Work & Money

Best Places to Retire Lists: the Best and Worst

In the movie, Fargo, one of the villains hides out for weeks in a snowbound cabin on an isolated, wind-whipped North Dakota lake. Mainly because he is bored out of his skull, he murders his partner by stuffing him in a wood chipper. If you are driven homicidal by bitter cold and empty space, please ignore the 2013 Best Places to Retire lists from Forbes and Bankrate. Both extol North Dakota as a retiree paradise for reasons a wee bit murky.

If  low tax rates and plenty of hospital beds are enough to make this frigid state a top place to retire, what happens if you take a look at some of the other retirement “bests”? How do the lists stack up against reality? We decided to brave the stereotypical retiree images and dive in.

Happy mature couple walking in the field.


Let’s Take a Look at the Best Places Lists


The makers of best place to retire lists base their choices on an array of data, like median house prices and ratio of hospitals per state residents. Numbers, however, can’t depict the mundane reality of living anywhere.


Bankrate put beautiful, arts-loaded Oregon way down at the bottom of its list of “Worst Places to Retire,” primarily because Oregon is expensive. Yet Bankrate’s hot pick, North Dakota, is struggling to accommodate new oil boom workers flooding the state. This month, the Financial Times found North Dakota managers who were earning $100,000 per year living in cramped Airstream campers with no running water.

Some of Bankrate’s list was contradictory. Tennessee was number one, praised for having America’s most accessible medical care. Sadly, many Tennesseans will need an ER given the state’s violent crime rate. Bankrate claims to have pored through the FBI Uniform Crime Report when making the list. But it gave Louisiana, another state plagued with a high crime rate, a place on the list without explaining how much of that crime was violent or in which cities it occurred most often. Click here to see the Bankrate list.


Forbes plopped North Dakota on its list on the basis that, if you have to work through your retirement, the state has America’s lowest unemployment rate in the country. Maybe you could be an entrepreneur who brings a fun restaurant or art gallery to amenity-hungry oil workers? Newcomers to the state yearn for music venues and movie theaters, and retaining retail workers there is so tough, some chains have flown in temps. Click here to see the Forbes list.


New Orleans made Kiplinger’s “Best Cities for Retirees,” largely because Social Security and military retirement benefits are tax-free there. “Although warring gangs keep the murder rate high, burglaries and thefts track close to the national average,” Kiplinger offers in a rather jarring closing note. Seriously, does no one at these news agencies know how to map crime stats in different cities so a retiree can see which are besieged by gun-crazed gangs and which have litterbugs and beer-chugging teens filling the arrest records? Click here to see the Kiplinger list.


Bankers Life & Casualty

Bankers Life and Casualty Company’s Center for a Secure Retirement “Best Places for Seniors” ranks Minneapolis number one and makes a surprising choice for the list by ranking Newark NJ as number 10. Newark gets especially high marks for senior-friendly “social life” because Rutgers University offers arts and cultural entertainment and New York City is close at hand. This might prompt you to wonder how much the list makers know about how seniors meet new friends. Yes, the list also counts the number of houses of worship in each metro area, in case you like to meet people through your church affiliation – but if you make friends through volunteer work or art gallery crawls or Thai cooking lessons, New York’s proximity may be irrelevant, given you’d have to take the train to the subway to get there.” Click here to see the Bankers Life & Casualty list.

US News & World Report

US News & World Report soothes recession-rattled boomers with “Best Places to Retire for Less than $40,000 yearly.” The average monthly Social Security benefit in 2012 was $1,230. Married spouses each drawing that amount get less than $30,000 per year. “Add a modest nest egg of $250,000, and that could bring your retirement income to around $40,000 per year,” US News notes cheerily, oblivious to how statistically uncommon a $250,000 nest egg is for people in their 60s and early 70s today.

That said, the list includes some charming towns and details several sweet deals for retirees. For example, Columbia SC bus fares are less than $1 per ride and the University of South Carolina waives tuition for some residents age 60 and over. Click here to see the US New list.

