The cost and quality of life in these states could tarnish your golden years.
No matter where you choose to retire, you’ll be able to sleep in late, go for long walks in the afternoon and work on that book you always wanted to write.
But when it comes to your budget, health, safety and overall quality of life, the state you live in really does matter.
Every year, multiple studies claim they can show you which states are best or worst for retirement. They almost never agree, so we’ve averaged three of this year’s state rankings into one master list.
Here are the 25 states to write off your list of options, counting down from bad to worst:
OUR METHODOLOGY: We added each state’s retirement rankings from RetirementLiving1, WalletHub2 and MoneyRates 3 to create scores out of a possible 150. The higher the score, the lower the state ranks as a retirement destination.
25 (tie). Massachusetts
The most populous state in New England promises gorgeous coastal views but chilly winters with plenty of snowfall each year. Think carefully about how much shoveling you want to do in your retirement.
The Bay State does rank very highly for its health care — WalletHub says it has the lowest average insurance premiums in the country and the second-highest number of physicians per capita — but it’s also extremely expensive to live in.
Massachusetts holds four of the 20 richest ZIP codes in the country, and the real estate site Zillow places the median home value at more than $480,000.
“Not only are prices high, but yes, the age of the housing is apparent. And it’s not always historic charm that comes with it, too. Sometimes you pay a premium for a drafty house and uneven floors, and for what? So you can live in a winter purgatory for a large chunk of the year?” writes ggill1313 on Reddit.
25 (tie). Nevada
Nevada welcomes a flood of tourists each year to its stunning parks and the glitzy resorts of Las Vegas, but you shouldn’t retire there just because it’s a nice place to visit.
The Silver State has no state income tax and low property taxes, so you won’t lose too much money to the government — instead, you’ll be losing it to your mortgage, considering the high price of the average home.
Nevada also has relatively few physicians for the size of its population, and FBI data shows higher-than-average crime rates.
“My family and I really like Las Vegas/Nevada, but this place is a health care wasteland,” Redditor yoshilurker writes. “If you want even decent specialized medical care you need to go to Los Angeles or San Francisco.”
The name “Great Lake State” says it all. Michigan boasts the longest freshwater coastline in the U.S. and some beautiful national parks — don’t miss the sandstone cliffs at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore — but scenery is just one part of the picture.
Michigan charges a flat 4.25% income tax on all forms of income, although your Social Security checks are exempt. Property taxes are relatively high.
Prepare for bitter winters, with temperatures as low as -20 F in the northern highlands, not to mention the occasional blizzard.
“Some winters can be very cold and snowy,” says Alejandro Regueiro on Quora, adding that the roads are terrible. “I remember having to shovel my drive three times in one 24-hour period in the 2013/2014 winter and not being able to get out of the neighborhood about five days that winter.”
You won’t be bored in the state of Tennessee. Cities like Nashville and Memphis have fantastic music scenes — don’t forget about Elvis Presley’s Graceland — while residents in the east can enjoy breathtaking views of the Great Smoky Mountains.
It’s also a tax-friendly state for retirees, with no income tax and low property taxes, and the cost of living is way below the national average.
Just watch your back: Tennessee is consistently ranked one of the most dangerous states to live in. WalletHub points out that Tennessee has one of the highest rates of assault per capita.
“The weather is the biggest downside,” writes Ricki Jones on Quora. “The summers are uncomfortably hot and humid, courtesy of the moisture in the air. That also makes winter bone-chilling and painful to endure.”
The Magnolia State might have a low cost of living, but it’s also the nation’s poorest state, with almost 20% of residents below the poverty line. That takes a toll on the quality of the public services you can expect.
WalletHub named it the least safe state in the country, giving it poor marks for road safety and emergency preparedness, among other factors.
Mississippi is also ranked one of the worst states for health care, with few physicians and dentists to serve its population, and a low life expectancy.
“Take everything horrible about the South and distill it into one horrible, humid place. This is the land we call Mississippi,” writes Redditor Illier1. “High poverty, obesity … it’s probably one of the worst states in the U.S. A place you just kind of drive past whenever you have to get near it.”
