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Bizarre Lists for Best and Worst States for Retirement: Who Are These Companies?

Category: Best Retirement Towns and States

August 21, 2019 — There seems to be a never ending supply of articles touting the best and worst states to retire in. People obviously enjoy reading them. The trouble is that many of the websites publishing them have no expertise in retirement, and a result the lists they come up often have no connection to where people actually want to retire.

A good example is the recent list from Bankrate.com, which must have been overjoyed to see their picks reprinted in the New York Times and many other big media outlets. For the record, Bankrate.com is a website that promotes credit cards and loans, very similar to what wallethub.com does (but which generally produces more credible lists). Other frequent list generators are GOBankingRates.com and Smartasset.com, the latter of which is a site promoting financial advisors. Search on Google for “best places to retire” and sites like these will have prominent rankings, because it is good for their financial businesses. See the top listing in this screen capture, Homesnacks.net – anyone see their connection to retirement? (see more list companies at end)

Here is the list of Best States to retire from Bankrate.com:

  • Nebraska
  • Iowa
  • Missouri
  • South Dakota
  • Florida
  • Kentucky
  • Kansas
  • North Carolina
  • Montana
  • Hawaii

Their Worst States to Retire

  • South Carolina
  • New Jersey
  • California
  • Oregon
  • Nevada
  • Washington
  • Illinois
  • Alaska
  • New York
  • Maryland

How they came up with their lists. To develop their lists Bankrate used five criteria: affordability (40%), crime, culture, weather, and wellness. All those sound good, but something went seriously wrong in the formula, somewhere. It’s the only way we can explain how they ended up with such strange choices. But before we go further, let’s make two caveats. One, generalizing about an entity the size of a state is very hard to do with any accuracy. States cover huge areas and have tremendous variability within themselves, as do their cities. Two, finding a place to retire is a personal decision. If a state or city appeals to you, that’s all you need to know – someone else’s criteria don’t apply.

The Best States to Retire. Looking at the Bankrate’s best states list, only 3 of their “best” choices are in the Sunbelt (Florida, North Carolina, and Hawaii). Almost all the rest are in the midwest. While we agree their Sunbelt choices were mostly sound (although it is hard to see Hawaii coming through on affordability), people don’t very often move to the midwest for retirement. In general if they retire to Nebraska, Iowa, or Missouri, they already live there. Looking at where people over 60 actually move, here are the top 5 (courtesy of Smartasset.com): Florida, Arizona, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Nevada. All of those are in our top states for retirement. In contrast to the Bankrate list, no state in the midwest showed up in, or near, the top 10 states where people over 60 are retiring.

Their Worst States for Retirement. It is truly hard to see how they could have arrived at South Carolina as the worst state to retire. It has a great climate, favorable tax structure, and many wonderful places to retire. Or elsewhere in their top 10 for that matter, what is wrong with Oregon, Nevada, or Washington (the latter two which do not have a state income tax)? When it comes to the states where people over 60 are actually moving, South Carolina is in 4th place, Nevada in 5th, and Oregon in 7th. So either retirees are choosing the wrong states to move in retirement, or Bankrate knows something all those people don’t. By contrast, Topretirements thinks (2018 list) that the 7 worst states for retirement are: New Jersey, Connecticut, New York, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Illinois, and California. So we agree with Bankrate on 4 choices: NJ, IL, NY, and CA.

More List producers

The credit card and financial companies aren’t the only ones putting out “Best Places to Retire” list. Many websites who produce content in this space come out with some good lists, notably AARP, International Living, 55Places.com, and Livability.com. Sites like TheStreet.com, USNews & World Reports, Money, TheStreet, Huffpost, Ideal-Living frequently attract attention with their lists, which are often good.

What criteria should go into a Best/Worst Places list?

