Many companies featured on Money advertise with us. Opinions are our own, but compensation and
in-depth research may determine where and how companies appear. Learn more about how we make money.

Lake Windsor in Bella Vista, Ark., our top pick for an affordable retirement.
Beth Hall

Thinking about retiring to sunny Florida? Or maybe Arizona? Well, prepare yourself: This year’s Best Places to Retire list may surprise you. None of the typical beach-and-golf spots appear here. The reason is simple. Most popular retiree destinations score surprisingly low in the factors that help guarantee a secure retirement.

A study by the National Institute on Retirement Security, released this spring, ranks the 50 states on factors essential to retirees. Near the bottom of the list: Florida, Arizona, and other well-known post-work havens. At the top, a mix of mostly northern states, led by Wyoming. Christian Weller, the study’s lead author and a professor of public policy at the University of Massachusetts, says he and his colleagues ranked states based on factors such as housing prices, taxes on pension income, job opportunities for older workers, potential retiree income, Medicare reimbursements, and generosity of Medicaid, which functions as “the default long-term-care insurance for many Americans.”

We were intrigued, and decided to limit the search for this year’s Best Places to Retire list to the 12 states ranked highest by the NIRS. Yes, that means focusing on some cold spots, but it seems safe to bet that, for many retirees, financial security still trumps weather. Plus, what better way to use the money you’ll save living in these affordable towns than on a tropical winter vacation?

Using our Best Places to Live database, we started with a list of nearly 200 towns and cities. We then narrowed it to 30, using data on everything from crime and green space to job growth and health care. Finally, we interviewed locals, looked at big employers, and factored in amenities like performing arts and recreation. The result: nine great places in three categories—one focused on affordability, one geared toward job opportunities for older workers, and one highlighting well-rounded towns that are sure to meet your needs no matter what your retirement plans.


Notes: Home prices are for June to September. Job growth is 2013 to 2018. Unemployment as of August.

Sources: BLS, OnBoard Informatics, the Council for Community and Economic Research, Trulia, U.S. Census, Money research