Choosing a place to retire is a matter of taste. Some of us think deserts, others small, amenity-laden towns, while still others dream of Paris. "The hardest thing to measure in these rankings is quality of life," said Chris Kahn, research and statistics analyst for the personal-finance site Bankrate.com.
So in assembling its annual list of best states for retirement this year, Bankrate focused only on the tangibles. Weighing hard data like taxes, cost of groceries and gas, access to medical care, crime rates and temperature, its analysts came up with 10 places that provide the basics of a happy, healthy life in retirement.
If the selections are a little outside the box, they may at least get you thinking about what your prime parameters are for the ideal retirement spot.
Click ahead to view Bankrate's 10 states for retirement.
By Paul O'Donnell
Posted 6 May 2013
Surprised? But once you get past the weather—North Dakota is the coldest of the lower 48—the Peace Garden State begins to look, well, livable. Its low crime rate and number of hospital beds rank second best in the nation, and the government in Bismarck takes less than 9 percent of your income.
The average price for a two to three bedroom home in Omaha hovers around $150,000, to go with lowest prices for groceries, utilities, transportation and health care, according the Council for Community and Economic Research. Taxes amount to 9.7 percent of your earnings.
As for weather, the Cornhusker State is a good place for those who like seasons—especially winter. Its 30-year average temperature is about 49 degrees, which is colder than the national average of about 53 degrees.
The eighth-best state on Bankrate's list is a little more conventional. With an average temperature more than 10 degrees higher than the national average, extensive shoreline on the Gulf of Mexico and plenty of golf (Alabama is home to the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail), the state is a nice alternative to Florida. It bests Florida for lowest local and state taxes and has a lower cost of living than any of its Gulf Coast neighbors.
Those benefits come with a few drawbacks, like an above average crime rate and below average access to medical care.
Though Bankrate didn't rate the states on beauty, its report couldn't help but note West Virginia's beautiful mountain views, and the trout streams and hiking trails that go with them. Its countrified feel includes a low crime rate and a lower-than-average cost of living. And despite its remoteness, West Virginia has plenty of hospital beds.
One of the true curiosities of Bankrate's list is Virginia's middling showing. Scenically, it has mountains equal to West Virginia's, but also offers beaches and attractive small towns centered around amenity-rich universities and colleges. Add a low crime rate, lots of doctors and a cost of living that is below the national average and Virginia looks like a sleeper.
The poorest state in the union, the Magnolia State has few doctors—only 178 per 100,000 residents and a slightly elevated crime rate. But with an appealing combination of beaches and warm temperatures, Mississippi offers many of the advantages of a traditional retirement venue like Florida (which, for the record, came in 19th on Bankrate's ranking) while doing better on taxes and cost of living.
Kentucky is the Goldilocks of retirement states: not too cold, not too anxious to tax its residents and relatively safe. While not tops in any category, it's just right in most. What boosts it to fourth on Bankrate's lists is the low cost of groceries, housing and utilities, and health care. Kentucky boasts the fifth-lowest cost of living in the nation.
Kentucky's "good enough" rating makes it the "anti-Oregon": The Pacific Northwest draws many for its forests and dramatic coast, but Oregon's below-average showing in most categories dragged it down to dead last in the ranking.
If you're still getting over the notion of North Dakota as a retirement spot, hang onto your hat. Its neighbor to the south deserves an even closer look. Why? Start with the lowest taxes in the Lower 48, with only 7.6 percent of your income going to the state house, and the nation's lowest crime rate. With attractions like the Black Hills, the Badlands and Mount Rushmore, South Dakota doesn't lack for beauty. It's almost enough to make you root for global warming.
A temperature that averages 66 degrees isn't the only thing that's hot about Louisiana. Resurgent since Hurricane Katrina walloped the state in 2005, Louisiana has been the setting for Oscar-nominated movies and hit television shows, adding celebrity fizz to its already lively jazz scene. Retiring types can also enjoy the nation's fourth-lowest state taxes, better-than-average health care and a cost of living (outside of Bourbon Street) that is better than most places. It's one downside is a crime rate that is among the nation's worst.
Tennesseans have the best access to medical care in the country, while its cost of living is the second lowest in the country (to Oklahoma), its tax burden the third lowest, and warm enough not to get hurt by its weather.
Tennessee's one negative is a crime rate that is among the worst in the country. Two neighborhoods in Memphis and one in Nashville made a recent list of the most dangerous in the U.S.