If you're mulling over where to retire, you better have cities in Arizona at the top of your list.
That's the advice just released by Bankrate.com in its first-ever ranking breaking down 172 American cities. (Bankrate's previous rankings focused on states.) Phoenix, which includes its suburbs of Mesa and Scottsdale, ranked No. 1 in the list of best retirement cities. That was followed by Virginia neighbors Arlington and Alexandria in the Washington, D.C. suburbs ranking No. 2.
They were followed by Prescott, which is north of Phoenix, and Tucson, which is south of Phoenix, and Des Moines, Iowa as fifth.
New York City headed the list for the worst place for retirement.
The factors for ranking the cities included local weather, cost of living, crime rate, health care quality, tax burden, walkability and "senior well-being" -- a measurement from the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index that quantifies how satisfied residents 65 and older are with their surroundings, says David Kahn, Bankrate's research and statistics analyst.
The findings about Arizona cities aren't surprising, he says.
"Everybody knows about the good weather in the winter time, but these cities also have a relatively low crime rate and low taxes," Kahn says. "The best recommendations come from people themselves. If you look at surveys of retirees, they give really high marks and really enjoy it. There's good well-being, happiness and satisfaction scores from retirees when you ask them about their surroundings."
The Arlington area has a low crime rate and is very walkable, Kahn says. Virginia has a good health care system, and the only knock that pushes it lower than Phoenix is the cost of living to rent an apartment or to buy a home. The biggest surprise regarding these retirement options, he says, was Des Moines.
"We are looking at a city with a really low cost of living but also a great health system," Kahn says. "They hit a sweet spot there. Iowa in general is known for its hospitals and doctors. They get really high marks from the government in terms of quality. The retirees in Des Moines give the city really high marks in terms of personal wellness."
The others in the top 10 included Denver and its suburb Aurora at No. 6; Austin and Round Rock, Texas, at No. 7; Cape Coral and Ft. Myers, Flor. At No. 8; Colorado Springs at No. 9 and Franklin, Tenn. at No. 10.
Franklin, which has about 70,000 people and is 20 miles south of Nashville, is another surprise on the list, Kahn says.
"We are talking about a place with an extremely low cost of living," Kahn. "If you move to Franklin from just about any other part of the country, you're going to find your dollar goes pretty far. Taxes are very low in Tennessee. There's no income tax. If you're on a fixed income or a pension, Franklin will be great. The crime rate is also very low, and you're finding some strong scores of personal happiness and personal well-being in Franklin. There's a lot to like there."
With only one Florida city making the list, Kahn says that's a surprise, but reflective of what factors were looked at in the rankings. One of the state's biggest issues is its health care system that gets below average scores, he says. High crime rates also hurt the state, as well as high cost of living in South Florida, he says.
"I lived in Ft. Lauderdale for a while. It's a wonderful place," Kahn says. "I kind of put it in the same conversation as New York or a lot of California cities. There's a lot to like, a lot of tourism and a lot of things to see and do -- but only if you can afford it. There are some challenges there financially and in other cases with health care and crime that make it tougher to retire to."
The five worst places for retirement are concentrated in the northeast: New York City, Little Rock, Ark., New Haven, Conn., Buffalo, N.Y., and Newark, N.J.
While New York City ranked No. 1 for walkability and has a wealth of cultural activities for retirees, its high cost of living and high tax burden can make it a difficult place to live for people on a fixed income, Kahn says.
"New York is always at the bottom of the list," Kahn says. "I live in Brooklyn, and every time I do these rankings I find out I'm in the wrong place. The thing about New York City is what you see for the East Coast. It has the highest cost of living and highest tax rates in our area. We also have low-performing health care systems and in some cases the crime rates are high. That's reflected in surveys of retirees, and their well-being scores aren't great in our areas."
There are a lot of people who want to retire in New York who have lived there, gotten used to the cost of living, and have a lot of wealth tied up in their homes.
"But if you're moving here or to this region from the Midwest or the South you really need to look at your budget and make sure you can afford the lifestyle you want. Apartment rents are $2,000 to $3,000, taxes are high. It will make things a lot tougher.
As for Little Rock, Kahn says the issues with that city are its high crime rate, a high tax rate, and a health care system that isn't very good.
"Just because a city ranks at the bottom doesn't mean it's a bad place to spend your golden years," Kahn says. "Soon-to-be retirees should focus on what factors are most important to them and then consult rankings like this to see what cities best fit their criteria."
This is the first time Bankrate has ranked cities, and Kahn says that was done to help people get more precise information on the best retirement cities. For many people, however, Kahn says the best place to retire is a personal ranking of where your family, friends, and support network are.
"You're going to want to have a community around you," Kahn says. "Rankings like this come in handy if you have family on one coast and a kid in Texas and a kid in Illinois. If you want to move close to one of them, which one would be better? What is the health care system like, the crime rate, the cost of living? That will help you make your decision. Do your homework, and make sure if you're making a moving it's a long-term planned out decision."
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