Learn more about senior living options, including continuing care retirement communities (aka CCRCs or “life plan communities”) and other 55 plus communities. We give added focus to CCRCs since they tend to be more complex and generate more questions compared to other options.

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Virtually all senior living planned communities — including active adult neighborhoods, rental retirement communities, senior apartments, continuing care retirement communities (CCRCs), etc. — are 55+ communities.

Although 55 and older housing has been around since the 1950s, the rules for age-restricted senior living communities that are in place today  were established as a special carve out of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Fair Housing Act (FHA). The Housing for Older Persons Act (HOPA) protects senior housing communities from being sued for age discrimination by those who are under the community’s minimum age requirement.

Indpendent living retirement communities are also often referred to as rental retirement communities. This senior living option usually takes the form of an apartment-style planned development for older adults who are able to live fully or mostly indpendently; i.e. they do not require assistance with daily activities of living or more advanced care. However, most indpendent living retirement communities do offer some level of care support for residents whose needs change over time. This may come in the form of assistance in the resident’s independent living apartment, or in some cases the indpendent living community may even have separate units licenses for assisted living and/or memory care. This is why you’ll sometimes hear independent living retirement communities referred to as “indpendent plus” or “indpendent living with services.”

The main distinction between a senior living apartment and other indpendent living communities is the absence of a meal plan included in the base monthly fee, which could also mean the absence of a central dining facility altogether. As the name implies, senior apartments are simply apartments for people age 55+, and generally do not offer the level of services and amenities found in other indpendent living communities or continuing care retirement communities. However, some senior apartments will have a community kitchen or even a small café for residents’ enjoyment.

Although there is no industry-standard definition, a continuing care retirement community- also known as a CCRC or “life plan community”- provides residents with access to a continuum of care via a continuing care residents contract, beginning with independent living and usually including assisted living, memory care, and/or skilled nursing for a period greater than one year, and often for life. Continuing care contracts are regulated at the state level and; therefore, the definition of continuing care and contract requirements may differ from one state the the next.

The primary difference between a continuing care retirement community- also known as a CCRC or “life plan community”- is the continuing care contract. In many cases, only those residents with a continuing care contract have access to the other levels of care within the community. Also, in accordance with the type of residency contract, residents of some continuing care retirement communities may pay discounted rates for available care services when those services are needed.

One of the main reasons why people choose a CCRC is because they do not want to be a burden on their adult children or other family members in the future. For those who do not have adult children or other family members nearby, it’s particurly important because a CCRC can help ensure that they have a plan in place for themselves if their situation should change. Additionally, CCRCs tend to offer a wider array of services, amenities, and wellness programs compared to other senior living options and this is attractive to many retirees who seek an easier lifestyle with plenty of opportunities for social engagement.

There are several common factors among most continuing care retirement community contracts and typically the payment structure can be broken down into a buy-in and monthly payment structure.

The buy-in structure determines how much a new resident will pay up-front to move into the independent living area of the community and consists of three main types: entry fee, equity, and rental.

The monthly payment structure determines how the independent living resident’s monthly fee will adjust if they begin to require some level of care services. The three common types of monthly payment structures within CCRC contracts are fee-for-service, modified, and lifecare.

Get more detailed information and answers on CCRC payment structures

CCRCs often have a higher price point than other types of retirement communities and usually- but not always- require an entry fee. Yet, the cost can vary widely from one community to another, and from one region to another. Keep in mind that in CCRCs where residents receive substantially discounted rates on care services, the savings on the back-end could help make up for potentially higher costs on the front-end.

Researching and evaluating continuing care retirement communities can be challenging and complex. It’s a big decision and there are so many questions such as:

  • Is there an on-site medical doctor? Full-time, part time?
  • Is financial assistance available if I exhaust my assets paying for care…?
  • How many meals are included in my monthly fee? Are there flexible meal plan options?
  • Are financial and accounting reports made available to residents upon request?

We have made every effort to simplify the process. Over the years, we have leveraged our in-depth industry knowledge, gathered insights from current CCRC and life plan community residents, as well documented our founder’s experience staying on-site at over 100 senior living communities to develop The Ultimate CCRC Checklist. This free checklist is a great resource to help you get started in considering some of the most important aspects of your long-term care planning decision.

View and download The Ultimate CCRC Checklist

This depends on the type of residency contract. With some continuing care contracts, referred to as “fee-for-service or Type C contracts” you’ll pay as you go. This means you will pay the full market-rate cost of care, but only as you need it. With other CCRC contracts, referred to as “lifecare,” your monthly service fee includes any care-related services you may need in the future. This allows for greater predictability in your expenses over the long term. But the monthly service fee and/or entry fee will be higher than for a comparable fee-for-service community. There are other contracts that are hybrids of these two. Learn more about CCRC contract types.

In the case of a couple, if one partner moves into the healthcare facility, for example, while the other is still living independently, any adjustments to the monthly service fee also depend on the type of residency contract. With a fee-for-service CCRC contract, the resident in independent living will usually begin paying the single occupant rate, while the other partner is charged the full cost of care. With a true lifecare contract, on the other hand, there would still be no additional charge for the care provided.

Like any other industry, some CCRC organizations are better than others. It’s important to do your due diligence on things such as the financial management of the community (and the parent company, if applicable), quality of care, staffing, culture, and more. Even though entry fees are often largely refundable, unwinding a CCRC decision isn’t necessarily an easy or desirable thing to do. Learn more about what to look for in the Helpful Guides section of this page.

You can find detailed community profile reports and comparisons in the community search section of our website. (We’ll be adding more communities to this section over time so be sure to check back regularly.) Additionally, since CCRCs are regulated at the state level, some states offer meaningful information on the communities located in their state, which can often be found on the state’s website. Finally, CCRCs in most states are required to file disclosure statements annually. A disclosure statement is an in-depth description of all aspects of the community, and it typically includes audited financial statements and sample residency contracts. You can obtain a disclosure statement from the community directly or from the state.

Although it varies from one community to another, the industry-wide average age of move-in is late seventies or early eighties, although it can vary widely from one community to another. Brand new communities will generally have a lower average move-in age than more established communities. Keep in mind that new CCRC residents are often healthier and more active compared to their peers. In fact, the average number of years in independent living within a CCRC is nearly twelve years.

Generally speaking, the answer is yes, regardless of the type of CCRC residency contract (i.e. fee-for-service, lifecare, etc.) But there can be rare exceptions or limitations. First, you need to make sure you know what types of settings are covered under your policy, such as your home, assisted living community, nursing center, etc. Then you’ll want to be clear about which of these settings the insurance company classifies a CCRC. For instance, if you are living in an independent living cottage within the CCRC and you decide to hire your own in-home caregiver for a few hours a week, would the insurance company consider this to be in-home care? Or would they classify that entire CCRC as a care facility? Would there be any limitations on your coverage relating to these types of details? Learn more here.

Our blog provides hundreds of articles on the topics mentioned above and much more. You can sign up here and you’ll receive a weekly post in your email inbox. You can also check out our learn page for guides, videos and more. Finally, you can see FREE community-specific information on CCRCs by searching our website directory here.