February 15, 2017 — From time to time we get the question, “Which is the better state for retirement, Florida in the East, or Arizona in the West”. Both states are popular and have many great places to live. Based on the interest we see on Topretirements.com, Florida attracts more retirement interest than any other state: in the last quarter of 2016 people saw our two main Florida pages 24,000 times, double the number viewed for Arizona (just under 12,000). Tennessee, both Carolinas, and Colorado also generate a lot of prospective interest.
Further down in this article we will present various factors for each state so you can draw your own conclusions from the facts. But first, here is your Editor’s personal opinion about what makes each of these two states a great, or not so great place to retire. As always, reader input is extremely important. We encourage you to use the Comments section below to tell your stories and express your preferences.
Winners and Losers
Everyone’s situation is different. Depending on what you are looking for in retirement, one or more of these factors might tip the scales for you.
Ocean – Florida wins this one with over 2,200 miles of tidal coastline
Lakes – The Sunshine State again, with hundreds of them for fishing, boating, or living on the shore of.
Mountains – AZ wins this hands down with beautiful mountains spread throughout the State. As for FL heights, Britton Hill near Clermont tops out at 312 feet.
Deserts – Not much contest here, Arizona has incredible deserts to hike in or just enjoy the amazing views and vegetation.
Warm winters – Southern Florida is warm all winter with few days dipping below the 60s. Most of Arizona is comfortable, but can get chilly by comparison.
Humidity – If low humidity is your preference, go to Arizona. Florida in summer can be pretty rough.
Taxes – Both are among the lowest tax states. If your income is large FL might be a better choice because it has no income tax.
Number of places to retire – Florida has a lot more possible retirement towns and active/55+ communities – Topretirements has reviews of 117 and 524 respectively! But Arizona offers plenty of choices too – 38 towns reviewed here and 230 active communities.
Ethnic Diversity – Both states have it, although you would probably have to give the amazing city of Miami with its vibrant latin community the edge there.
Political environment – Donald Trump narrowly carried Arizona 48% to 45%. Florida’s race was a little closer – 49% to 47%. So both would qualify as (narrowly) Red States. Both have pockets that are deeply conservative (red). The larger cities in Florida are blue, whereas Tucson tends to the only blueish city in Arizona.
Population (Data from the Census Bureau).
The Grand Canyon State is smaller and has a younger population than the Sunshine State. Its population was an estimated 6.9 million in 2016, about one third of Florida’s 20.6 million. The median age in Arizona was 35.9 vs. Florida’s 40.7. Some 13.8% of the Arizona population is 65 or over compared to 17.3% in Florida. In our experience, most retirees who immigrate to Arizona tend to have lived their pre-retirement west of the Mississippi. Florida immigrants tend to be from the Northeast and Midwest, although there are certainly exceptions to both rules.
Economics and Home Prices.
The 2011-2015 median household income in Arizona was $50,255, a bit higher than Florida’s $47,507. Both markets experienced horrendous real estate crashes starting in 2008, but they each have recovered much of that since then. For example, Zillow estimated that Arizona’s median home value was $211,600 in 2016 (vs. $270,000 in mid 2006). The same source put Florida’s mid 2016 median home value at $194,200 (vs. $256,000 in mid 2007). Each state has areas where prices are higher than the national median (Scottsdale and Sedona in AZ and Miami and Naples in FL). They both also have very inexpensive areas with homes for sale well below the NAR 2016 national median sales price of $235,000. Both enjoy relatively good fiscal health: pension and debt obligations are manageable.
In the area of climate there are striking differences between the 2 states. Most of Arizona has slightly cooler winters than Florida, and in the northern parts of AZ around Flagstaff there is not only snowfall but a ski resort. A desert state, AZ’s humidity and rainfall are far lower than Florida’s, which normally has very wet summers. Comparing 2 central cities in each state, the average January low in Phoenix is 48 vs. 50 in Orlando. The average July high in Phoenix is a blistering 104 vs. Orlando’s 92. The wettest month in Phoenix is March (1″), while June is Florida’s wettest (7.3″).
