Not all retirement communities are created equal. Here’s what you need to know.

3 minute read

If you’re nearing retirement or already retired, you’ve probably given a lot of thought to where you want to live in retirement. Many people want to stay right where they are, ageing in place in their current homes. Others hope to relocate to a warmer climate. At the same time, some have an eye on long-term care needs when it comes to choosing retirement housing, even if they’re currently in good health.

Many retirees move to senior communities for their retirement. Senior and retirement communities range from the most basic age-restricted mobile home parks with a few amenities to luxurious resort-style senior living communities. Many even provide assisted living or skilled nursing down the road should you need it.

Narrowing down which type of retirement community will best meet your needs and budget can be daunting, since accommodations, prices and contract terms vary widely.

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1. 55+ communities

An age-restricted retirement community limits residence to those 55 and older. You can find 55+ communities all over the country, particularly in sunny states like Florida and Arizona. Some 55+ communities are luxurious, with amenities such as tennis and pickleball courts, swimming pools, clubhouses and golf courses.

Other 55+ communities are more low-key, with mobile homes or modest cottages dotting the grounds. These types of communities don’t offer healthcare or medical services but do offer residents opportunities for friendship and socializing. A 55+ community may also provide lawn care and some maintenance services.

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2. Senior apartment complexes

Apartment complexes that have a large percentage of older adults may market toward seniors, offering a sense of community. While some complexes are simply apartments, parking and an office, others have the same amenities found at most apartment complexes, such as a fitness center, clubhouses, laundry facilities or a pool.

Senior apartment complexes don’t offer assisted living or medical services, which are found in certain types of senior living communities. However, living among other older adults can bring a sense of community and help you maintain social contact on a regular basis, which can be good for your physical and mental health.

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3. Leisure communities

Leisure communities are designed for “empty nesters,” according to Retirement Living, a resource for retirement and senior living. These communities don’t have age restrictions but appeal to retirees who want to buy a two-bedroom or three-bedroom home in a community where their neighbors don’t have young children living in the home.

“The environments often include amenities such as clubhouses, golf courses and community pools in resort-like settings,” according to Retirement Living.

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4. Independent living senior communities

Like 55+ communities, independent living communities only allow residents over a certain age. Residents can rent fully equipped, private apartments that typically include a kitchenette or full kitchen or purchase a stand-alone home or cottage. Independent living in a senior community typically offer more services and amenities than just a 55+ community.

Many active seniors move to an independent living community where they rent an apartment or small home while enjoying access to amenities available such as dining plans, housekeeping, transportation and security. Independent living communities typically promote a healthy, active lifestyle, so amenities may include a pool, fitness center, beauty shop and multiple dining venues.

With an independent living senior living community, you may have to pay an entrance fee or additional fees for services on top of monthly rent. Some independent living accommodations may be part of a larger senior living community that offers assisted living services for help with daily activities if you need them later.

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5. Continuing Care Retirement Community

With continuing care retirement communities (CCRC), also known as life plan communities, residents generally pay a substantial entrance fee in addition to purchasing a private home, cottage or apartment. Prices vary widely, and the average entrance fee is $329,000 but can be as much as $1 million, according to AARP.

The CCRC – which typically offers accommodations ranging from independent living and assisted living private apartments to private or semi-private rooms in skilled nursing and memory care. A CCRC provides a continuum of care where residents can move from one level to another as their care needs increase.

For example, you may move into an independent living cottage at a time when you don’t need help with prepared meals or activities of daily living such as dressing, grooming or mobility. However, as your health needs change, you may need those services.

With a CCRC, the entrance fee you pay when you move in will continue to cover care at the level you may need. After you die, a portion of any remaining entrance fee may be refunded to your heirs, depending on contract terms.

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About the Author

Deb Hipp

Deb Hipp

Deb Hipp is a full-time freelance writer based in Kansas City, Mo. Deb went from being unable to get approved for a credit card or loan 20 years ago to having excellent credit today and becoming a homeowner. Deb learned her lessons about money the hard way. Now she wants to share them to help you pay down debt, fix your credit and quit being broke all the time. Deb's personal finance and credit articles have been published at Credit Karma and The Huffington Post.

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