As a retirement destination, Arkansas is a study in contrasts. On the one hand, a study by Bankrate.com ranked Arkansas last in the country as a place to retire, on the basis of cost of living, crime rate, health care quality, state and local taxes, personal well-being for seniors, and weather. On the other, Arkansas does have many areas of great natural beauty, a mild climate, and yes, a low living cost.
Arkansas is called the Natural State because of its natural scenery. It has a variety of landscapes including mountains, valleys, dense woodlands, and open plains. Combined with clear lakes and streams and abundant wildlife, these help to make tourism one of the state’s most important industries.
Arkansas also has one of the lowest home prices in the country, and a cost of living that is 5% below the national average. In fact, Bella Vista, Arkansas was ranked tops in the country by Time.com as the best place to keep costs low. Arkansas also has a relatively large senior population and many well-planned retirement communities.
On the downside, Arkansas does have a high poverty rate, with an inflation-adjusted per capita income of $20,300 that is among the lowest in the nation. This contributes to a crime rate that is higher than the national average. Arkansas also has a relatively onerous tax structure. It has the 14th highest state and local tax burden of any state. Residents pay an average of $3,351 per capita in state and local taxes. The top income tax rate is 7% with a top bracket that starts at $28,500. There is also a sales tax of 6%, a liquor excise tax of 3%, a moving tax of 4.5%, and a utility tax of 2.75%.
Pensions are subject to state tax, but there is a deduction on the first $6,000. Residents over age 59 ½ can also deduct the first $6,000 in IRA and other retirement account distributions.
Below are descriptions of some of Arkansas’s towns that are attractive to retirees:
In the far northwest corner of the state, in foothills of the Ozarks, Bella Vista is a popular retirement destination because of its low living costs. Its median home price is around $100,000 which attracts people from more expensive parts of the country. There’s no shortage of opportunities to enjoy the great outdoors: there are seven golf courses, as well as swimming pools, tennis courts, fitness facilities, and shooting ranges. Nearby the community are seven lakes, walking trails, and 36,000 acres of streams and forests.
The town was formed in the 1960s as a planned retirement community, and 45% of residents are seniors. There is a robust employment market, with Walmart and Mercy Health as major employers. This attracts many younger families and also seniors looking for part-time jobs.
Bella Vista is a small town of around 27,000 people. There are relatively few facilities like public transportation, and the nearest hospital is 10 miles away.
Hot Springs Village
Hot Springs Village is a planned retirement community developed in the early 1970s. It is a 26,000-acre gated community with over 15,000 permanent residents, 77% of whom are over age 55. There are many amenities in the community including its own police, fire, and medical departments, adult education, a public library, and 650-seat performing arts center.
There are also eight golf courses, including one ranked best in the state, 13 tennis courts, a clubhouse, and a championship senior tennis team. The village has its own fitness center and indoor pool, over 20 miles of hiking and jogging trails, and 11 lakes for boating, water skiing, swimming, and fishing. The residents also arrange many recreational activities including quilting and bridge clubs. Just outside the community are Hot Springs National Park and Bathhouse Row, Oaklawn Racing & Gaming, and the Ouachita Mountains.
The community has a variety of homes. The median house value of $173,000 is above the state average, but still below the national average.
Conway is a college town of 60,000 with continuing education opportunities and a booming cultural atmosphere. There is an active central business district with restaurants, shops, and a farmers market. The town hosts Hendrix College, Central Baptist College, and the University of Central Arkansas, which make for a younger population (median age 27; 16.7% over age 55).
But the college atmosphere also provides many cultural and educational events and programs. For example there are an annual Shakespeare Festival and other public arts programs, and opportunities for local residents to attend classes and earn degrees. The population is growing and there are many social service organizations, and opportunities for part-time employment.
The town has two modern indoor-outdoor recreational complexes, and a 70,000-square-foot health and fitness center operated by the Conway Regional Hospital Complex. The center has an indoor pool, massage, and over 60 group exercise classes. The town has easy access to many private and public golf courses, and Lake Conway is one of the largest fishing lakes in the nation.
In addition to these, here are three smaller towns that are popular retirement destinations for those looking to live close to nature, but not far from the big-city amenities of Little Rock and Branson, Missouri.
Horseshoe Bend is a small town (pop. 2,184) with three lakes, two golf courses, and a theater for local musicians. The downtown area has shopping and medical care facilities.
Clinton is located along a scenic highway between Conway and Branson, Missouri. Located along the 22-mile Greers Ferry Lake, which has held fishing records, Clinton has many amenities for a town its size (pop. 2,600). These include a modern hospital that was the first in the nation to be designed and constructed as a critical access hospital. There are also city parks that include paved fitness trails, ball fields, and ponds.
Jacksonville is a town of 28,000 located adjacent to Little Rock Air Force Base, training wing for the Air Force’s C-130 fleet. It is a popular destination in the state for military retirees because of the amenities on the base and the local medical facilities. The town has a 56,000 square foot recreation center, a museum of military history, and many shops and restaurants in the downtown area.
For more information about retirement in Arkansas: