Illuminated buildings by a river in Omaha, Nebraska during sunset.

Omaha, Nebraska (Joe Willman / EyeEm)

Retirement means no longer having to sweat over how to tackle your company’s latest project, what you need to land your next promotion or who microwaved fish in the office breakroom.

But the end of your career brings new questions including where to spend your days now that you no longer punch the clock.

Should you settle by a bright beach and humming population hub? Or maybe in a place where residents wave to each other and green grass grows?

Perhaps a place near the center of it all: Nebraska.

The Cornhusker State is the best state to retire, according to a new Bankrate study, followed by Iowa, Missouri, South Dakota and Florida. Maryland, on the other hand, comes in the last place in our ranking. New York and Alaska also might be better for retirees to visit than reside, according to the study.

For this study, Bankrate looked at affordability, weather and a number of other factors important to retirees. We also created an interactive tool that allows you to see how the results change based on your preferences in retirement.

Ranking of best and worst states for retirement
State Overall rank Affordability Crime Culture Weather Wellness
Source: Bankrate’s 2019 “Best and worst states for retirement” study
Nebraska 1 14 19 21 30 8
Iowa 2 8 15 20 34 12
Missouri 3 1 42 33 19 27
South Dakota 4 17 23 12 39 10
Florida 5 25 29 13 2 31
Kentucky 6 9 9 46 15 24
Kansas 7 7 39 37 20 21
North Carolina 7 13 28 28 12 33
Montana 9 16 31 2 45 20
Hawaii 10 45 24 9 1 9
Arkansas 11 4 46 39 9 34
Wisconsin 12 20 15 17 43 7
North Dakota 13 22 17 26 49 2
Vermont 14 42 1 3 44 1
New Hampshire 15 39 1 4 41 3
Alabama 16 10 44 44 7 31
Texas 17 24 37 50 4 13
Idaho 18 15 4 30 42 15
Mississippi 19 6 24 49 6 40
Wyoming 20 23 9 13 46 11
Oklahoma 21 11 41 43 11 35
Tennessee 22 12 46 34 14 35
Massachusetts 23 43 11 9 33 4
Michigan 24 1 22 35 40 43
West Virginia 25 18 18 27 24 39
Ohio 26 5 19 29 26 47
Rhode Island 27 44 8 5 28 16
Georgia 28 19 35 45 5 44
Indiana 29 3 27 41 25 46
Connecticut 30 46 7 8 29 5
Maine 31 35 3 1 48 18
Delaware 32 30 36 9 16 41
Colorado 33 36 32 22 37 6
Pennsylvania 34 28 13 15 31 28
Utah 35 21 21 47 32 17
Louisiana 36 29 48 48 3 25
New Mexico 37 26 49 38 21 22
Arizona 38 33 43 39 10 29
Virginia 39 32 6 36 17 42
Minnesota 40 31 14 31 47 14
South Carolina 41 27 45 22 8 50
New Jersey 42 48 5 16 22 23
California 43 49 34 17 13 19
Oregon 44 37 30 6 35 45
Nevada 45 34 40 17 27 48
Washington 46 41 37 25 36 37
Illinois 47 40 26 32 23 49
Alaska 48 38 49 24 50 26
New York 49 50 11 7 38 30
Maryland 50 47 33 42 18 37

The best state for retirement

Why should retirees pull the moving van off Interstate 80 and unpack in Nebraska?

The state has an average annual temperature of 49 degrees. So while the heartland can count on experiencing all four seasons, it’s no Hawaii, which had an average annual temperature closer to 80 degrees, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration data Bankrate analyzed.

Nebraska lagged behind on weather compared with other states, but it fared well on the other measures in the ranking: affordability, crime, culture and wellness.

Wellness was especially a bright spot with Nebraska ranking No. 8 out of 50 states. Dialing in on health care specifically, Nebraska had 61 percent of the health measures that achieved the benchmark or better, according to the National Healthcare Quality and Disparities Reports. That’s a higher percentage than about two-thirds of the other states, the data show.

Wellness and affordability carried the most weight in Bankrate’s ranking. Nebraska ranked within the top 15 states for the cost category.

Nebraska is not for everyone, as the state recently boasted in an ad campaign. But Nebraskans can camp near Chimney Rock State Park, shop and dine near the Heartland of America Park and Fountain in Omaha or snap pics of the floral designs in Lincoln’s Sunken Gardens. And of course, those who want to hit the road in retirement have a nice central point to visit national parks in the West, head north to Mount Rushmore National Park or east on I-80 into the Midwest.

