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What Is the Cost of Independent Living for Seniors?

Rebecca Lake

When retirement approaches, one of the biggest decisions to make is where you’ll live, including whether to stay in your current home or move to an independent living community. One of the main considerations is the cost of independent living, which typically depends on the community, where it’s located and the amenities and benefits included. Taking a closer look at the numbers can help you get a sense of how affordable an option independent living may be as you plan for retirement.

What Is Independent Living?

Before digging too far into the numbers, it helps to have some perspective on what independent living means. In a nutshell, an independent living community is designed for seniors who are still relatively healthy and active. These communities offer individual housing, which could be a condo, apartment or single-family home. But they also offer shared access to amenities, which may include:

  • On-site healthcare
  • Housekeeping and laundry service
  • Meals and dining service
  • Recreation and entertainment

This type of living situation is designed for seniors who are still capable of performing routine daily tasks on their own. At the same time, they get to be part of a community of other active seniors and have opportunities to socialize.

That’s different from assisted living or a nursing home. With an assisted living facility, seniors still have their independence in that they may have their own home or apartment. But they get help with basic daily activities, such as doing laundry or running errands, as well as bathing and dressing if necessary. Transportation service may also be included in an assisted living arrangement. In a nursing home setting, residents typically require round-the-clock medical care and supervision.

What’s the Cost of Independent Living?

The cost of independent living isn’t one-size-fits-all. Here are the biggest things that can influence what you’ll pay to call an independent living community home:

  • Size of the community
  • Type of housing (i.e. single-family home, condo, townhome, apartment, etc.)
  • Number of bedrooms
  • Geographic region
  • Included amenities and services
  • Optional amenities and services

Communities can charge the cost of independent living as a monthly service fee or rate. For example, you might pay one flat fee for:

  • Room and board
  • Meals
  • Utilities, including electric and water
  • Internet, cable and phone service
  • Landscaping
  • Maintenance and repairs
  • Housekeeping and laundry services
  • Transporation

These are the basic living expenses you can expect to pay. In terms of what you might spend, the cost can range from as low as $1,000 per month to as much as $10,000 per month.

Which state a facility is in plays a big part in a senior’s monthly fee. At the upper end of the spectrum is Massachusetts, where the monthly average cost is more than $4,000, according to a SeniorHomes.com report. At the other end of the spectrum is South Dakota with a monthly average cost of $1,399.

Services offered also determine cost. Most independent living facilities offer a modest apartment, utilities, incidental maintenance and trash removal. Weekly housekeeping, meals and scheduled transportation are sometimes also included in the basic monthly charge. Top-of-the-line options include a larger living space (sometimes a small house), concierge services, unscheduled transportation, wellness programs, social events and the use of guest apartments.

The same report found the lowest monthly minimum in Michigan at $637; the highest monthly maximum was found in Maryland at $9,050.

That’s not the only cost of independent living to know about, however. You might also be expected to pay a one-time entrance fee to secure your spot in the community. This fee can typically range from $500 to $1,500, although it’s possible you could pay much more than that if you’re trying to get into a community that’s in high demand or offers premium housing and services.

Cost of Independent Living vs. Living in Your Home

There are different reasons to consider moving into an independent living facility in retirement. For one thing, it may be simpler to let someone else handle things like landscaping and maintenance than it is to do it yourself. And living in a community with other seniors can help you avoid feeling isolated if you’re having a hard time making the transition from working.

In terms of how the two compare cost-wise, it’s important to remember that living in your home can still be expensive. Even if you’ve paid off your mortgage, you’re still responsible for paying things like:

  • Utilities
  • Maintenance, upkeep and repairs
  • Homeowners insurance
  • Property taxes

Then there are costs that might creep into your budget as you get older. For example, you may need to modify your home to make it more accessible if you eventually require a walker or wheelchair.

If you need in-home nursing care on a semi-regular or regular basis, that has its own costs. According to Genworth Financial, the average cost of hiring a home health aide was $4,385 per month in 2019. That’s over $52,000 per year you’d have to pay, on top of the regular costs associated with maintaining your home.

Assuming you were to move into an independent living community that charged $4,000 per month, you’d still pay less to live there per year than you would to stay in your home and have in-home health care. It goes without saying that if you’re weighing independent living against staying in your home, it’s important to look at all of the numbers side by side to get a sense of the costs.

Planning Your Retirement Budget for Independent Living

If you think independent living may be the best choice for retirement, then you’ll need to do your homework.

Start with the amount of money you anticipate having saved by the time you plan to retire. This includes money from your 401(k), investments in individual retirement accounts and taxable brokerage accounts. From there, add in any money you expect to receive from Social Security as well as any money you might net if you’re selling your home to move into an independent living community.

Once you have a total, you can estimate how much of that money you’re likely to need to live on each month. For example, the 4% rule advocates withdrawing 4% of your retirement savings each year to cover expenses. You could use this figure as a starting point to determine how much you’ll be able to withdraw annually, based on your life expectancy.

The next step is researching individual facilities. If an independent living community you’re considering has a financial counselor on staff, they can help you with reviewing the costs. As you look at the rates and fees, make sure to ask:

  • What the entrance fee is, if any
  • How much you’ll pay for the monthly rate
  • What the monthly rate covers (and what it doesn’t)
  • Whether there are any hidden fees to be aware of

The better you understand the costs involved and what you stand to gain in return, the more perspective you’ll have on whether independent living is the right investment.

The Bottom Line

The cost of independent living isn’t one-size-fits-all and there’s a lot of variety in what you could pay. The question to consider first is whether an independent living community is right for you, in terms of meeting your needs and expectations for retirement. You might consider visiting one for a tour first to get a feel for how well independent living may work for you.

Tips for Investing

  • Consider talking to a financial advisor about how to finance the cost of independent living. Finding the right financial advisor who fits your needs doesn’t have to be hard. SmartAsset’s free tool matches you with financial advisors in your area in five minutes. If you’re ready to be matched with local advisors who will help you achieve your financial goals, get started now.
  • As you age, it can be difficult to know what decisions are best for your health, finances or estate planning. That’s why it’s important to make those decisions with someone you trust. A certified senior advisor can help ensure your affairs are handled appropriately.

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