For the best retirement, don’t move to Florida

Florida doesn’t even crack the top 20 of a new survey ranking the best states for retirement. Instead, head west for the most retirement-friendly states, including Colorado, Montana, and Wyoming. Which state topped the list?

Alan Rogers/Casper Star-Tribune/AP/File
Roy Cattoor separates wild horses for transport to a temporary holding facility in Sweetwater County, Wyo. Wyoming came out on top in a recent study ranking the best states for retirees.

As a retirement destination, Florida’s selling points are well-documented: warm weather, no personal income tax, lots of parking, and a beachfront inching ever-closer to your condo. According to a new study, however, the Sunshine State’s actual retirement-friendliness lags far behind its reputation.

If you’re looking for the ideal place to enjoy your golden years, in fact, you probably want to head west. Bankrate.com, a personal finance site, ranked all 50 states as landing spots for retirees based on several factors, including weather, cost of living, crime rate, health care quality, tax burden and senior well-being. Wyoming came out on top, thanks to a low cost of living, low crime, and the lowest tax rate.  Nearby states, including Colorado, Utah, Montana, and Idaho, also ranked high.

For the first time this year, Bankrate also included popular opinion in its findings, asking Americans what their priorities were in retirement. Weather and environment proved important factors, but access to mountains and rivers was actually more popular among those surveyed than living near the beach. That explains the high “weather” marks for mountain states like Colorado and Montana. Surprisingly, Florida’s sunny weather only ranked 28th in the nation, and the state ranked 28th overall. 

“We used to track just temperature, but this year we looked for more of a Goldilocks climate,” said Bankrate statistical analyst Chris Kahn, who compiled the study, in a phone interview. “Where are people the most comfortable? Florida lost a lot of points for humidity.” 

The highest priority among respondents, however, was a low cost-of-living; the top two states on that front were Mississippi and Tennessee, respectively.  

Arkansas, meanwhile, ranked last on the list, performing poorly in all categories but cost of living. New York, Alaska, West Virginia, and Louisiana rounded out the bottom five.

This was Bankrate’s third year conducting the study, and the first that it took public opinion into account. In particular, the “well-being” scores came from the Gallup polling organization’s “Well-Being Index,” which tracks residents’ general happiness with their environment year-round. The feedback, especially when filtered for responses from seniors, had a big impact on a few states’ rankings, Mr. Kahn says. “Last year South Dakota and North Dakota did really well, but the seniors feel differently from the rest of the population,” thanks to an oil and gas boom that has drastically improved the fortunes of the working set in recent years but matters less to people past working age.

Arizona, in contrast, was “middle of the pack last year, but it jumped to ninth overall thanks to a strong well-being score among seniors,” Kahn notes. 

Relocating for retirement is a popular notion, but it becomes less so the older we get. Sixty percent of Americans surveyed by Bankrate said they were interested in moving, but the interest level dropped off in people over age 65. A quarter of respondents said being close to family was the most important factor in deciding where to retire.

Wherever Americans decide to settle after their working years, they have more savings to work with than before. Total retirement assets in the US swelled to $21.4 trillion in 2014, according to a report from the Spectrem Group, a market analytics firm. The increase is largely due to a booming stock market and robust returns on market-based retirement savings accounts, like 401(k)s and IRAs. The gains aren't broadly felt, however: According to another Bankrate study, released in August, over one-third of Americans aren't saving for retirement at all. 

To find out how your state stacks up, check Bankrate's complete ranking here.

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