[Originally posted Feb 2016. Updated May 2021]. In a recent post, I described the various types of independent living senior housing providers and some of the ways to distinguish one type from another. In this post, I want to address another popular question: What is the cost of senior living?

According to the National Investment Center for Seniors Housing and Care (NIC), there are approximately 4,060 retirement communities in the United States that are classified as majority independent living. This category includes retirement communities whereby the majority of residents are able to live fully or mostly independently; i.e. they don’t require assistance or care on a daily basis.

Approximately half of all majority independent living communities are rental retirement communities. The other half require an entry fee or purchase, which is typical among most continuing care retirement communities, also referred to as CCRCs or life plan communities. (Update: The year-end 2019 NIC guide (sixth edition) shows the total of all independent living communities and CCRCs as 5,253.)

Monthly cost of senior living can vary dramatically

NIC’s 2014 Investment Guide shows that the average monthly cost of senior living for majority independent living communities is $2,765, although pricing may range anywhere from several hundred dollars per month to upwards of $9,000 or more for ultra-high-end providers. (Update: The year-end 2019 NIC guide (sixth edition) breaks out the monthly cost of independent living and CCRCs separately, with the average monthly rent being $3,239 and $3,353 respectively.)

The cost of senior living varies dramatically based mainly on four main criteria: breadth of services, amenities, size of the residence, and location. A provider with only a few on-site activities would cost less per month than a provider offering transportation services, an on-site wellness center, swimming pool, access to healthcare, and other services. A retirement community in the heart of San Francisco, for instance, would almost certainly cost significantly more per month than a comparable property in rural Kansas.

À la carte or all-inclusive?

When comparing the cost of senior living, it is also important to keep in mind that the published rate for some providers is a base rate, and residents pay extra for certain services and amenities. Other senior living providers operate under an all-inclusive arrangement, whereby most everything offered is included in one monthly rate. As you do your research, be sure to understand what is included in your base monthly fee, and what costs extra.

Entry fee retirement communities

Included within the category of majority independent living are most continuing care retirement communities, which typically offer residents access to a full continuum of care in one location. Therefore, in addition to independent living, residents have priority access to assisted living, memory care, and/or 24-hour skilled nursing care as needed. Ideally, a resident of a life plan community will never have to move again as their healthcare needs increase, except perhaps to the on-site care facility.

In exchange for the housing, services, and contractual priority access to long-term care services, most CCRCs require an entry fee in addition to their monthly service fees. The average entry fee for CCRCs is approximately $300,o00 but this, too, can vary dramatically based on similar criteria as described above. The cost also depends somewhat on the type of CCRC residency contract.

>> Learn more about CCRC residency contracts

One other thing to know is that there are some CCRCs who do not require an entry fee. All other things equal, the monthly fee will almost always be higher at a rental CCRC than at a comparable entry fee community.

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