Then there is the category of "state," which can be quite uninformative. Living in New York City is an entirely different experience from living in the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York. Coastal California is a whole other world compared to the Central Valley.
Nevertheless, a state ranking does provide some useful information. For example, when we retired we wanted to stay in the Northeast, near friends and at least some of our family - but not someplace super-cold like Maine or Vermont. We looked at several towns in New Jersey, including a couple on the Jersey Shore. We took a few trips to Maryland and the Washington, DC area. But we discovered that housing and taxes are just as high, if not higher, in New Jersey and Maryland as they are in New York and Connecticut. So we eventually focused on Pennsylvania, where taxes and the cost of living are lower, there are plenty of cultural opportunities, and we're still within shouting distance of our old haunts.
So with that in mind, I ran across several new state rankings for retirement in 2020. As you might expect, they do not always agree with one another, mostly because they use different criteria. Some focus on affordability; others use weather or quality of life as the most important factors.
Even using the same factors, they don't always make sense. For example, listed as the "most expensive" states to retire in are: New York, Vermont, New Jersey, Rhode Island and Minnesota. Where are California and Hawaii, two states with the highest cost of living?
The Number 1 state for retirement is no surprise: Florida. Almost everyone ranks it number one, including the almost 100,000 retirees who move there every year for the low taxes, the low cost of living, the warm weather and generally good health care (although not everyone likes Florida, see Why I'll Never Move to Florida.)
Two states tie for the Number 2 position: Iowa and Idaho. They're not for people who like warm weather, but they offer other benefits such as low cost of living, low crime rates and good access to health care. But these two states might be considered undiscovered gems. On average, only about 6,000 retirees move to Idaho in a year, and fewer still to Iowa.
Two other surprises on the Top Ten list are North Dakota and New Hampshire, both of which suffer bitter winters, but enjoy low cost of living, low crime rates and ready access to health care.
Rounding out the Top Ten best states for retirement are: Vermont, Nebraska, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Texas.
As if to confirm these rankings, a separate list rates the best "places" to retire. Florida scores four cities among the top ten (Ft. Myers, Sarasota, Port St. Lucie and Jacksonville). North Carolina has two: Ashville and Winston-Salem. Texas (Dallas), Michigan (Grand Rapids) and Pennsylvania (Lancaster) each have one on the list.
A surprise (to me at least) is that, of the five or six Top Ten lists I consulted, only one mentioned Arizona as a great state to retire in. But retirees themselves seem to disagree. Arizona ranks second behind Florida as the state where most retirees actually move.
And the Ten Worst?
New Mexico, Maryland and Connecticut rank among the ten states that are tough on retirees.
And, by general consensus, the absolute worst state to retire in is . . . Louisiana.
But before you start to argue with me, consider this. There are three states that rank as one of the Top Ten places to retire on one list, and then as one of the Ten Worst on another. They are Hawaii, Alabama and Tennessee. That's, no doubt, because different lists emphasize different criteria. If you have a lot of money and don't mind living on an island, then Hawaii might top your list. If you're a country music fan, maybe Tennessee.
If you don't find any of this satisfying, then maybe you'd consider one of the top countries to retire to, at least according to one list: Spain, Portugal, Switzerland or New Zealand. In the end, it's all up to you.