The average monthly payment for Social Security retirement benefits is $1,613.77. That’s not enough to get by in most places in America, but Social Security was never meant to serve as a retiree’s sole source of income. Yet for many seniors, Social Security is exactly that, which won’t cover the cost of living in some states.
You might be able to scrape by in the cheaper 35 states, but GOBankingRates identified 15 states that retirees can scratch off the list if Social Security is their only source of income.
In order of best of the worst to worst of the worst, here are the states where a Social Security check alone won’t pay the bills.
- Cost-of-living index: 109.9
- January 2022 average one-bedroom rent: $1,209
At the tail end of 2021, the Laconia Daily Sun reported that it costs an average of $1,180,933 to retire in New Hampshire. That’s $60,500 more than the typical 65-year-old would spend thanks to New Hampshire’s high cost of living.
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- Cost-of-living index: 127.1
- January 2022 average one-bedroom rent: $1,100
The cost of living in remote and import-reliant Alaska is infamously high. Housing, though, isn’t too big a contributor. The typical home value in the state is roughly $311,000, according to Zillow, compared to nearly $326,000 nationwide.
- Cost-of-living index: 101.8
- January 2022 average one-bedroom rent: $1,344
Although the state offers good tax benefits to retirees, according to Kiplinger, Virginia is generally an inhospitable place to try to stretch a Social Security check — but it depends where you live. Busy and expensive Northern Virginia, particularly D.C. Metro, drives the state’s average cost of living way up — try the Shenandoah Valley, instead.
- Cost-of-living index: 107.9
- January 2022 average one-bedroom rent: $1,307
Tiny Delaware has long been a retirement haven because of its miles of beaches and proximity to D.C., Philly and New York. It’s not a place where you’d want to live on a small fixed income, but the absence of a sales tax is as big a draw along with all that coastline.
- Cost-of-living index: 105.3
- January 2022 average one-bedroom rent: $1,341
Housing is one of the biggest expenses facing retirees or anyone else living in Colorado. The typical home there now costs more than $545,000.
- Cost-of-living index: 130.1
- January 2022 average one-bedroom rent: $1,114
The population of Oregon has grown by more than 10% over the last decade, according to SoFi. The state is still home to fewer than 1.81 million housing units, however, which tells much of the story of the state’s high cost of living.
- Cost-of-living index: 100.3
- January 2022 average one-bedroom rent: $1,434
Florida has been America’s primo retirement destination for generations — but life there doesn’t come cheap. You can certainly find less expensive places to retire, but not in America’s most coveted beach paradises. In fact, you’ll pay a whole lot more to retire on the coasts of California or Hawaii.
- Cost-of-living index: 121.6
- January 2022 average one-bedroom rent: $1,242
Everything costs more across the board in Connecticut, which is consistently one of the country’s most expensive states. That includes groceries, transportation and healthcare, but the real doozies are housing and utilities.
- Cost-of-living index: 111.6
- January 2022 average one-bedroom rent: $1,376
Utilities are cheaper in Washington than in the country as a whole — much cheaper, actually. But retirees and everyone else who lives there will pay more than average across every other cost-of-living category.
- Cost-of-living index: 124.0
- January 2022 average one-bedroom rent: $1,397
Only a handful of states have higher housing costs than Maryland. Healthcare is significantly cheaper than average, but nothing else is.
- Cost-of-living index: 115.2
- January 2022 average one-bedroom rent: $1,490
Virtually everything is more expensive than average in New Jersey, but the most dangerous hidden cost is the state’s notoriously high taxes — property taxes, in particular. Residents of the state will pay nearly $1 million in taxes — $932,000, to be exact — over the course of their lifetimes, according to Bloomberg. That’s more than residents of any other state.
- Cost-of-living index: 135.0
- January 2022 average one-bedroom rent: $1,385
Residents of only four states suffer from higher housing costs than the people who call Massachusetts home. Everything costs more than average in the notoriously expensive New England state, with not just housing, but groceries, healthcare and miscellaneous expenses being especially pricey.
- Cost-of-living index: 148.2
- January 2022 average one-bedroom rent: $1,588
With the national baseline set at 100.0, the cost of housing in New York is a whopping 230.1 on the cost-of-living index. Healthcare is only a little above average and utilities are actually a little below, but everything else costs more in New York.
- Cost-of-living index: 142.2
- January 2022 average one-bedroom rent: $1,652
With a housing index above 200 and above-average costs in every major cost-of-living category, California has earned its rep as a high-cost, high-tax retirement oasis. If you’re planning to retire on Social Security alone, the California dream will probably remain just that.
- Cost-of-living index: 193.3
- January 2022 average one-bedroom rent: $1,706
Right in the middle of the Pacific Ocean between America’s West Coast and the Far East of Asia is Hawaii, which imports everything it can’t grow or make on its own from a world away. Retiring in paradise isn’t cheap. The typical home there now costs more than $800,000, according to Zillow.
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Methodology: GOBankingRates determined the worst states to live on only a Social Security check based on the (1) average monthly benefit for retired workers, $1,613.77, sourced from Social Security Administration; (2) the overall cost of living in each city, sourced from the Missouri Economic Research and Information Center’s 2021 Cost of Living data series; and (3) the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment as sourced from ApartmentList’s January 2022 data. Factors (2) and (3) were scored and combined with the highest score being the worst. All data was collected and is up to date as of Feb. 14, 2022.