Personal Finance

15 Places Where Social Security Offers the Best Standard of Living

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Happy senior couple biking outdoors at sunset
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Social Security shouldn’t be your only income in retirement, but some 12% of men and 15% of women who receive Social Security rely on their benefit checks for 90% or more of their income, according to the Social Security Administration.

With benefits for retired workers averaging just $1,669 nationally in June 2022, trying to live on Social Security alone can be challenging. However, it’s easier to do in some counties than in others.

SmartAsset provided Money Talks News with a rundown of which U.S. counties offer the best standard of living for retirees whose income is Social Security alone. The finance website did so by comparing the average annual Social Security benefits in that county with the typical cost of living there. If you want to see how much Social Security you can expect to receive in retirement, check out the SmartAsset Social Security calculator.

Keep reading to see which counties top the SmartAsset list, starting with No. 15 and progressing to the most affordable county for Social Security beneficiaries.

15. Alpine County, California

A truck offroad in Sierra Nevada near Markleeville, California
Toshifumi Hotchi / Shutterstock.com

Typical annual cost of living: $20,628

Average annual Social Security income: $25,113

Leftover Social Security after expenses: $4,485

California is typically thought of as an expensive state, but Alpine County can be an affordable choice for retirees.

Located along the Nevada border and within the Sierra Nevada Mountains, Alpine County is said to be in the heart of the California Alps. It is the state’s least-populated county and offers plenty of outdoor recreation opportunities.

14. Thomas County, Kansas

Thomas County courthouse in Kansas
By barteverett / Shutterstock.com

Typical annual cost of living: $19,250

Average annual Social Security income: $23,767

Leftover Social Security after expenses: $4,517

You’ll find Thomas County in the northwestern corner of Kansas. Colby is the county seat and largest community in this sparsely populated area.

Railroads helped shape the history of this region, and residents and visitors who pay a visit to the Prairie Museum of Art and History can see a prairie living site that includes the state’s largest barn and other historical buildings from those early days.

13. Wahkiakum County, Washington

Wahkiakum County, Washington
Loren L. Masseth / Shutterstock.com

Typical annual cost of living: $18,338

Average annual Social Security income: $22,862

Leftover Social Security after expenses: $4,524

A common theme among the places where Social Security goes the furthest is that the most affordable counties are often rural ones. Wahkiakum County, in Washington state, is among them. It is the second-smallest county in that state, population-wise.

What it lacks in population, Wahkiakum County makes up for with beautiful settings, particularly in its communities along the Columbia River.

12. Custer County, Colorado

Westcliffe, Colorado
Michael D. Willhoite / Shutterstock.com

Typical annual cost of living: $19,211

Average annual Social Security income: $24,317

Leftover Social Security after expenses: $4,536

You’ll find beautiful scenery and few neighbors in Custer County, Colorado. The towns of Silver Cliff and Westcliffe, the county seat, are famous for their dark, starry night skies and mountain vistas.

This region of south-central Colorado is a popular destination for outdoor enthusiasts.

11. Bremer County, Iowa

Waverly, Iowa
Joshua Voigt / Shutterstock.com

Typical annual cost of living: $18,214

Average annual Social Security income: $22,819

Leftover Social Security after expenses: $4,605

Located in the northeast section of Iowa, Bremer County includes several small towns. Retirees will find the most activities in the county seat of Waverly.

The City of Waverly says it has been named one of the best places to live in Iowa, and its amenities include a community pool, civic center and golf course.

10. Botetourt County, Virginia

Buchanan,Virginia
OJUP / Shutterstock.com

Typical annual cost of living: $19,441

Average annual Social Security income: $24,138

Leftover Social Security after expenses: $4,697

Botetourt County has been called one of Virginia’s most scenic and historically significant counties.

Outdoor enthusiasts will find the Appalachian Trail is accessible here, and the Blue Ridge Parkway offers a scenic drive. There are also opportunities for shopping, dining and taking in arts and cultural events in the county’s charming cities.

9. Gosper County, Nebraska

Elwood, Nebraska
SevenMaps / Shutterstock.com

Typical annual cost of living: $18,397

Average annual Social Security income: $24,141

Leftover Social Security after expenses: $5,046

If you’re looking for a quiet place to live, Gosper County might be the perfect choice.