19 (tie). Nebraska
At least one famous senior sees something special in Nebraska — billionaire investor Warren Buffett hasn’t left Omaha since buying his home in 1958 — but the state has slipped down the rankings since last year.
Nebraska’s health care system is ranked pretty average, overall. However, the decent quality comes at the cost of some of the highest insurance premiums in the country. Steep income and property taxes make it one of the least tax-friendly states for retirees, as well.
And if you hope to spend your golden years in comfort, you’ll need to stay indoors for much of the year.
“What is worse than the cold itself is the winds. Twenty degrees with a strong wind from the west can chill you to the bone. When it gets into the single digits with a strong wind, it is hard to deal with. I have had to jump start batteries in that kind of weather, and it is not fun,” says Keith Rockefeller on Quora.
19 (tie). Vermont
The Green Mountain State has plenty of hiking trails and ski slopes to keep you active, but it will take all your willpower to venture outside during the long, cruel winters.
Vermont is also one of the most expensive states to call home. Its average insurance premiums are in a four-way tie for last place, WalletHub says, though you can expect quality service in your most vulnerable years.
“The gas prices rival New York City, the food prices are HIGHER than in New York City. The cost of living index puts us at 41 out of 50. That’s pretty high for a small, rural, agrarian state,” says Mike Block on Quora.
Several residents point to a lack of activities, public transit and decent Internet access in the more rural parts of the state.
19 (tie). Wisconsin
By some accounts, the name Wisconsin comes from an Algonquian language family word meaning “a good place to live.” That may be true for some, but the state is no haven for retirees.
MoneyRates gives it belong-average rankings for its affordability, lifestyle and health care, while WalletHub points to some of the worst taxes in the U.S. — Wisconsin households can expect to lose 22% more money each year than the national average.
And of course, residents love to complain about the infamously cold weather. In winter, the sun seems to disappear for days at a time.
“We need that cold snap for the apple crops. So I comfort myself with that knowledge,” Margaret Christian says on Quora. “It does not keep me any warmer; it just gives me something to think about besides how awfully cold it is. The other thought is when they predict snow, it has to warm up to snow. Smile.”
The sandy beaches and blue skies of this lush, tropical state is every retiree’s dream — but you need to pay to live in paradise. While Hawaii is new to the list of the worst places to retire, it has long been ranked the most expensive state to live in.
Zillow places the median home value in Hawaii at a whopping $683,470 — that’s more than double the national median. You can easily end up paying half a million for a tiny, one-bedroom condo if you want to live in Honolulu.
Even if you plan to rent, locals say it’s not so easy to find a place.
“This isn’t like any town in the U.S.A. where you look at a place, sign a lease and get the keys the next day. It is very competitive here,” one Redditor writes. “Almost every showing I went to had several people show up. It’s like a job interview … I hope you have decent credit. Most places won’t even bother unless your score was higher than 650.”
You’ll find plenty of coastal beaches and picturesque mountain towns here, but you may not find a lot of company. Georgia has some of the fewest seniors per capita in the entire country.
Why? WalletHub offers one explanation, placing the Peach State dead last in a ranking of the nation’s health care systems. While the cost of treatment is average, it’s incredibly hard to access, and patient outcomes are abysmal by American standards.
If you don’t want to end up in one of Georgia’s hospitals, note that the state also performed poorly for road safety in another WalletHub list.
“Traffic is absolutely horrible,” says Dianna Corea on Quora, and “crime is getting bad. You can’t even go to a gas station without someone driving off in your car. You move into a nice neighborhood and you’re getting robbed in broad daylight.”
As we said before, various retirement rankings often disagree — and few states are more divisive than Texas. MoneyRates and WalletHub both place the Lone Star State in their bottom 10, while RetirementLiving calls it the second-best place to retire in the whole country.
Texas boasts no income tax, relatively inexpensive homes and endless adventure, both inside its dynamic cities and out in the wilderness.
Yet even RetirementLiving acknowledges that property taxes are a “burden,” and vehicle theft is a growing problem. WalletHub points out that Texas has the third smallest percentage of seniors in the U.S. — so while there’s fun to be had, you might not have friends to share it with.