Smart Money

Smart Money’s macro list of 100 “lesser known gems” includes at least two towns or cities in each of the 50 states with services and amenities that its editors see as especially suited to today’s retirees. Among them: in New York (‘one of the tax hell states,’ as a commenter points out) the list picks brutally cold but appealingly quirky Ithaca; in Florida, Cape Coral (unemployment 11.3%, in case you’re thinking of working); in Cali, San Luis Obispo (median home cost $498,300). Click here to see Smart Money’s list.


Senior Planet’s Top 3 Best Places to Retire Lists


1. Huffington Post “Best College Towns for Retirees” A truly good college town will put you a few minutes away from exciting speakers, spectator sports, at least one decent art museum, good theater and classes to audit. Sure, seeing all those young, hard partying students can be bittersweet and sometimes noisy. But if the college encourages a sense of curiosity, civic engagement and volunteerism, you are going to meet a lot of those kids at town halls and community events. And you will enjoy being a retiree with younger friends. Click here to see the list.

2. US News & World Report “7 Unusual Places to Retire” The retirement village of Tavares, FL offers Indian-American retirees Bollywood movies, yoga and vegetarian cuisine. An artists’ colony for seniors blossoms in Burbank for those who’d like to paint, make music and write through their retirements. This is one of the few retirement lists to include a seniors-only RV park. A study published in The Journal of Housing for the Elderly found that clean, safe trailer parks are better at fostering the sense of social community and friendships that extend seniors’ lives and keep them healthy. Click here to see the list.

3. OK, this is not technically a best-of list, but it makes our top three anyway. If you believe in karma,  maybe you were meant for a NORC – a naturally occurring retirement community; an apartment building or an entire village that somehow evolves effortlessly into a vibrant senior community. Here’s a website full of organizations studying Norcs, marking their locations when they bloom onto the landscape and helping retirees find the Norc that feels like home. Click here to visit the site and here to see a map of NORCS.

Or maybe all these top 10 lists are enough to convince you to stay put!

Do you plan to move in your retirement or stay in place? If you’re moving or already moved, where to? Share your find in the comments box below.


4 responses to “Best Places to Retire Lists: the Best and Worst

  1. I have attempted to find a list of the BEST
    CCRC retirement communities which offer
    independent, assisted living and skilled care
    all on one campus. With the number of people who have reached retirement age in the USA,
    I would think that such a list would be extremely useful, especially since most lifecare communities are very expensive. It is, in a
    manner of speaking, one’s last major investment before leaving earth! Surely, someone in the “world of lists” would view
    this suggestion as very important.

    1. Hi Peter, has a directory of retirement communities in each region of the U.S., but the individual communities are not rated. A rated list would be invaluable but would depend on input from thousands of seniors in every state. Maybe someone is building an online tool to enable that right now!

      1. Thanks you so very much for your personal reply. Rarely do most people take the time to respond to such inquiries over the internet.

        You are correct in pointing out that it would probably take a vast amount of input to provide such data, but at the same time,
        if an agency can survey all the hospitals or all the colleges in the USA, then surely it would not be an impossible task. I guess the issue would be: “is it cost effective” to spend the money on gathering data, interpreting the results, then publishing the results in a special magazine, such as US News & World Report.
        Perhaps this could be a project for AARP!

        Thank you again for your attention to my inquiry. I trust you are having a pleasant
        week as we approach a beautiful season
        of the year.


      2. I live in Pa. and know of at least five independent living places that have phases of living. Starting out with independent and ending with total care all In one development. The problem I have found when visiting these places (I am 65) is that you see healthy people decline at an alarming pace. My mother in law was In one of these places, every day she wound go to eat with on average 150 people, if some was missing the staff was not allowed to say anything about what happened to that person? VANISHED ! Everyone knew it was not a good sign and depression and gossip spread among most of the people. I found the average age to enter a place like this is 80, I still have time……

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