When it comes to choosing which states or cities should be included on a best or worst places list, we think cost of living, state income taxes, treatment of retirement income are very important factors. That is because so many of us will be challenged to maintain our standard of living in retirement on reduced resources. Climate is also a huge factor, with the Sunbelt states getting extra points because they offer retirees year round outdoor activity options. Although medical care and crime are important considerations, they are very hard to evaluate on a statewide or even city basis. Where you live within a state or region has a much bigger impact. Likewise, factors like traffic, walkability, recreational and cultural opportunities cannot be generalized on a statewide basis.

Our conclusion. We think lists like these are useful in informing our thinking about where we should retire. We just wish many of them were better steeped in reality. In the case of the Bankrate list, it is attaching the wrong weights to their rankings, choosing the wrong ones (for example property taxes don’t seem to be included)… or millions of retired Americans are making foolish choices about where to retire. We are betting on the former. See the Topretirements.com list of Best States for 2019 and Worst States 2018 for comparison.

For further reading:

NY Times Best and Worst Places to Retire

Topretirements.com Worst States to Retire – 2018
Voting with Their Feet: Best States to Retire by Population Gains

Who Puts Out the Wackiest Best Places to Retire Lists?

Those Best Places to Retire Lists Keep on Coming

Comments? Please share your thoughts about the usefulness of these kind of “best” lists? Are they helpful? What do you think are the best and worst states for retirement. Please share your thoughts in the Comments section below.

Posted by Admin on August 20th, 2019

6 Comments »

  1. I see bankrate.com and I think clickbait. Most lists of best, worst, ten best, ten worst, etc., are clickbait, too.

    by JCarol — August 21, 2019

  2. I haven’t found ANY place that is the best place to retire. By that I mean most places are not good year round. If good in winter than too hot in summer. Good in summer too cold or too much snow in winter. Places with nice ( to me ) spring like temps year round, like the central highlands of Panama or Costa Rica are great for 4 months in winter, than have an 8 months rainy season. That’s why rich people have homes in several places. Can’t keep renting and furnishing apartments every 4 to 6 months. So for me it’s an RV.

    by Bob — August 21, 2019

  3. Lets not forget hurricanes and other extreme weather events, all of which are rising in frequency along with the earth temperature due to Climate Change.

    by Jeff Z — August 22, 2019

  4. Excellent article – you make some excellent points about how the companies and people who write for them often have no retirement expertise. It’s all about the choice of criteria and the weighting – which rarely align with what’s important to us. I think some lists were just thrown together quickly by a content marketing writer who was up against a deadline.

    I am finishing up a book on how to choose the best place to retire FOR YOU. I’ve seen many, many of these lists. The more lists you see, the more conflicting and confusing information you get. To me, the only real value of these lists is that they could suggest someplace you hadn’t thought of that might be a good choice. That happens more often with Best Cities lists than Best States lists. You’re correct that most states are too diverse to be painted with broad brush. Taxes are about the only thing that is consistent across a state.

    I love this website! Thanks for all of your hard work.

    Dave Hughes
    RetireFabulously.com

    by Dave Hughes — August 22, 2019

  5. People seem to love lists and rankings. I know that I will almost always open a link to a “Best (or worst) Retirement” list. Even if they are often conflicting, there’s usually some sort of helpful, or at least interesting, information to be found. I think I’ve seen Nebraska as both the best and worst on some lists! If we are lucky enough to be somewhat financially secure in our retirement, then we want to be able to make a choice as to where to live it. For the vast majority of people, the decision is to stay where they are. But for those who contemplate moving, it’s nice to have helpful websites like topretirements.com to turn to for excellent articles and input from readers. Another thank you to the administrators of the website!

    by Clyde — August 23, 2019

  6. Seriously: Iowa, Kentucky, South Dakota, and Kansas in the top 10 states for retirement? They might b great places to live in the summer – but have you ever been there in the winter. No ocean, no mountains, very few cities. Makes you wonder how anyone could put these on a list. Similarly for worst places: South Carolina, Oregon and Nevada – some of the most popular places to retire?

    by Ken — August 26, 2019

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