“If you hate driving, Texas is not for you,” Daniel Lunsford on Quora adds. “A three-hour drive along wide open interstates going 60+ mph is ‘next door’ by Texas standards. And our public and regional transit is abysmal, so driving is your only chance to go farther than across town.”
14 (tie). Colorado
Analysts also can’t agree on Colorado’s appeal: It placed second best in WalletHub’s list but tanked on the two other sites.
WalletHub gives impressive scores across the board, calling Colorado one of the more affordable states and a top 5 leader in health care. Its counterparts don’t have such a rosy view.
Colorado made the bottom 10 on RetirementLiving for its high cost of living as well as its poverty problem. Making friends will also be tough, as fewer than 10% of Colorado residents are over the age of 65. MoneyRates agrees that your lifestyle could suffer in the Centennial State and says crime remains a major concern.
For his part, Jack Epner on Quora argues that the state is in fact “crazy expensive these days. I never thought my rent in a small mountain town would resemble Manhattan condo pricing, or that the room I paid $200 for in Denver would turn into $800 rent a few years later.”
14 (tie). Connecticut
Life is good (and long) in Connecticut, as the state has the second highest life expectancy in the nation. Its coastal cities and small towns are tremendous homes for retirees — but only if you have the means to afford them.
The Nutmeg State came second last on WalletHub’s list of tax-friendly states, as households could expect to pay almost 36% more than the national average. And MoneyRates places Connecticut among the 10 most expensive states in every category: overall cost of living, health care and property taxes.
“It’s too expensive to live here. If you live anywhere near an interstate, it’s too crowded. The weather sucks most of the year. It’s either too hot or cold. We get about three months, split into six weeks, before and after summer, where the weather is usually tolerable,” writes Jaymez82 on Reddit.
In Kansas, the only thing scarier than a twister rolling through your neighborhood is the taxman reaching into your wallet.
Taxes here are almost 25% higher than the national average, with the typical household losing about $7,300 each year in state and local taxes, says WalletHub. Kansas didn’t perform well for health care, either, and it’s unreasonably difficult to find a dentist.
That said, crime is low, and you can probably get a bargain on a bungalow thanks to the Sunflower State’s affordable housing.
“If you want a small retirement place, $100,000 will get you a nice two-bedroom ranch that is driving distance from an NFL stadium and an airport,” says Don Torrez on Quora, though he warns that Kansas “is literally as flat as a pancake” and that the cities are just as dull as the countryside.
The Pine Tree State is extremely safe, packed full of seniors and perfect for nature lovers. You can easily grab a hiking buddy and spend your days getting lost among the sandy beaches, picturesque islands and, of course, the state’s towering pine trees.
If it sounds like luxury living, that’s because it is. All three lists agree that Maine is one of the least affordable homes for retirees. Beyond that simple truth, MoneyRates broke ranks with the other sites and gave Maine a poor score for health care — possibly docking points due to the high cost of treatment.
The cold and snowy coastal winters can also be a drawback for retirees seeking endless sunshine, but drumpfFOREVER on Reddit says it all depends on your financial situation.
“If you have money, think about snowbirding it. Maine in the summer and then some place warmer in the South … Winters are brutal, and as you age, you would need help clearing snow. Energy costs during winter are high,” they say. “Our nickname is the taxation state. So income, property, high car registration fee, etc.
You know what they say: Mardi Gras comes but once a year. While Louisiana’s food and music are world famous, your retirement plans can get bogged down by the Bayou State’s many challenges.
Louisiana has the most property crime and the fewest dentists per capita in the country, WalletHub says. To put that in perspective, MoneyRates points out that Louisiana’s property crime problem is 2.5 times worse than Massachusetts’.
Residents also suffer from cancer — a leading cause of death among seniors — at an elevated rate. In-home care services are as cheap as they get, though.
Redditor TheSilmarils says the culture “is a definite plus,” but the weather can take some getting used to: “You will definitely get a case of swamp butt come June through October. Granted, our winters are quite mild. And of course, hurricanes. Sometimes you just get a couple gusts of wind and some heavy rain, and other times you get Betsy or Katrina.”
