What Makes a State Great to Live In?

July 31, 2020
best states

The United States is a diverse country with something for everyone. Weather-wise, we have states that will suit just about anyone’s temperature or climate preference. Financially, states are very diverse, too. There are states with low taxes and some that don’t have certain types of taxes at all, and some states feature higher taxation but may offer opportunities you can’t get anywhere else. At different stages of life, you’re looking for different things; at younger ages, you might care most about finding a high-paying job, and as you get older and have children you may care more about amenities like public schools and universities.

Best states to find a job

Some states are easier to find a job in than others. States like Nevada are heavily reliant on certain industries, like tourism and hospitality, and are more likely to be affected by economic downturns. As you are starting out in your career, you may want to look for a state where it’s easy to find a job, and where your dollars stretch further.

U.S. News rated the best states to find a job based on unemployment, labor force participation, and recent change in unemployment rate. They concluded that the best states to find a job are Idaho, Hawaii, Minnesota, Colorado, and Utah. These aren’t the states where your dollars stretch the furthest, though. Certain states have a much lower cost of living relative to average salary, and the states where your dollars are worth the most include West Virginia, Kentucky, Arkansas, Alabama, and Mississippi.

You may not be able to live in a high cost of living state at your first job, as your starting salary won’t go very far relative to the cost of living. However, there are a wide variety of states where it is easier to find a job and where your starting salary will go the furthest. Obviously, you care about more than just finding a job and making money. It’s important to also consider nearby amenities, like parks, shopping, universities, nightlife, and housing. You may also not want to live too far away from family and friends.

Best states to start a family

By your 30s, you’ll be further along in your career and may have different goals than when you were younger. You might be starting a family, or already have, and may be reevaluating where you live. The quality of schools is likely to be a top concern. U.S. News rated states based on college readiness, high school graduation rate, testing scores, and preschool enrollment. They found states in the northeast, specifically Connecticut, Vermont, New Hampshire, New Jersey, and Massachusetts, were the best states in the country for K-12 public education. This does not mean that you need to live in the northeast for your child to get a quality education; there are top-notch schools in every state, and you can research an area to see what the schools are like.

If you plan on assisting your child in paying for their college education, you’ll probably use a 529 plan to help meet your savings goals. Morningstar compiles a list of top-rated 529 plans based on fees, quality and appropriate investments, and oversight from the state and investment managers. In some states, you can choose an out-of-state plan and receive the same tax benefits that you would with an in-state plan. Not every state lets you do this, though, so check to see how your state treats out-of-state 529 plans before making your decision.

Best states to build wealth

There’s never a bad time in your life to live in a great state to build wealth, but as you progress into your highest earning years, your 40s and beyond, it’s especially important to live in a great state to build wealth. Investopedia has compiled a list of the 10 wealthiest states in the country, but the wealthiest states may not be the best place to grow wealth. In all of these states, your dollar is worth less than average, which means the median income is not keeping up with the cost of living. Low cost-of-living states are great to build wealth in because you’ll have more flexibility in your budget for saving when you’re spending less money on housing. Here’s a list of the average cost of living by state. Taxation also plays a role in wealth building, so you may want to consider a state with a lower cost of living and less taxation.

Best states to retire

As you leave the accumulation phase and enter retirement, you’ll be concerned about taxation of your income in retirement. Taxation of retiree income can vary wildly from state-to-state, with states taxing Social Security benefits at different thresholds, some offering retiree income exclusions, and states without income tax, lower property tax, and low or even no sales tax. Kiplinger compiled a great list of taxation in retirement with information about all 50 states. As your children leave the nest, you may want to consider living in an area that your children want to come back to and visit. Living around universities, museums, shopping, and parks will not only entice your family to come see you but will help keep you active and engaged as you enter retirement.

Our most recent show covers all the best states in the country to live, from your first job all the way to retirement. You’ll have different considerations at each stage of life, and we discuss the advantages and disadvantages of living in different states. Watch our latest show, “The Best Places in America to Build Wealth (By Age)” on YouTube below.


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