NEW YORK (MainStreet) — Wyoming tops the list of best states to retire in, and Arkansas is at the bottom.
That's according to a Bankrate.com report calculating each state's "retirement livability" based on cost of living, taxes, health care quality, crime rate, well-being and climate — handy for the three in five Americans who want to spend their golden years in another city or state (although Bankrate says that urge dissipates as people grow older).
According to the study, joining Wyoming in the top five best states for retirement are Colorado, Utah, Idaho and Virginia. The four worst states for retirement with Arkansas are New York, Alaska, West Virginia and Louisiana — all showing below-average marks for crime, weather, health care and taxes. (See the entire list here.)
Throw convention out the window on this one: Florida, the nation's go-to retirement spot, doesn't even crack the list's Top 20. "There are many factors retirees should consider before deciding where to put down their roots," says Chris Kahn, a Bankrate analyst. "Warm weather may be an initial draw, but all the sunny days in the world won't make you happy if you're constantly stretching your budget or don't have access to quality health care."
Adults nearing retirement have additional concerns. "I'm nearing retirement, and among our concerns are death taxes," says Linda Carlson, a marketing professional in Seattle. "That's not an issue for most of us if we live normal lifespans and if one spouse dies first, but if you own a house and much else and you die together — [in a] car or plane crash, for example — your heirs could face taxes if the estate is valued at more than $1 million." Carlson notes that some states, such as Idaho, don't have estate taxes, and are thus more desirable for Americans concerned about taxes.
Bill DeShurko, a portfolio manager at Boston-based Covester, an online investing marketplace, says the best plan is to live and work in a higher-wage state, then move to a less expensive state in retirement. "Since most people set aside a percentage of pay for their 401(k) or similar retirement plan, the ideal situation is to live and work in a high-cost-of-living state. Presumably the high cost comes with higher relative wages as well," he says. "Then at retirement, get the heck out of Dodge and retire somewhere with a fat 401(k) from your high wage contributions and see non-discretionary income as taxes, housing and other costs go down."
Geography certainly matters. Even though Florida didn't make it to the top of the Bankrate list, for instance, Americans still seem to love retiring there. "Florida has no state income tax, it's senior-friendly for long-term care state aid qualification, and cash value from annuities and life insurance is protected from creditors," says Carlos Diaz Jr., a retiree in the Daytona Beach area. "Many senior communities — such as independent and assisted living — exist for all budget types, and it's sunny on average 240 days per year."
Another option lies off the continent, and it isn't a state. Retirees should look at Puerto Rico, says Reid Kirchenbauer, founder of InvestAsian.com, a Pacific Rim investment news and services hub. "It's the lowest-taxed territory in the nation," he says. "Not only are residents of Puerto Rico not subject to federal income tax, but the island has great health care and a sunny climate."
There's a good resource for assessing the retirement climate in a given state at StateDataLab.com. Comparing your own with others you might want to call home could be one of the most important moves you'll ever make.
— Written by Brian O'Connell for MainStreet