Best Retirement States – Part 2: Pick Your Rating Factor

Category: Best Retirement Towns and States

May 17, 2017 — Note, this is Part 2 of a two part article. Here is the link to Part 1: Crazy Lists and Not Much Agreement.

In Part 1 we compared 2 popular “Best States for Retirement” lists to the states where retirees actually move. It was not a pretty comparison. The 2 popular lists agreed on almost nothing, and neither one included more than one or two of the states where baby boomers actually move. To help you prepare your own best states to retire list, in this installment we will present various lists of specific attributes that retirees might be interested in, such as culture or climate. We have even included a few whimsical factors to liven things up!

Best Cultural Opportunities
WalletHub included a ranking for the top 5 and worst 5 states for museums and theaters. You can easily search to find out if there is a college, university, lifelong learning center (e.g.; Osher), or community college in the area you are considering for retirement. Here were the top states for museums and theaters per capita:


Most College Towns
A lot of baby boomers are attracted to college towns, and for good reason. They are often prettier, more interesting, and provide more stimulating experiences than a typical town or city. According to, Vermont has more colleges per capita than any other state, followed by North and South Dakota. Ranked by the number of institutions, California is first with 400, followed by New York (307), Pennsylvania (262) and Texas with 208. Ohio has 194 public and private universities. Arizona and Delaware have very few college towns. Although community colleges doesn’t always provide the most beautiful campuses or create a college town setting, they can make their towns very attractive places to live because of their course offerings and possibility of employment. You might want to check out our 4 part series on “College Town Retirements“.

Best Climate
Our esteemed members and visitors will recognize of course that weather is a matter of personal taste. If you live to snowshoe you probably won’t be happy living in Southern California, and if surfing is your thing don’t move to Colorado. Some people hate humidity, snakes, and the big bugs often found in warmer climes. But, our research indicates more baby boomers are a lot more interested in places with warmer winters than they are in colder ones. So to help those people we’ve listed the U.S. states with the warmest winter temperatures. Note that we haven’t attempted to factor in climatic catastrophes, since almost no state is immune to some type of disaster – earthquakes, hurricanes, ice storms, tornadoes, sinkholes, etc.

The highest average winter temperatures (F.) by state (source: Note that these are state-wide averages – many of these states have significant temperature ranges from north to south and even west to east.)

Hawaii (67.5)
Florida (59.4)
Louisiana (50.9)
Texas (47.9)
Georgia (47.8)
Mississippi (46.7)
Alabama (46.5)
California (46.2)
South Carolina (46.1)
Arizona (43.6)

To put another dimension on weather, the average number of days of sunshine could be important to you. Here are the states with more than 120 “clear” days per year, interesting, they are all in the west:

Arizona has the most days of sunshine, but one of the smallest numbers of college towns

Highest Avg. Days of Sunshine
Arizona (193)
Colorado (136)
California (146)
Nevada (158)
New Mexico (167)
Oklahoma (139)
Texas (135)

States with Lowest Cost of Living
According to a report from the Federal Reserve, about a quarter of people over age 30 have no retirement savings at all. That means they are going to either have to keep working or rely on Social Security. Choosing a low cost state to retire in is particularly important for them. These are the states with the lowest cost of living according to
1. Mississippi
2. Indiana
3. Michigan
4. Arkansas
5. Oklahoma
6. Idaho
7. Tennessee
8. Kansas
9. Texas
10. Kentucky

States with Lowest Taxes
Assuming that you either have a substantial income or valuable property, you might be interested in finding a state that has low taxes. All things being equal, we would rather find a great place to live than save a few dollars on taxes. Here are some of the best states on various kinds of taxes.

Best States – Lowest Income Taxation
These states do not tax income at the state level:
– Alaska
– Florida
– Nevada
– South Dakota
– Texas
– Washington
– Wyoming

Tennessee and New Hampshire only tax certain types of dividend and interest income. Note that of the other states that do tax income, many of them have high deductibles, exclude various types of retirement income (most exclude Social Security), and have other features that make them tax friendly to retirees.

Best States – Lowest Property Taxes
These are the states with the lowest property taxes – the kind of tax that is often the hardest for retirees, since it occurs irrespective of your actual income. Source: . The states with the highest property taxes are mostly in the Northeast. Note that these are ranked by the tax as a percent of value – Hawaii’s percentage is low but property values are very high.

Lowest Prop Taxes
– Hawaii
– Alabama
– Louisiana
– Delaware
– District of Columbia
– South Carolina
– West Virginia
– Colorado
– Wyoming
– Arkansas
Highest Prop Taxes
– Illinois
– New Jersey
– New Hampshire
– Connecticut
– Wisconsin.