With only about 2,000 residents in the entire county, you aren’t likely to have too many neighbors regardless of where you live.

8. Custer County, Idaho

Stanley, Idaho
Shane N. Cotee / Shutterstock.com

Typical annual cost of living: $18,822

Average annual Social Security income: $23,939

Leftover Social Security after expenses: $5,117

Idaho’s Custer County proclaims, “We are what America used to be.” Founded in 1881, the county is both historic and scenic, featuring the remote Salmon-Challis National Forest, which is part of the largest federally protected wilderness area south of Alaska.

Retirees seeking peace and quiet are likely to find it in Custer County. Only about 4,400 people live in this region of central Idaho, and its largest city — Challis — is home to fewer than 1,000 residents.

7. Grant County, Nebraska

Hyannis, Nebraska
Tudoran Andrei / Shutterstock.com

Typical annual cost of living: $19,046

Average annual Social Security income: $24,903

Leftover Social Security after expenses: $5,126

Grant County is the second Nebraska county on this list, and it’s even smaller than Gosper County.

With fewer than 700 residents, Grant County is the fourth-least-populated county in the state and the ninth-least-populated county in the country. Founded in 1887, it was named for President Ulysses S. Grant.

6. Keweenaw County, Michigan

Copper Harbor Lighthouse in Michigan
Kenneth Keifer / Shutterstock.com

Typical annual cost of living: $18,632

Average annual Social Security income: $24,014

Leftover Social Security after expenses: $5,382

Located at the tip of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, Keweenaw County was originally known for its copper mines but is now a popular tourist destination. Among its draws are Fort Wilkins Historic State Park and Copper Harbor, which is a departure point for Isle Royale National Park.

For those who don’t mind a lot of snow, Keweenaw County is also a good place for retirees to stretch their Social Security dollars.

5. Hartley County, Texas

Dalhart, Texas
Jacob Boomsma / Shutterstock.com

Typical annual cost of living: $20,170

Average annual Social Security income: $25,768

Leftover Social Security after expenses: $5,598

Hartley County can be found in the Texas panhandle, along the New Mexico border.

Ranching has played an integral role in the history of Hartley County, and the area remains largely rural today.

4. Lane County, Kansas

Dighton, Kansas
Eugene R Thieszen / Shutterstock.com

Typical annual cost of living: $18,625

Average annual Social Security income: $24,366

Leftover Social Security after expenses: $5,741

If you’re looking for the most affordable places to live on Social Security, hopefully you like the rural life. Like other counties on this list, Lane County has few residents. It also has but a single city — Dighton — within its boundaries.

Dighton describes itself as “Your Home on the Range,” and among its amenities is The JOY Center. Standing for Just Older Youth, the JOY Center provides a variety of activities for area seniors.

3. Pend Oreille County, Washington

Newport, Washington
Kirk Fisher / Shutterstock.com

Typical annual cost of living: $18,410

Average annual Social Security income: $24,262

Leftover Social Security after expenses: $5,852

Pend Oreille County says it’s a great place to live, work and play. Located in the northeastern corner of Washington state, the county shares borders with both Idaho and Canada.

The mining and timber industries flourished here, and today the county boasts of having scenic beauty, small-town hospitality and a pioneer spirit.

2. Steele County, North Dakota

Sheyenne River, North Dakota
CLP Media / Shutterstock.com

Typical annual cost of living: $19,359

Average annual Social Security income: $25,850

Leftover Social Security after expenses: $6,250

For those seeking a rural lifestyle, North Dakota’s Steele County may be an ideal choice. About an hour northwest of Fargo, the county notes it is primarily an agricultural community but also promotes entrepreneurship, which may make it appealing to retirees hoping to start their own business.

Hunting and golfing are two popular activities in the county. Meanwhile, Golden Lake is home to a seasonal resort that is popular with RV campers.

1. Sumter County, Florida

The Villages, Florida
Peter Titmuss / Shutterstock.com

Typical annual cost of living: $19,874

Average annual Social Security income: $26,128

Leftover Social Security after expenses: $6,254

Florida is a popular haven for retirees, but it has only one entry on this list.

Sumter County is about an hour’s drive west of Orlando, and its numerous communities include The Villages, a retirement complex famed as home to many active retirees.

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