The 5 Best And 5 Worst States To Retire

One of the best things about retirement is that you are no longer geographically tethered by your job. Despite the rise in work-from-home options both pre-and post-pandemic, the fact remains that the vast majority of employees must still work outside the home. Retirement, however, effectively puts an end to the daily commuting grind. What's more, by the time retirement is on the horizon, your kids may well be grown and flown. What this means is that for the first time in years — maybe even, as Anna and Elsa would sing, "the first time in forever" — you're free to choose where you'd like to live.

Of course, now that the decision is in your hands instead of your employer's, there's so much to think about! What is most important to you — nice weather, beautiful scenery, access to amenities? Sure, these are all great, but since you're now going to be living on a fixed income, you'll probably also want to take into account practical details like cost of living and tax rate. The following list covers our picks for the states that best manage to balance affordability with desirability as well as the ones where the minuses seem to outweigh the pluses.

Best: Florida

Okay, we admit that retiring to Florida is kind of a cliché, but, like most clichés, it's built on a pretty solid foundation. While Florida may not be the most affordable of states, it ticks just about every other box. There's even a silver lining to Florida's higher expenses: they say the reason why the projected cost to retire in Florida is significantly higher than the national average isn't so much because of the state's high prices but because those who retire there tend to live longer lives.

Any list of all the reasons why Florida is a great place to retire would have to start with the weather. In fact, weather, weather, and weather would probably take the top 3 slots on the list. In the number 4 position, however, would come the fact that Florida has the nation's second-highest population of seniors, and it likely tops the list of states whose high population of elderly residents all live there by choice. This means that Florida is pretty much set up for seniors, with plenty of activities for older residents as well as an attractive package of tax benefits including no inheritance or estate tax and no tax on retirement income (including Social Security). As an added bonus: proximity to beaches, nightlife, and Disney World may induce the kids and grandkids to visit more often.

Best: Michigan

Michigan, like Florida, has a fairly high number of elderly residents, but here, seniors apparently like to mix and mingle with others outside of their age cohort. One top destination for retirees is Ann Arbor, a city better known as a college town. Travel and Leisure praises college towns, and Ann Arbor in particular, as being perfect for retirees because of all the amenities they offer. Concerts, sporting events, art galleries, bars, and bistros aren't just for young people, you know — plus, there's a lot to be said for not socializing strictly with your peer group, as 20-somethings and 70-somethings have a lot to teach each other.

The entire state of Michigan has much to offer retirees. For one thing, the cost of living for retirees is on the moderate side, with Go Banking Rates estimating that you can get by quite comfortably on under $55,000 per year. Even Michigan's climate has its plus side — Traverse City, located along Lake Michigan in the northern part of the state, was chosen by as its #1 affordable retirement destination for 2022 thanks in large part to its "near-perfect" weather during summer and early fall months. (Winter, not so much, but that's when you catch up on reading or pursue an indoor hobby.)

Best: Minnesota

Minnesota is another state that gets chilly in the first and last months of the year, but like most cold-weather states, it more than makes up for it during the six months of the year when there's less chance of having snow on the ground. What Minnesota does have to offer is abundant natural beauty (and a really Great Lake — you might even call it Superior) as well as the cultural attractions and vibrant diversity of its urban areas. Even if your retirement budget or health concerns will no longer permit you to travel the world, you can still eat your way around the globe in the Twin Cities as the cuisine of Minneapolis and St. Paul encompasses everything from Hmong to Filipino to Somali to Lakota Sioux.

A major plus for Minnesota is that it ranks right at the top for senior healthcare, according to data compiled by MedicareGuide, with the lowest monthly insurance premiums and lowest rate of death from heart disease. Minnesota also ranks very low on the list of states where older people are most at risk of being the victim of a violent crime, while its very low senior suicide rate also speaks well of the quality of life in the Gopher State.

Best: Missouri

Missouri is yet another very affordable "M" state — in fact, most of the "M" states do tend to be fairly pocketbook-friendly (apart from Maryland and Massachusetts, that is). Missouri, in particular, is an especially good bargain, coming in as the 7th-cheapest state in the union as of spring 2022. Missouri can also boast a fairly temperate climate, although you do get all four seasons there. Data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration shows that Missouri winters, while they can get cold, are nowhere near as harsh as those in the Upper Midwest, while summers can be hot but not unbearably so.

One fun fact about Missouri is that it seems to have a little bit of everything. It's bordered by seven different states (Arkansas, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Oklahoma, and Tennessee), not to mention the Mississippi River, and it can be considered either a southern or midwestern state. It even has two completely different major cities within its borders: St. Louis with its Arch and toasted ravioli on the east and Kansas City with its jazz clubs, fountains, and world-class barbecue on the west. What's more, it's got the Ozark Mountains, featuring top tourist attraction Lake of the Ozarks, lying along its southern end. Active seniors need never fear growing too bored in the Show Me State, as it always seems to have something new to show us.

Best: West Virginia

West Virginia tends to be a fairly underrated state. It's overshadowed by much larger neighboring states including Ohio, Pennsylvania, Kentucky, and (East) Virginia, and even the also-small but much-wealthier Maryland, but its relative obscurity just serves to make it a great dark horse retirement location. West Virginia is even cheaper than Missouri, and its climate is also a fairly temperate one — while you will get hot summers, cold winters, and the occasional rain or snowstorm, these are nothing too terrible compared to what you might experience in other parts of the country.

