By Chris Kahn for Bankrate.com
In the center of the country, there's a patchwork of states that's tough to describe without a map. They're north of the Sun Belt, east of California, west of Appalachia. Some are in the Midwest, a couple of states are in the West and one is ensconced in the South. While collectively they have no geographic identity, perhaps there's now a reason to give them one.
They're the best states in the country for retirement.
Bankrate's 2014 ranking found that these predominantly interior states would be the best choices for your golden years.
Just like last year, Bankrate considered a variety of factors in creating this ranking: the local weather, access to health care, cost of living, crime rate and tax burden. This year we fine-tuned the process by evaluating government statistics on health care quality, and we improved our measurement of weather to include levels of sunshine and humidity. Finally, this year's ranking adds a broad standard-of-living measurement from the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, a comprehensive survey gauging people's satisfaction with their surroundings.
Once again, such popular retirement states as Arizona (No. 16) and Florida (No. 39) didn't make the top 10. Yes, they're lovely places to visit, especially when it's cold everywhere else. But retirees must consider more than sunshine before making a move.
Here, in ascending order, is our 2014 list of 10 unexpectedly great states for retirement.
The 10th-best state for retirement is also the one exception on this list. Virginia, the only coastal state in the top 10, received above-average scores for all the criteria considered in this ranking.
That means the Old Dominion State would be a good place to live for retirees on a tight budget: It taxes residents at a lower rate, and its cost of living is below average. Virginia also has a relatively low crime rate, and it receives better-than-average scores when it comes to health care quality, weather and surveys of personal wellness.
With that in mind, the state tourism department may want to add to its "Virginia is for lovers" slogan with another sobriquet: "Virginia is for retirees, too."
Anyone looking for a place to retire can be excused for not thinking of Iowa. The Hawkeye State is part of that corn-fed cluster of the Midwest that many sun-deprived Northerners fly over on their way to Arizona or Florida.
But those intrepid enough to give Iowa a look will be pleased. Besides its general affordability -- the state has a lower cost of living and tax burden than the national average -- Iowa has one of the better health care systems in the country.
The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, a division of the Department of Health and Human Services, ranks Iowa among the best in terms of health care quality. The agency, which took more than 150 measurements of Iowa's health care system, gave the state especially high marks. It noted, for example, that doctors were better than average at explaining things to patients. It also said nursing homes did a good job of providing the flu vaccine to patients.
If cost of living, safety and weather are important to you, you'll want to consider Idaho as a good state for retirement.
It's one of the most affordable states in the U.S. Idaho also is one of the safest. The FBI recorded 1,984 property crimes and 208 violent crimes per 100,000 people in the Gem State in 2012. That's the lowest crime rate in the country.
And then there's the relatively pleasant weather. Yes, you'll still need a winter coat in Idaho. But there's a lot more to weather than just the temperature. For example, Boise, Idaho, gets more sunshine than Atlanta. And with an average annual humidity of about 58 percent, Idaho is naturally comfortable.
Bankrate's ranking found a lot to like in Montana. It's one of four states to receive above-average scores in all the criteria considered: cost of living, crime, health care quality, taxes, weather and wellness.
Montana may not have beaches or year-round sun. But it's still a place where retirees can enjoy above-average weather and good health care while saving money with a relatively low tax rate. It's also considered relatively safe, with a below-average crime rate. And residents enjoy living there, according to a nearly continuous survey by Gallup-Healthways.
The Cornhusker State received high marks for a number of categories. The Gallup-Healthways survey found that residents consistently felt that they had a good quality of life in the state. And one reason for those good feelings is that the dollar will go a lot further in Nebraska than most other states.
The Council for Community and Economic Research, which compiled the cost-of-living data for the Bankrate ranking, found that residents of Lincoln, Neb., will pay an average of $670 per month to rent an apartment. The national average is $893 per month. A trip to the beauty salon will cost $5.44 less than average. Milk will cost 30 cents less per gallon than the national average, and a trip to the dentist will cost $13.77 less.
