Can’t decide where to retire?

Picking the optimal place to live later in life can be a lot more involved than scanning your typical “10 Best” lists. For starters, it’s really about personal preferences. What’s important to you, let’s say, like nice weather, may not matter to someone else. While looking at a general list may be useful to narrow potential locations, ultimately there’s no single place that works best for everyone.

To get a better idea of some of the top possibilities for retirees, CNBC worked with to delve a little deeper, looking at individual criteria such as health care, taxes, cost of living, crime and weather. Breaking down the lists by these groupings could be a more effective way to get a sense of how well you might do in a given state and what kind of lifestyle you can expect.

People riding bikes

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People riding bikes

“Retiring in a warm place comes up more often with my clients than does the tax structure in some states, but that does not mean taxes are not important,” said John Sweeney, executive vice president of retirement and investing strategies at Fidelity. “Going from working and getting a consistent paycheck to living off your investments is a challenging transition to make.”

So no matter what’s most important to you when weighing the decision of where to live later in life, we’ve got the key criteria covered.

Health care

Even with Medicare, health costs in retirement can be steep with a couple spending as much as $245,000 on out-of-pocket medical expenses throughout retirement, according to Fidelity.

“Health care is one of these expenses that we try to educate people about because it is a line item that people have not necessarily budgeted,” said Sweeney. “The cost of health care also increases later in life and could even become a mandatory expense for some people.”

Because of these potentially ruinous costs, the quality of your state’s health care system matters. The Agency for Healthcare Quality and Research ranked states with the highest scores for quality of health care based on disease prevention and users’ general impressions of the care they received, among other considerations. The top five states are:

1. New Hampshire
2. Wisconsin
3. Maine
4. Massachusetts
5. Minnesota


Nobody enjoys paying taxes, particularly retirees who in some locations are taxed on pensions and savings. Currently, the seven states that do not tax income are: Alaska, Florida, Nevada, South Dakota, Texas, Washington and Wyoming. That doesn’t mean residents of those states get away with paying nothing. Nevada may not have an income tax, but residents still face above-average sales taxes, and Texans pay higher-than-average property tax rates.

In its analysis, the Tax Foundation determined the states with the lowest overall tax burden based on state and local taxes paid as a percentage of income are:

1. Alaska
2. South Dakota
3. Wyoming
4. Tennessee
5. Texas

Cost of living

Just as window shopping is never as satisfying as making an actual purchase, moving to a state where your purchasing power doesn’t go very far won’t contribute to your long-term happiness.

The Council for Community and Economic Research found that when it comes to states where you can get the most bang for your buck on products and services, these are the top:

1. Mississippi
2. Idaho
3. Indiana
4. Oklahoma
5. Kentucky


“Crime is not a topic that usually comes up in my discussions with clients about where to retire,” said Sweeney. “If it is mentioned, people are more concerned about neighborhoods within a city.”

Still, if security is a concern the FBI Uniform Crime Reporting Programhas found these states have the lowest crime rates based on the number of violent and nonviolent crimes per 100,000 residents:

1. Vermont
2. Idaho
3. Maine
4. Virginia
5. Wyoming


While Florida could seem like the “go to” choice for pleasant weather, its balmy temperatures are not always ideal for retirees.

The best weather determination was made by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration based on days of sunshine, average humidity, and the number of days when you need to heat or cool your home in an area. Here are the states that made the cut:

1. New Mexico
2. California
3. Colorado
4. Nevada
5. Arizona

And, of course, these rankings may not consider what may be most important to you: being close to family and friends.

Disclosure: has a content-sharing partnership with Bankrate

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