West Virginia is known as the Mountain State, and the Appalachians provide a breathtaking backdrop for its natural beauty. Not for nothing did John Denver dub it "almost heaven" in his 1971 hit "Take Me Home, Country Roads" (which you'll surely remember if you're already researching retirement options). Nor has its beauty declined significantly over the past half-century, perhaps due in part to the state's slow population growth. In fact, West Virginia's population has decreased slightly over the past decade, although the state is finally increasing in diversity. The not-so-booming population is good news for those looking to resettle in West Virginia, though, as the state's housing is among the nation's most affordable. An additional piece of good news for retirees is that, as the AARP reports, West Virginia is in the process of gradually eliminating its social security tax.

Worst: Alaska

Alaska, as Captain Obvious would like to point out, is cold. How cold? Alaska can have summer temperatures in the mid-40s, while in winter it's "not uncommon" to see the thermometer hit 60 below zero. If that doesn't chill your bones, you must be part snowman. What's more, the Last Frontier is also remote, cut off from the rest of the United States by the entire country of Canada. This may contribute to the relatively high cost of living there, as does the fact that you'll need to spend quite a bit more on utilities and travel than you would in a state with a mild climate and abundant public transportation options.

Alaska, we're not surprised to see, is the state with the second-lowest percentage of seniors (Utah has the fewest). Alaska isn't all that populated on the whole, so if you want a vibrant social life — particularly in the winter months — it's not the best choice no matter your age. Alaska is particularly dangerous for seniors, though, as it ranks in the top 10 states for states where over-65s are at risk of dying either from violence or suicide. While Alaska is undeniably beautiful, you're probably better off planning a short vacation there than settling in for the long haul, even if it is the only state where you can (maybe) see Russia on a clear day.

Worst: California

While California does have nice beaches, great weather, and its own Disney theme park, unlike Florida, it is not at all what you'd call a senior-friendly state. In fact, it may well be to California — Hollywood, to be more specific — that we owe our obsession with eternal youth. Apart from the dismal prospect of being an older person in a world of toned, tanned, youngsters convinced that they'll never develop a single wrinkle or grey hair, California has some other significant drawbacks that make the Golden State a less-than-deal place to spend your golden years.

For one thing, California's cost of living is absolutely insane. The tax burden is among the nation's highest, and it ranks right up there among the top states for the cost of living in general. Housing prices statewide are double the national average, and three of the top five cities for most expensive rentals are all in California: Palo Alto, Glendale, and Santa Monica. As if all these money woes aren't bad enough, California has also had the largest number of federally declared natural disasters over the course of the nearly 70 years that such records have been kept.

Worst: Hawaii

Hawaii may be one of the most beautiful spots on the planet and is blessed with near-perfect weather, both of which make it an incredible vacation destination. Why, then, is it such a terrible place to retire? Well, first and foremost, it's all about the money. When you are retired, this means you are no longer working (at least not full-time), so your income may be somewhat limited. If you're a one-percenter, you might have no problem with that, but if money is an object, you'll have to pinch those pennies extra hard to get by in Hawaii.

As per World Population Review, you may need almost $2 million in the bank to survive for 15 years in the Aloha State. Why is this island paradise so pricey? The Grassroot Institute of Hawaii explains that there are several different factors contributing to the cost. For one thing, Hawaii's state legislature is tax-happy as all get-out, with the state ranking at or near the top in property, income, sales, and estate taxes. For another, the average single-family home may run you upwards of $1 million dollars — it seems all the untouched, pristine beauty of the islands comes at an extremely high price, since legislation protecting it limits the amount of housing that can be built. This, in turn, drives the prices up and up and up. Finally, anything not grown or manufactured in Hawaii has to be shipped in, often at great cost.

Worst: Mississippi

Can't afford Hawaii? Well, Mississippi's cheap, but it's no bargain since in its case, it seems you get what you pay for. A YouGov poll found Mississippi to be among the most unpopular states in the union and it can claim other such dubious distinctions as being the state with the highest poverty rate and the one with the highest amount of obesity. What's more, Jackson, the state capital, is as of 2022 the second-most dangerous large city in the U.S. These issues present a few serious concerns specific to seniors.

Some of the biggest problems for elderly Mississippi residents seem to be health-related: Mississippi leads the nation in deaths from cancer, stroke, and Alzheimer's, and it has the lowest life expectancy. On a perhaps not entirely unrelated note, it also has the lowest number of physicians per capita. Overall, MedicareGuide finds Mississippi to be one of the worst states for senior healthcare. If that wasn't bad enough, it also tops the list of states where seniors die from homicide. Yikes! Sure, the weather is pretty nice and the prices are low, but are the rewards worth the risks?

Worst: New York

New York does have a number of things going for it: NYC is one of the premier destinations for art, theater, music, food, fashion, finance, and in fact, just about everything. You'd expect as much in a city that many consider to be the cultural capital of the entire world. (In truth, it isn't even the capital of its own state, as that honor goes to Albany.) Outside the city, the rest of the state is really quite beautiful in a New England-y kind of way. The weather, however, can be harsh, especially in winter: Syracuse is actually the nation's snowiest city, while Rochester takes the number three spot and Buffalo comes in at number four (Erie, Pennsylvania sneaks into second place).

The main problem with New York, though, especially anywhere that could be considered remotely within commuting distance of NYC, is the price. Unlucky New Yorkers pay the highest amount of state and local taxes anywhere in the U.S. and the state's overall cost of living ranks right behind that of Hawaii. As far as retirement income goes, while New York is not one of the states that tax social security income, the state may tax anything over $20,000 that comes from an annuity or a non-state or federal pension plan.