Florida is one of the most tax-friendly states in the U.S. (the Tax Foundation ranked its State and Local Tax Burden the 34th highest in 2012). It has no income tax and a 6% sales tax (which works out to an average 6.8% with local taxes – Source: Tax Foundation). Counties and states can and do charge additional sales taxes. There are no inheritance or estate taxes. Its Save Our Homes initiative prevents property tax assessments from going up higher than the rate of inflation, a major help in keeping property taxes down for seniors. Arizona is also considered a tax-friendly state (ranked 36th highest), although it does have both an income tax (highest marginal rate is 4.54% on joint income of $300,000) and a sales tax (5.6% which translates to an average 8.25% at the local level). Retirees are generally not very affected by the AZ income tax, as Social security income is not taxable in Arizona. In-state government and military pensions have a $2500 exemption, other out of state pensions are taxable. Property tax protections are a big reason for Arizona’s tax-friendly ranking. AZ does not have an inheritance or estate tax. See our Florida and Arizona Retirement Guides for more on taxes.
Physical Environment and Diversity
Both Florida and Arizona are good sized states with a fair amount of diversity within each state. Arizona would probably win the geographic and physical diversity prize between the 2 however. The Grand Canyon State has much higher elevations (Flagstaff is just under 7,000′) and a greater range of climates, ranging from temperate Flagstaff to very hot Tucson in the south. Arizona has plenty of mountains, forests, national parks, and deserts. Florida has several geographic features that Arizona does not have, and that is a gigantic coastline (over 2,200 miles of tidal coastline), over 11,000 miles of rivers and streams, plus many large lakes.
Places to Live
Florida has many more cities and towns, so it probably has to win in any “choice” contest. We have reviews of 117 Florida retirement towns and cities on this site, 80 more than we have for Arizona. It has towns and cities along the gulf (Pensacola), along the north coast (St. Augustine), in the interior (Ocala), and in the southeast (Miami), and southwest (Fort Myers). Florida has any number of college towns, large and small. It also has many charming smaller towns such as Winter Park, Lake Mary, and Key West. Arizona, by contrast, is mostly concentrated around the Phoenix area, with smaller offshoots to the north (Sedona, Prescott, Flagstaff), and south (Tucson). Most of the towns around the Phoenix area are suburban and often predominated by new growth. Arizona has some nice places to live, but they are fewer in number. Topretirements has reviews of 38 AZ retirement cities and towns.
754 Active Adult and 55+ Communities!
At Topretirements we count 230 communities in our Arizona Directory of Active Communities, vs. an amazing 524 in our Florida Directory. Arizona has the original active adult community (Sun City), but Florida probably gets the edge for the diversity of communities available in that state. Our annual lists of 100 Most Popular Places to Retire is dominated by Florida and to a lesser extent, Arizona.
The relative popularity of states as retirement destinations is hotly contested, but unfortunately, not well supported by data. Del Webb conducted a survey a few years ago that found that the Carolinas (both North and South) had gone ahead of Florida and Arizona as preferred retirement destinations. That survey, however, should probably be viewed as a measure of future indications rather than past performance, since more retirees currently live in AZ and FL. Meanwhile at Topretirements, we receive more visits to our Florida retirement guide than any other, followed by North Carolina, Tennessee, California, South Carolina, Arizona, and Texas. (all of our guides can be found at //www.topretirements.com/state/).
Arizona is generally considered a Republican and a conservative state, and has voted that way in Presidential elections since 2000. The governor and both Senators are Republicans, although it has 4 dems and 5 repubs as Representatives in the House. Florida is more mixed, with certain portions being more conservative (the center and north) while others more progressive. FL has a Republican Governor, one of each party for Senator, and its Representatives are 16 (R) and 11 (D). In the 2016 Presidential election Trump won its electoral college votes (Obama won in 2012).
Aesthetics and Intangibles
Both states have their admirers and each has its detractors. Both have many new communities that lack charm and good transportation. Rather than take sides on the issue, we recommend that you visit cities and towns in both states and see if you can’t find the place of your dreams. Certainly both states have some of the most desirable communities in the world, waiting for you to discover them.
This article, based in part from one we wrote in 2010, is part of our series comparing retirement states. The 2010 article has 190 Member comments, which make for interesting reading. We welcome ideas for future comparisons (see list of other comparisons at end of article).
For further reading:
State Retirement Guides
Gulf Coast Retirement: Sun, Tax-friendly, and a Lower Coast of Living
Retirement 101 Mid-Atlantic States: MD, DE, VA, NJ
Florida Retirement 101
Dueling Carolinas: NC vs. SC
Dueling States: Arizona vs. Florida
California Retirement 101
Retirement in the Southwest: AZ, NM, and Utah
The Mountain States: CO, ID, MT, NV, UT, WY
The Pacific Northwest: Oregon vs. Washington
What state do you prefer? Let us know in the comments section below.