10 Best States to Retire 2012

Richard Barrington

See the current Best States to Retire feature

This year's MoneyRates.com Best States to Retire list includes some traditional warm-weather havens, such as Hawaii, California and Florida. But you may be surprised to see a few off-the-beaten-path locales in the top 10 too. For instance, have you considered South Dakota for your retirement?

While MoneyRates.com recognizes that much of what marks a good place for retirement is subjective -- family and friends, cultural attractions, natural beauty -- there are plenty of objective, quantifiable factors to examine too. Knowing how a state performs in certain measures is important before you choose it for your retirement, and that's precisely what these rankings are about.

What matters to retirees

Here are the factors MoneyRates.com used to determine its third-annual lists of best and worst states to retire:

  • Senior population growth. This is a new factor in the study this year. MoneyRates.com measured which states had the fastest growth rate in their 65-and-over populations between the 2000 and 2010 census reports. People tend to vote with their feet, and states that are rapidly attracting seniors must have some appealing retirement characteristics. Conversely, those that have seen little or no growth in their senior populations may be lacking in this respect.
  • Economic conditions. Seniors are greatly impacted by issues such as property taxes and the cost of living, and with more seniors choosing to work part-time, even unemployment is an important issue. MoneyRates.com included a combination of these economic factors in its study.
  • Crime rate. Personal security is a vital issue for seniors, so MoneyRates.com factored in both violent and property crime rates.
  • Climate. MoneyRates.com looked at which states had the least monthly variations from a moderate 68 degree temperature.
  • Life expectancy. Life expectancy captures a number of issues of interest to seniors, from quality of health care to environmental conditions. To make this factor especially relevant to seniors, MoneyRates.com used each state's life expectancy for people at age 65 today.

Best states for retirement in 2012

Based on equally weighted rankings of those factors, these are the top 10 states for retirees in 2012. As a bonus, there are 11 states listed, due to a tie for 10th place.

1. Hawaii

Seniors in Hawaii live longer past the age of 65 than in any other state in the nation. This might have something to do with the pleasant climate, which ranked second for its consistently moderate temperatures. One warning, though: Make sure you have a well-funded retirement plan, because Hawaii also has the highest cost of living in the U.S.

2. Idaho

This may be one of the surprises on the list, but Idaho combines a low crime rate with a good economy. There must be something to it -- only two states boast faster-growing senior populations than Idaho.

3. Utah

Like Idaho, this is not the place to go if you want a tropical climate, but Utah was one of the top states overall for economic factors. It is also similar to Idaho in that it has a fast-growing senior population.

4. Arizona

This warm-weather state has long attracted retirees, and people seem to thrive there -- life expectancy for 65-year-olds is third-highest in the nation. Be careful about the neighborhood you choose, though, because crime in the state is on the high side.

5. Virginia

Looking for something east of the Mississippi River? Virginia is one of two possibilities on this list. This state scored very well for its low crime rate, and reasonably well on every other criterion except life expectancy.

6. Colorado

While this might be a bit of a cold-weather state for some, Colorado's other attractions for seniors more than offset that. Only three states have seen faster growth in their senior populations, which is helped by the fact that seniors in Colorado tend to live for a long time.

7. (tie) Florida

Perhaps the state best-known for attracting retirees, Florida ranks first for climate and second for life expectancy among seniors. Still, this is another state where it matters very much where you live. The overall crime rate is among the highest in the nation.

7. (tie) New Mexico

This southwestern state has been attracting seniors at a rapid rate, but as with Florida, you'll want to pick your location with care. New Mexico's overall crime rate is one of the 10 worst in the nation.

9. South Dakota

The cold climate in this state probably explains why it hasn't traditionally attracted seniors in large numbers, but those seniors that do live there have one of the highest average life expectancies in the nation. The crime rate is also one of the lowest in the U.S.

10. (tie) California

Its economic woes are well-known, and worth considering, but California's climate goes a long way toward explaining why it has been attractive to seniors. Life expectancies are also among the best in the nation.

10. (tie) Texas

Warm weather and a solid economy have helped make Texas enticing to seniors. However, it's a big state that's not without its trouble spots: The overall crime rate is another one of the nation's 10 worst.

Perhaps the greatest strength of the above list is its variety: East Coast, West Coast, North, and South are all represented. So whatever regional connections and preferences you have, this list should give you at least one retirement possibility to consider.

For more on how other states placed, please see our list of 10 Worst Places to Retire and the full 50-state rankings.

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Rufus 8 October 2013 at 10:40 am

Expect your standard of living to decrease by at least 10 percent in California due to extremely high taxes and cost of living. The recovering house prices also mean you'll be living small in California unless you're in the wealthy retirement class.

