food and wine, and lack of sales tax.

Arkansas: Arkansas received below-average marks for crime, health care and overall well-being. Arkansas has the 9th highest violent crime rate in the nation and the 6th lowest score for health care quality. The state struggles with hospital admissions for hypertension and diabetes, among other issues. Arkansas also received the 7th lowest happiness score in the nation among seniors, with especially low overall scores for physical and social health.

Louisiana: Unfortunately, one of the major problems with Louisiana, which also made last year’s list, is crime. The state recorded the 5th highest violent crime rate in the country in 2015, according to the FBI, and had a murder rate double the national average in 2014. In addition, The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality gave Louisiana the 2nd lowest score in the nation for health care quality.

Hawaii made number six. A lovely place to live except for the high cost of living. Honolulu is the 2nd most expensive place to live, ranking 2nd to New York City, according to the Council for Community and Economic Research. Residents of Hawaii pay an individual income tax rate of 11% — the 2nd highest in the U.S. If you can afford it, however, this state ranks high for happiness and personal well-being.

That state was followed by Oklahoma whose state’s health care system ranked as the worst in the country, according to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. Add a high crime rate and a low rating on the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being index. Alaska made the list for it’s a high cost of living, frigid temperatures in much of the state, and high crime rate. Connecticut ranked number nine due to its state’s income tax rate and property tax rate which are both 2nd highest in the country. Maryland rounded out the 10 worst states for retirement for its high cost of living and lofty tax rate which makes it hard for retirees living on a fixed income.

Where Should You Retire?

Where to retire is a deeply personal decision and you may not agree with this list. There are many things to consider.

For most people, retirement means less income, but more time to do what they enjoy. That means typically they are looking for a place with lower housing and living costs, good weather, opportunities for outdoor physical activities, cultural offerings, and volunteer work.

But there are other factors to consider too, for example, nearly a quarter said in the survey that being close to family is the most important factor in deciding where to retire. Other interesting findings from the Bankrate survey:

  • Three in five Americans want to spend their golden years in another city or state, but the desire to move away from home fades with age.
  • Women value a cheap cost of living more highly than men (59% vs. 43%).
  • Four in 10 Americans say locales with access to mountains, rivers and other outdoor recreation would be most appealing, while 25% prefer living near a beach.

In the end, you’ll have to consider all those factors before you put down roots. As Bankrate.com research and statistics analyst Chris Kahn said: “Warm weather may be an initial draw, but all the sunny days in the world won’t make you happy if you’re constantly stretching your budget or don’t have access to quality health care.”

True, true. But that doesn’t stop me from dreaming about retiring somewhere near an ocean with our sailboat docked in a marina. Or maybe some exotic land or a Caribbean island which are dancing around in my head. Why not? Like I said before, a girl can dream, right? And who knows where I’ll land? Only time will tell!

Where would you love to retire? Please share your dreams in the comments below.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles, J Frasse, and Troy Faulder at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

4 thoughts on “The Ten Best and Worst States to Retire

  1. Pearl R Meaker

    I’m surprised Illinois wasn’t among the ten worst. 😏 Our taxes are in the high range and the state hasn’t had a budget in over a year.

    If it were for the fact that my daughter and her husband wouldn’t want to move there, my hubby and I would go back to Sioux Falls, South Dakota in a heartbeat – even with the cold weather. We lived there for five years back in the late 70’s early 80’s. It’s a wonderful city in a beautiful state.

    Reply
    1. juliegorges Post author

      Well, there you go! Just what the survey said, although I wouldn’t have pegged South Dakota as the perfect to place to retire, you are here to testify what a great state it is! Thanks for sharing your experience with us, Pearl!

      Reply
  2. Dawn DuBose-Dani

    Early retirerment was one of the best life decisions ever made. At 58, I was working in a high profile, high pressure field. Full time volunteer ministry is extremely rewarding…. I’ve never lacked and wanted anything that was left behind…Dawn

    Reply

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