The Old Line State didn’t fare nearly as poorly as it did in last year’s ranking but still made bottom 10.
Maryland performs well for quality of life and health care, but the state’s high cost of living and tax laws make it less than ideal for a retiree on a fixed income.
Although Maryland doesn’t tax Social Security, your IRA income is fair game. It’s also the only state with both an estate and inheritance tax on the wealthy.
Residents say that, even though you’ll be safe and healthy in Maryland, the weather, lack of activities and unimpressive food will make for a dreary retirement.
“Boil spaghetti and put on canned sauce, and you got yourself an Italian joint. Reheat pies and grill yourself a few eggs and burgers, and you have a diner… Doesn’t have to be good,” writes Winston Foster on Quora.
9. New Jersey
The resort towns and beaches of the Garden State are just as attractive to retirees as they are to teens on spring break. But unless you’ve seriously shored up your retirement accounts, think twice before settling down by the Jersey Shore.
WalletHub placed New Jersey last on its list, mainly due to the high cost of living here. Housing is much more expensive compared to most of the country, with the typical home topping $380,000.
The state also underperformed for health care and overall quality of life, and it has one of the highest cancer rates in the nation.
“The biggest cons are the traffic, the cost of living (particularly the taxes) and the bad weather (snowstorms, heatwaves, etc). The public transit system is fantastic in theory but it’s in awful shape and doesn’t actually get the job done that well,” says Redditor
8. Rhode Island
Rhode Island offers fantastic fresh seafood, gorgeous seaside views and top notch health care; it has more doctors per person than any state besides Massachusetts.
Almost 18% of its population is made up of retirees, but not everyone can afford to belong to this exclusive crew.
The tiny state charges a premium for real estate and in-home care, and taxes remain high across the board. It’s one of the few states that taxes Social Security, though only for wealthier seniors.
“We have high taxes and high cost of living. (Be prepared to fork over a lot for rent.) The roads have potholes and are not always in good shape. People here tend to be rather unfriendly when you first meet them,” says Jim DePasquale on Quora.
Washington is for wanderers — you can spend your golden years exploring its hiking trails, national parks and mountains and always find something new.
But if you’re not as spry as you used to be, look out: In-home care services cost more in the Evergreen State than anywhere else in the country. Housing is incredibly expensive, as well. The typical home costs more than $478,000, says Zillow.
Locals agree that the scenery is great — at least when it isn’t raining — but you’ll want to stick to free activities whenever possible.
“Washington, especially the greater Seattle area, is expensive. Property taxes are high, the cost of living is higher than in other places and living in the downtown core of Seattle? Forget about it unless you have some real dough,” writes Marcus Hynes on Quora.
When you think “retirement destination,” an icy tundra is hardly the first image that comes to mind — and it seems most people agree.
Alaska has the second lowest percentage of seniors, just behind Utah. The lack of a state income tax or sales tax doesn’t seem to make a difference; even the oil wealth fund that pays people to live there can’t convince seniors to stay.
Heavy snowfall and frigid winds in the winter can be a major deterrent even in the balmier parts of the state, and Alaska even gets rocked by earthquakes and floods from time to time. Property crime is rampant, and you’ll pay way more for groceries and other items that need to get transported way up north.
Steve Wells on Quora says you’ll witness some spectacular sights, like the Northern Lights, glaciers and lots of wildlife, but it’s “far away from the rest of the country, meaning long plane rides to even begin going anywhere. Not as many goods or services are available, winters are long and cold and lifestyle choices are limited.”
You might be tempted to spend your golden years in the Golden State, considering the incredible weather, vibrant cities and endless beaches, mountains, parks and vineyards — plus excellent health care to boot.
Just prepare for the sticker shock. California is the second most expensive place to live in the U.S., beaten only by Hawaii, says Wallethub. California fully taxes most forms of retirement income at some of the highest state income tax rates in the country, and the sales tax is exceedingly high as well.
RetirementLiving warns that both independent housing and senior care facilities are very pricey, and the annual wildfires can threaten your home — and your air quality. In fact, California is one of the most disaster-prone states in general.
