The best and worst states for retirement in 2019

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In a Nutshell

A Credit Karma analysis finds the best state to retire in is New Hampshire — while the worst is Illinois — based on a number of key factors like real estate taxes, climate and range of recreational activities. Of course, there are many other factors to consider when choosing where to retire, including personal preferences. Find out how each state measures up.

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The best state to retire in is one where you can spend your golden years admiring the golden fall foliage — New Hampshire.

A Credit Karma analysis finds that when it comes to the mix of affordability, health of the population, crime rate and recreational activities, the “Live Free or Die” state has a winning combination.

But there are many other states that rank near the top.

To determine the full list of best states to retire in, we examined many important factors you might consider when deciding where to settle down. These include the average debt-to-income ratio, median real estate taxes, how healthy the senior population is, the range of temperatures throughout the year, the number of entertainment and recreational activities in the area, the percentage of the population 65 and older, and the rate of violent crime. (Learn about our methodology.)

Read on to learn which states are worth considering for retirement based on these factors — and which might be less ideal.

Want to know more?

Key findings

The best state for retirement in 2019 is New Hampshire, while the worst is Illinois, according to our analysis.
The state with the lowest median real estate taxes is Alabama, where the median tax is 14 times lower than in the state with the highest median real estate taxes, New Jersey, according to U.S. Census Bureau data from 2013–2017.
Hawaii has the healthiest seniors, while Mississippi has the least healthy population of people aged 65 and older, according to the United Health Foundation.
The state with the lowest rate of violent crime is Maine, while the area with the highest violent crime rate is the District of Columbia, where the crime rate is almost nine times higher than Maine’s, according to 2017 data from the FBI.
Retirees in Hawaii enjoy the best quality of life, based on factors like culture, weather and percentage of the population 65 and older. Meanwhile, seniors in Alaska and the District of Columbia have a lower quality of life, based on these factors.


The best and worst states to retire in

The best states to retire in share a few common characteristics, including …

  • Lower real estate taxes
  • A healthier senior population
  • More cultural activities to pursue
  • Temperate weather
  • Low crime rates
  • A significant portion of the population aged 65 and older

New Hampshire may not strike everyone as the best place to retire — the average annual temperature in 2018 was around 45 degrees, according to the National Centers for Environmental Information. And the state in New England was only 18th in our rankings for affordability because of real estate taxes that are more than twice the national median for units with a mortgage, based on census data from 2013–2017.

However, what New Hampshire lacks in warm weather and affordable housing costs it makes up for by being in the top five for a low crime rate and quality of life. It’s also in the top 10 when it comes to the health of older Americans.

Top 10 states to retire

State Overall Rank Affordability Rank Health Rank Quality of Life Rank Crime Rank
New Hampshire 1 18 6 4 3
Hawaii 2 33 1 1 13
Maine 3 36 8 (tie) 3 1
West Virginia 4 1 47 12 23
Idaho 5 19 25 9 6
Rhode Island 6 42 7 6 9
Iowa 7 17 13 19 17
Wyoming 8 9 36 17 10
Vermont 9 51 8 (tie) 5 2
Connecticut 10 47 3 8 7

 

On the flip side, there are some states that are less-than-ideal for your golden years. These states tend to share common features like higher real estate tax burdens, higher healthcare costs, less positive overall health score among seniors, fewer recreational activities and higher crime rates.

Illinois stands out as the worst state to retire in for a number of reasons. For one, the state didn’t score above 31 on any metric, putting it in the bottom half of states across the board. The state also had a lower overall ranking because of high real estate taxes — with a median of more than $4,000, based on census data from 2013–2017. This means you may end up spending more of your retirement savings on property taxes, though we didn’t look at other home buying costs.

Illinois also ranked near the bottom on quality of life because of the temperature extremes the state experiences, according to National Climatic Data Center temperature ranges from 2010. But if you have a high tolerance for Januarys with an average temperature of 24 followed by Julys with an average temperature of 75, Illinois may rank more highly on your list.

Top 10 states to retire in

State Overall Rank Affordability Rank Health Rank Quality of Life Rank Crime Rank
New Hampshire 1 18 6 4 3
Hawaii 2 33 1 1 13
Maine 3 36 8 (tie) 3 1
West Virginia 4 1 47 12 23
Idaho 5 19 25 9 6
Rhode Island 6 42 7 6 9
Iowa 7 17 13 19 17
Wyoming 8 9 36 17 10
Vermont 9 51 8 (tie) 5 2
Connecticut 10 47 3 8 7

The states with the lowest real estate taxes

Cost of living is at the top of many people’s minds when it comes to retirement. A big part of that may be the cost of housing. When it comes to saving more of your Social Security and other retirement income, some states may be more property and real estate tax friendly than others. 

The table below shows the top 10 states with the lowest median real estate taxes, according to U.S. Census data of real estate taxes paid from 2013-2017. Alabama, which has the lowest median real estate tax, has an average tax rate that’s 14 times lower than the state with the highest median real estate taxes, New Jersey.

Top 10 states with the lowest real estate taxes

Rank State Median real estate tax
1 Alabama $558
2 West Virginia $653
3 Arkansas $743
4 Louisiana $795
5 South Carolina $851
6 Mississippi $879
7 Kentucky $1,120
8 Tennessee $1,120
9 Oklahoma $1,129
10 Indiana $1,130

Methodology

The best states to retire in all share common characteristics: low crime, low median real estate taxes, a low debt-to-income ratio among residents, temperate weather, a high population of people aged 65 and older, a healthy population and a good number of recreational activities.

When ranking states “best to worst” for retirement, we looked at seven individual public and private data sets and gave double weight to median real estate taxes, health and crime because we believe those are key factors people might use to decide where to retire. The scores for these three criteria ranged from 2 to 102. The other four factors (debt-to-income ratio, percentage of population 65 and older, weather and culture) received single weight, with scores from 1 to 51 per category. 

We then combined the categories of DTI and real estate taxes into “affordability” and combined the categories of culture, weather and percentage of the population 65 and older into “quality of life.” 

Once we were left with four key metrics — affordability, health, crime and quality of life — each state was ranked based on each of the four key metrics.

The overall rankings were then determined based on the total score each state had from the four metrics — a score of 4 was the best possible, while a score of 204 was the worst possible.

The data we used for debt-to-income ratio came from New York Federal Reserve figures on total debt per capita in the fourth quarter of 2017 as well as U.S. Census Bureau data on median individual income from 2017 estimates.

The data we used for real estate taxes as well as population aged 65 and older came from 2017 U.S. Census Bureau estimates. 

Culture data came from 2016 U.S. Census data on state population estimates as well as the number of businesses in each state coded as entertainment, arts or recreation. 

Crime data were determined by the number of violent crimes in each state based on 2017 FBI crime statistics.

Annual temperature ranges in each state were calculated from average January and average July temperature data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s 1981 to 2010 Climate Normals data. 

Health data came from the United Health Foundation’s 2019 America’s Health Rankings, a data set measuring multiple health criteria as laid out by the World Health Organization’s definition of health.