Nebraska also received better-than-average scores for its low crime rate, good health care quality and high levels of sunshine.
Budget-conscious retirees would find their finances in much better shape in Wyoming. The Cowboy State can boast the lowest taxes in the country, according to the Tax Foundation. The Washington, D.C., tax research organization looked at a variety of state and local taxes, including those on property, merchandise sales, gasoline, tobacco products and motor vehicles.
It found that Wyoming residents paid 6.9 percent of their collective income in state and local taxes in 2011, the latest year for which statistics are available. The national average was 9.8 percent, and the highest-taxing state was New York, with a 12.6 percent state and local tax rate.
Besides the ultra-low taxes, Wyoming residents also enjoy a relatively low crime rate. And despite the cold, the weather isn't really that bad, either. Lander, Wyoming, for example, gets more sunshine than Tampa, Florida.
4: North Dakota
Retire in North Dakota? Really?
This may be the first genuine surprise in our Top 10. North Dakota, which seems about as bland as it is square (the state beverage is milk), hardly conjures the level of excitement that would be needed to move there. Oh, and the weather typically drops below zero in January.
Yet the Peace Garden State has in fact ranked high on Bankrate's list for the second year in a row. Not only does it have a below-average cost of living, good health care quality, low taxes and crime rate, but residents seem to love it there.
North Dakota received the highest scores in the nation on the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index. The index is based on an extensive telephone survey that asks a series of questions about the emotional and physical health of residents in a community. It asks them to evaluate their lives and rate their satisfaction with their surroundings.
Dan Witters, a Gallup research director who directed the Well-Being Index, says North Dakota residents generally appear happier than their peers. That doesn't mean you'll become happier if you move there, Witters says.
But it raises the question: If you're in a position to choose, "What kind of lifestyle would you like around you?" he asks.
With stunning vistas and diverse terrain, Utah will invigorate the senses and stir your muse. It's home to excellent national parks such as Bryce Canyon and Zion. The state also boasts some of the best skiing in the country, and Park City hosts the Sundance Film Festival every winter.
It's also a haven for retirees. Utah received high scores in all the categories that Bankrate considered. The state's health care quality and Well-Being Index rankings were especially high and its cost of living relatively low.
And, like other states in the West, Utah was ranked as one of the milder states in the country. With an average humidity of 55.5 percent, Utah is neither too wet nor too dry. And some parts of the state are soaked with nearly year-round sunshine.
Colorado has long been a paradise for outdoorsmen of all stripes. It's home to some of the best ski resorts in the country, and the mammoth, multi-tiered Rocky Mountains provide a seemingly endless number of fishing holes and camp sites.
The summers are relatively mild with especially low humidity. And did you know that Pueblo, Colorado, gets more sunshine than Honolulu? The sunshine comes, of course, with a lot of snow. And temperatures can drop well below freezing in the winter.
For retirees, Colorado's strengths are similar to Utah's. But in many ways it's even better.
Colorado gets above-average marks for cost of living, crime rate, health care quality and taxes. The Gallup-Healthways survey finds that the well-being of Colorado residents ranks among the highest in the nation.
1: South Dakota
That's right. South Dakota. The home of Mount Rushmore tops our list as the best state in the nation for retirees.
Yes, of course, it can get frigid in South Dakota. But the state also received excellent scores for all of our other criteria. It had one of the stronger health care quality rankings in the country and was second only to North Dakota in its wellness score.
Gallup's Dan Witters says states that scored well on the Well-Being Index tend to be places where residents feel safe and cared for. They're places with "stuff to do that makes it interesting to live and grow."
If anyone cares to look past South Dakota's chilly temperatures, "people would find there's a lot there" in the state to like, he says.
Also, the state is easy on the wallet, with a relatively low cost of living. It has the sixth-lowest crime rate and the third-lowest tax burden in the country.
This article was originally published on Bankrate.com.