States with the Healthiest Lifestyle
We are not sure how valuable this data is for you, since you always have the option to choose to live a healthy lifestyle, wherever you choose to live. Nevertheless, here are the states with the best overall “well-being” from Gallup-Healthways 2016.
1. Hawaii
2. Alaska
3. South Dakota
4. Maine
5. Colorado

The states at the bottom of the well-being rankings tend to be in the South and Appalachia, along with Nevada. The states at the bottom of this list either tend to have regional diets that are on the unhealthy side, or have many poor people who live an unhealthy lifestyle.

Best Health Care provided a list of the best states for healthcare. They looked at 3 factors: Access, Quality, and Public Health. Recognize this attribute carries the same caveat as with the others – generalizing about a state can be dangerous. Also, just about every large city in America has a great hospital and so do the towns that have a university hospital.

Top 10 States for Healthcare
1. Hawaii
2. Massachusetts
3. Minnesota
4. New Hampshire
5. Iowa
6. Vermont
7. Rhode Island
8. New Jersey
9. Washington
10. California

Interesting places to live
Here we enter yet another subjective dimension. One person’s definition of interesting might be very different from someone else’s. To help your thinking we’ve listed the states where Topretirements has the most cities reviewed as potential retirement spots. You might view this list as a starting place that must say something about where people want to live in retirement. See Our State Directories for reviews of all these towns (and more!).

Florida (110 cities/towns)
California (65)
North Carolina (54)
Texas (46)
Georgia (40)
Arizona (36)
Connecticut (35)
South Carolina (34)
Virginia (30)
Tennessee (29)
Massachusetts (28)
New Jersey (26)

As we warned in Part 1, relying on state or even city crime data is not a good idea. The data is just too general to be useful in broad geographic area. Here are the most dangerous states for violent crime according to
1. Louisiana
2. Alaska
3. Tennessee
4. Delaware
5. Nevada
6. Arkansas
7. Missouri
8. Florida
9. South Carolina
10. Arizona

Vermont, Maine, Wyoming, and New Hampshire are the safest states.

Geographic Features
It is fairly self-evident which states have the most mountains (most of the west, northern New England, and along the Appalachians in the East). Likewise with ocean coastline, a glance at the map will tell you to head for states like California, Florida, and those on the Gulf Coast.

The data on states with the most lakes is little harder to get – and extremely subjective. According to
Alaska claims to have 3 million lakes, but only a handful have names. Some might just be mud puddles. Minnesota has 15,291 lakes, but only 2/3rds have names. Wisconsin has 15,074 lakes, but only 6,044 have names. Michigan has 11,037 named lakes. Florida comes in next with 7,700 lakes – but they have to be over 10 acres to be included. Pennsylvania has very few natural lakes but 2500 man-made ones. The Great Lakes are immense – states with one of those touching their borders have a lot of lake at their command!

Bottom Line
if you are looking for your best state to retire we recommend that you start with prioritizing the attributes you are most interested in for your retirement. It might be climate or cost of living. It might be getting to the state where your relatives or best friends live. Once you have identified your priorities you can then use lists like this to help you find the state of your dreams. We have even prepared an excel “Best States” spreadsheet that you can use as a tool and modify to weight your choices. The last thing we would recommend is for you to blindly follow any published “Best States for Retirement” list. Whoever created it doesn’t know your wishes and priorities, or for that matter, where your grandchildren live.

For further reading:
Part 1: Crazy Lists and Not Much Agreement
Best States for Retirement 2014

Comments? Please share your thoughts about these “where to retire” results in the Comments section below. Did any of this information surprise you or change your mind? What are your retirement location priorities – anything that is not in this article? Please let us know! PS – Don’t miss the many interesting Comments made to Part 1 of this article, see link above.

Posted by Admin on May 16th, 2017


  1. Lots of interesting information in this article. I tend to agree with the ratings. Thank you for your work compiling a huge amount of data.

    by Susan — May 17, 2017

  2. I’m going to let the Florida Legislature know we need to change our name. Obviously we are not the “Sunshine” state!

    by Laura — May 17, 2017

  3. Need the link to the Best States spreadsheet as it doesn’t open above.

    Editor’s note: It is opening for us (it downloads to your device and then you open it). We will try to post as a pdf but then you won’t be able to modify.

    by Cheryl — May 17, 2017

  4. One state attribute not listed that I believe would be useful would be states with the best and worst health care.

    Editor’s note: Great suggestion Punta Pete. We are adding that into this article per your suggestion. Recognize it carries the same caveat as with the other attributes – generalizing about a state can be dangerous. Also, just about every large city in America has a great hospital and so do the towns that have a university hospital.

    by Punta Pete — May 17, 2017

  5. Have you ever focused on the best retirement locations for “snowbirds”. I would think the vast majority of retirees go to places in the winter season.
    Just curious.


    Editors Note: Thanks for asking that question. Yes we have written several articles on that topic. Here is one of them and at the bottom of it you will see links to the others.

    by Admin — May 17, 2017


    Can anyone help BOB with this request? He can start with this article:

    by Admin — May 17, 2017

  7. Phase 2 of our “perfect place” search is renting for a year in a likely spot and adding a few trips to runner up locations since everyplace we considered is in the southeast and easily reachable by car or short plane ride. After speaking with several friends who made the move already we decided to get rid of most of our furniture, etc. and rent a furnished house. Renting is proving to be a great decision! We like where we are but also love the freedom of renting and might try renting in other locations since its been such fun exploring this area more than a few week trip would allow. A couple of useful additions to TopRetirements would be a section dedicated to rentals with info like cities/towns with most long term rentals, how to read a lease and avoid commow issues ( I learned a lot watching The Peopls Court and took tons of photos of every little nick and scratch and sent them to the rental office right after we moved it.)

    by Jean — May 17, 2017

  8. Jean, Renting is a great way to help decide on a “perfect place”. And as you said, it can also be a boon to helping you to “downsize” on your possessions. For snowbirds (or snowbird wannabees) it also ideal as you could decide to stay at a different place/state/location every trip until you either find an ideal or perhaps even settle into “year round snowbirding” (permanently rent in a different place for as long as you like before moving on).

    After 14 years of retirement, we are still where we started (central NC), but we sort of keep looking. Not snowbirding, but we take advantage of good options with VRBO to try different locations in areas we now know we like. (There is always the option to try somewhere new.) Over the years we have re-visited the St. Augustine FL area — always for a brief family visit or passing through when headed farther south). Last month we decided to stay at Vilano Beach (just outside St. Aug.) and wonder of wonders, for the first time we have found a location and a place that we actually want to go back to — we’ve reserved the same house for next year. Does this mean we’ve found our “perfect place”? Well, clearly NC has claimed that title, but over the years of visits, FL has grown on us more and more. And the longer visit to St. Augustine revealed one thing in particular — for the first time in years, we actually stayed longer than 4 or 5 days WITHOUT the desire to return home.

    As the Admins say, “generalizing about a state can be dangerous”, so your best bet is to identify possibles, try visiting more than one city/location, find a way to make an extended visit (at least a month, up to a year), and pay attention to your gut. Mine told me when it was time to retire and now it finds about another place that attracts me. After 14 years, maybe we’re “getting it”. Lots of visits included extended stays help to settle what starts with virtual exploration (like this spreadsheet). It important to recognize that choosing a place to retire does not mean you have to settle on the place you want to die.

    by Rich — May 18, 2017

  9. I found a site most helpful for my research on retirement locations. “Your local guide to cities, towns, neighborhoods, states, counties, metro areas, zip codes, area codes, and schools in USA.”.It even includes weather, and narrows down the crime to the city. It provides some prices of groceries and gas. I was able to find out the average heating and cooling bill in each city!

    by William DeyErmand — May 21, 2017

  10. Thank you William. I also like This shows me alot at a glimpse

    by Tim O'Dwyer — May 22, 2017

  11. Tim, I have used areavibes a lot because it shows the amenities, and income levels in different parts of a city. Also www. The best first hand information you can get is by renting a place, and experiencing the city, not driving through a city, or a few days on vacation. There is also a website that tells you the State rating of Nursing homes, hospitals, and medical care but I am drawing a blank right now.

    I did my own spreadsheet on my wants and needs for my retirement. Narrowed it down to two States, then used the State ranking on medical care to find what county …. THEN went city to city with and, coming away with 5 cities. I have made 3 trips to confirm these different websites findings. I have found my personal retirement spot.

    by William DeyErmand — May 22, 2017

  12. William, don’t leave us in suspense! Do you mind sharing where you chose?

    by Alice — May 22, 2017

  13. A selection of Cities for Bob to research for singles. Spokane, WA Las Cruzes, NM, Roanoke, VA, Augusta, GA, Chattanooga, TN, Greer, SC, Little Rock, AK San Antonio TX, College Station, TX and Gainesville FL, ?

    by William DeyErmand — May 22, 2017

  14. Another helpful website is: . We did the spreadsheet thing too – very helpful tool! It helped us narrow things down and focus on our projected costs and needs. We made a trip up with a detailed list and scoped it out. Subsequent phone calls to check out medical options just enhanced the details. Hopefully we’ll go house hunting in the fall!

    by HEF — May 22, 2017

  15. Alice..I hope you don’t mind if I don’t say right yet. (House hunting now). It was the only place where I could find quality housing, and amenities at a reasonable cost of living in a safer, warmer, climate, because the average heating and cooling are the same amount year round. I am so done with Ohio weather and the quality of life after taxes, utilities and groceries.

    by William DeyErmand — May 22, 2017

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URL

Leave a comment