Aside from the wildfires, you’ll get “volcanoes up north, earthquakes in most of the state, tsunamis in some low-lying coastal communities, landslides most everywhere when rainstorms appear, persistent droughts and heat waves and blizzards in the mountains,” says Matthew Sutton on Quora.
Whether you’re attracted to the Beaver State’s majestic mountains, dense forests or its overabundance of wineries and breweries, you’ll pay dearly to reserve your spot. Americans have been flooding into Oregon for years now.
The influx of new residents, attracted by the state’s lucrative tech jobs, has driven up the cost of living to the point that only Alaska, California and Hawaii are more expensive. Senior living facilities are no escape, either.
RetirementLiving adds that you’ll pay the highest state tax rate on most forms of retirement income, although Oregon does offer a number of tax credits for seniors.
“No matter where you live in Oregon, you may struggle to find housing. Even rural Southern Oregon has become desperate, and landlords are hiking the rents like there’s no tomorrow,” writes one Redditor struggling to make ends meet in a rural river-mountain town.
3. New York
Last year’s No. 1 loser has jumped a few spots up the ranking in 2021, but that shouldn’t change your calculus much.
New York remains infamously unaffordable, with high taxes and a savagely competitive housing market in many cities, especially the Big Apple. If you’ve ever dreamed about spending your retirement watching Broadway shows and wandering Central Park, it’s time to wake up.
“All the wonderful restaurants, theaters, and nightlife are useless if you’re too broke from paying rent to take advantage of any of them. You can’t even get a studio apartment for less than $1,500 a month, and even then it will be tiny,” local J. De La Rosa writes on Quora.
Healthcare accessibility and costs are so-so, but the state pulled low marks for patients’ actual outcomes, and it has one of the highest cancer rates in the nation.
The Prairie State plummets 11 spots from its ranking on last year’s list. While it’s hard to say what caused the shift — scoring systems have changed and other factors — the reasons to avoid Illinois are largely the same.
Taxes remain the No. 1 complaint. Illinois was ranked the worst state to be a taxpayer in a separate WalletHub study, with the typical household paying almost 40% more in state and local taxes than the national average.
It’s true that Illinois leaves most forms of retirement income alone, but the taxman will claim his due elsewhere. Expect to pay close to $5,000 in property tax on an average home, RetirementLiving says, and the sales and gas tax are just as painful. Make sure to check whether you’re eligible for tax-relief programs for seniors.
“Sheer willpower to survive in Illinois, this is what I see in people here,” George Bergman writes on Quora. “Those who cannot make it move to another state to find happiness.”
1. New Mexico
The Land of Enchantment holds no allure for retirees, condemning it to the very bottom of the list this year.
Social Security, retirement account distributions and pension payouts all get taxed here, and while lower-income seniors can catch a bit of a break, sales taxes are also above average.
The state is scaring off seniors with its egregious property crime problem and the difficulty of accessing quality health care, exacerbated by a poverty rate topping 18%. Nursing homes and memory care services are unreasonably expensive as well, says RetirementLiving.
And while the stark, mountainous terrain is magnificent to look at, the atmosphere itself can be debilitating. “The altitude and dry air can be challenging for people. We live at 7,300 feet, and have watched neighbors move to lower elevations to protect their breathing,” writes Dale Rose on Quora.
How we rank all 50 states
Here’s how our analysis ranks all 50 states as retirement destinations, going in order from the worst to the best. In several cases, states tied for spots in our ranking because they had the same average rank in the three studies we looked at:
- New Mexico
- New York
- Rhode Island
- New Jersey
- (tie) Connecticut
- (tie) Colorado
- (tie) Wisconsin
- (tie) Vermont
- (tie) Nebraska
- (tie) Nevada
- (tie) Massachusetts
- (tie) Oklahoma
- (tie) North Carolina
- (tie) Minnesota
- (tie) Kentucky
- North Dakota
- (tie) Pennsylvania
- (tie) Iowa
- (tie) Utah
- (tie) Alabama
- (tie) Wyoming
- (tie) South Dakota
- (tie) Arizona
- West Virginia
- South Carolina
- New Hampshire