The best of the rest

  • Iowa: In addition to teasing Iowa about having better corn, Nebraska can brag about beating The Hawkeye Eye state for livability for retirees. Iowa came in second in Bankrate’s ranking. The state ranked better for affordability (No. 8) and scored within the top 20 states for culture but was outperformed in other measures.
  • Missouri: Third-place Missouri is more affordable and has a relatively moderate climate compared with other states. Unfortunately, sunshine and saving only go so far in The Show-Me State. Other states ranked higher for culture, wellness and especially safety.
  • South Dakota: Fourth-place South Dakota ranks better than most states on every measure except weather. The state had an average annual temperature of almost 46 degrees, according to Bankrate’s study. The state performed surprisingly well on culture, ranking 12th, partly due to having the second-highest number of arts, entertainment and recreation businesses per capita.
  • Florida: The Sunshine State has long been a haven for retirees. If you like a warm climate, Florida has the second-best right behind Hawaii. The state scores well on culture (No. 13). If you’re looking for retirement-age friends to play pickleball, you’ll have the best chance of finding them in this state where 19 percent of the population is 65 and older. That’s the largest share of 65+ folks of any state, the data show.

What matters in retirement

“Where to live is probably one of the most personal decisions one can make because it’s not just about preferences, it’s also about the financial considerations that are associated with it,” says Mark Hamrick, senior economic analyst at Bankrate.

It’s not uncommon for retirees to get a new address after they step away from work. Almost 570,000 adults 65 and older moved to a new state or the District of Columbia during the past year, according to the most recent data from the U.S. Census Bureau.

Almost 4 in 10 retirees (38 percent) say they’ve moved at least once since leaving work, reported a 2018 survey by the Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies.

When choosing where to live in retirement, retirees most value proximity to family and friends, affordable cost of living, access to excellent health care and hospitals, good weather and a low crime rate, the survey results found.

“Obviously, a primary area of concern for older Americans is health care costs,” Hamrick says. “The older we get, the more likely it is we’re going to have an increasing need for health care services. In some cases, there will be illness and, in some cases, there will catastrophic illness. That can be very expensive.”

A typical couple who retire this year at age 65 is estimated to need $285,000 in today’s dollars for medical expenses in retirement, according to Fidelity Investments. That hefty price tag doesn’t include what may be needed for long-term care.

Rising health care costs are proving to be an issue as Americans find fewer tools available in their retirement planning toolboxes. As pensions have disappeared, individuals have had to take more responsibility for funding their own retirements, Hamrick says.

“We urge Americans as early as possible in their working lives to plan for retirement by taking advantage of a 401(k) through an employer and trying to fund the retirement as aggressively as one can possibly afford,” he says. “The older one gets the more obvious it becomes how well they have been planning for retirement, and, unfortunately, if many Americans haven’t sufficiently saved for retirement then they have to seek at least part-time work in their senior years.”

Methodology

To construct our ranking, Bankrate looked at eleven public and private datasets related to the life of a retiree. The study examined five categories (weightings in parentheses): affordability (40%), crime (5%), culture (15%), weather (15%) and wellness (25%).

Affordability was calculated using scores from the 2019 Cost of Living Index from the Council for Community and Economic Research, the percentages of people who needed to see a doctor but could not because of cost in the past 12 months from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality and rankings for income, property and sales tax rates from the Tax Foundation’s 2019 State Business Tax Climate Index.

Crime was calculated using the property and violent crime rates per 100,000 inhabitants for each state from the FBI’s 2017 Crime in the United States report.

Culture was calculated using the number of arts, entertainment and recreation establishments per capita, restaurants per capita and adults 65 and older per capita from the U.S. Census Bureau.

Weather was calculated using the average daily temperature from 1985 through 2018 from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Hawaii’s temperature was calculated using the available data from the Honolulu weather station.

Wellness was calculated using the rankings from the Gallup-ShareCare Wellbeing Index, the number of places providing services for the elderly and people with disabilities per capita from the U.S. Census Bureau and the number of health care benchmarks states achieved or exceeded in the National Healthcare Quality and Disparities Reports provided by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. For this study, Bankrate only looked at the benchmarks that included data for all 50 states.