Karen Lind Taylor 5 September 2013 at 5:07 pm

Grew up in Honolulu, dad lived to 86, mom to 96, she swam daily until her 90s. I am 75, learned Mom's good habits... and know it wasn't just good weather but also good habits learned in "paradise."

Fatty Matty 28 November 2012 at 7:05 am

Of course the idiotic libtards ignore the cost of living in California and Hawaii. Those states have good weather...wow. They also have among the highest taxes in the country and housing is unaffordable to those that move from other states. Why would I have expected any different. You bunch of dolts.

nicholas99 23 November 2012 at 8:51 am

CarlosWhat is "this"? I don't know the state to which to refer. But, my impression after searching online for a while, is that the USA is getting so urban one just can't "escape" anymore. My father years ago bragged about a book titled "FIVE ACRES AND INDEPENDENCE". I bought the book for him and myself and found it very worthwhile. But now, a mere 10-15 years later, I'd say it's perhaps near pointless. If I find a nice home on 15 acres, when I look at the photos I see a neighbor next door about 200 feet away. And then there's the $500000 home [out of my league] on 1/4 acre lot. Then, as you seem to think is ideal, move to Costa Rica, Mexico, et al. With all respect, you are nuts !! Go ahead, spend $250000 for that beauty surrounded by quiet but yet, nice shopping near a beach. Then in about 2 years when things get tough [even there] and, the terrorists come down out of the hills, ala Cuba, kill everyone they see, then plunder those nice shopping stores, where are you going to be ? Home shop carefully but make it USA.

Annie 9 November 2012 at 9:39 am

Don---whats the deal---trying to keep us all away from Colorado!

Kris 9 November 2012 at 9:20 am

Are You crazy???? IDAHO???? Listen buddy...the ole' folks here are either filthy rich from selling property in California and moved here. THey're so rich all they do is drive their bigs cars & trucks around here and cripple our roads....the other half of 'ole folks are so poor that they are living on old broken down farms, all relatives have moved away to other states and they are completely alone or living in crummy dinky trailer courts in Boise. Ya....I want to live a long time!

Bob 9 November 2012 at 7:51 am

Hawaii isn't that expensive if you look at the overall picture as compared with states. The sales tax is one of the lowest in the country, state income tax is unheard of for seniors as Hawaii doesn't tax pensions and social security, and property tax is also lower for seniors as they get a "senior discount". Food can be expensive but growing your own food and shopping sales can help a lot. Overall Hawaii cost of living averages out nearly equal as living on the mainland; I know as I have lived here for almost 4 years. Learn to shop where the locals shop and not where the tourist shop.

carlos manuel 3 November 2012 at 9:01 am

this is the best and the worst place to retire in the United States. what about other countries where you can streach your pension like $600 monthly. how about philippines or mexico ? Can you recommend them?

hmw 31 October 2012 at 7:02 am

California and Hawaii should be on the 10 worst states list unless you are very very well off. While the weather is fine the taxes and cost of living are extreamly high.

nick 31 October 2012 at 6:46 am

Virginia with a low crime rate ? That's not what I read in various pages which specialize in categorizing all from Climate to Crime. Apparently in both of the virginia's there's a sizeable influx of drug gangs from "way down" south. And, looking at real estate pages the number of sites for sale is massive. It seems to me your comments should be similar to those of AZ and NM. That is, pick your site carefully.

Handy Randy 29 October 2012 at 12:14 pm

Another best place to retire article--will they never end? There are so many factors to consider--taxes, health care, climate, community, lifestyle issues, that it is hard to say this is the best. I'm sure Hawaii cannot handle a hundred thousand retirees moving there next year, and besides, wasn't there a tsunami warning in the news for H. and the radioactive debris pile from the Japanese tsunami and earthquake is another Fear Factor.

Holdon 28 October 2012 at 12:06 am

"10 Best States to Retire in 2012? Really? I'd like to retire California. NOT retire to, just retire ... get out of the way. That is, after all, what the title is really aying.As to the criteria for retirement and Hawaii being number one because you live longer there? Again, really? Your top criteria is length? How about quality of life? Oh, that's right, this is an elitist site aimed at those with the lifestyle of the rich and ignorant. Pathetic.

Wayne 26 October 2012 at 8:56 pm

Albuquerque is the best city for New Mexico, USA.

Don 26 October 2012 at 7:06 pm

Don't retire to Colorado! All the fish have AIDS! The forests are filled with marauding INDIANS! The interstates have gangs of Hells Angels running up and down them robbing everybody. The air is too thin! It's cold all winter, and too hot in the summer! And the place is infested with BRONCOMANIACS!