Pros and Cons of Living in Kentucky vs Tennessee

Kentucky and Tennessee are great places to live, but if you have to choose one, it is essential to examine their pros and cons.

When deciding on where to live, it comes down to personal preference. Examine factors such as cost of living, safety, and lifestyle. Also, look into what makes these places so popular—for example, the Kentucky Derby and Tennessee’s country-music capital, Nashville.

What’re the pros and cons of living in Kentucky vs Tennessee?

Kentucky’s cost of living is lower, and it’s in a centralized location, but tax is a drawback. There’s no income tax in Tennessee, and it’s a water paradise. However, there’s a population overflow, and you might live near a nuclear power plant.

Kentucky and Tennessee are alike in some ways. For instance, they both have southern traditions and share the Cumberland Mountains and Plateau.

When deciding on where it’s better to live between Kentucky and Tennessee, it’s crucial to know what each state offers across points of interest that matter to you.

This article covers important aspects like crime rate, education, employment, and cost of living. In addition, we listed the least expensive areas in each state, which could go a long way if you’re relocating on a budget. We also included why Kentucky and Tennessee are worthy retirement destinations.

Kentucky Road

Is Kentucky or Tennessee Better?

In 2017, CNBC conducted its annual survey on America’s Top States for Business. And based on qualifying factors, both Kentucky and Tennessee earned spots among the most affordable places to live.

Kentucky ranked 3rd in the low business cost category, while Tennessee ranked 7th.

Apart from the business perspective, each state has merits that rank differently based on your definition of the ‘better’ state.

Let’s dig deeper into those factors.



Kentucky is relatively tax-friendly, with an income tax rate of 5%. If you factor in income tax benefits and exemptions, taxes aren’t too taxing.

Kentucky ranks 18th in the per-capita corporate income tax (6%) compared to the US average.


There’s no state income tax in Tennessee, and it’s one of only a few US states that doesn’t impose a broad-based personal income tax. Property tax is also low in the state.

However, business tax is high. Tennessee’s corporate income tax (6.5%) ranks it 11th among other US states.

Crime Rate


Violent crime in Kentucky is the 7th lowest compared to the national average, with about 2 for every thousand. The property crime rate is around 21. Both rates are below the national averages.


Crime isn’t on the rise in Tennessee, but areas (parts of Nashville and Memphis) still struggle.

Gang-related incidents and gun violence are top crime concerns.

Cost of Living

Working within a budget, you probably wonder about basic expenses. The cost of living covers various determinants. Let’s look at how each state fares across these factors.


In 2017, CNBC ranked Kentucky 10th among America’s 10 Cheapest States to Live. This means living in Kentucky saves you around 21% in the overall cost of living compared to other US states.

US News ranked Kentucky 8th for affordability across the US. Its 89 points living index includes food, healthcare, and transportation.

The study also revealed that the average home cost in the Bluegrass State is around $270,000, with monthly energy bills averaging less than $200.


According to the Cost of Living Index (2021), Tennessee has the sixth-lowest living cost in the US.

The housing index is a bit high at 82.6 points compared to the US’ 100. Average home purchase pegs at over $300,000 while monthly energy bill averages less than $150.

Food expenses in Tennessee are pretty low. In terms of utilities, healthcare, and transportation, Tennessee ranks ninth versus the national average.

The average cost of living in areas like New Jersey and Morristown is 13% lower than the US average.

Tennessee’s cost of living is 10.7% more expensive than Kentucky. Here’s a detailed comparison.

Restaurant1.7% more
Groceries1.1% more
Transportation7% more
Housing10.7% more
Childcare37.9% more
Entertainment and Sports5.1% more
Clothing13.6% more

Should I Retire in Kentucky or Tennessee?

Both Kentucky and Tennessee are ideal retirement destinations, and each has perks that could earn your thumbs up.


Retirees flock to Kentucky for its hospitable southern charm and affordable retirement homes, both in mortgage and rent form. Utility, transportation, and grocery expenses are below the US average, too.

Summer can be torrid, and winter nights can be chilly, but Kentucky’s climate is generally mild and stable, particularly during spring and fall.

Mammoth Cave National Park, Cumberland Gap National Historic Park, and Otter Creek will not disappoint. And don’t forget to enjoy the Kentucky Derby.


As a retiree, Tennessee being a no-income-tax state, may not be a strong draw, but the Volunteer State has more aces up its sleeve.

As one of the US’ outdoor capitals, Tennessee is home to the Great Smokey Mountain National Park. You can explore its nearly 4,000 caves, try spelunking, or escape into nature.

Retirement doesn’t mean giving up activities that you once enjoyed. So if you don’t want to miss out on vibrant nightlife, Nashville is among the live-music capitals of the world.

Pros and Cons of Living in Kentucky vs Tennessee

Tennessee State Capitol

Tennessee Pros

What factors make it ideal to live in Tennessee?


Tennessee offers a scholarship program called Tennessee Promise for high school graduates prospecting local community colleges. While it’s not a 4-year scholarship, the free tuition brings students closer to higher education.

Water Paradise

From Memphis’ Mississippi River and Nashville’s Cumberland River to the Tennessee River in Chattanooga and Knoxville, the Volunteer State offers endless water adventures.

Go whitewater rafting on the Ocoee, bash fishing in Lake Barkley, or explore Tennessee’s over 1,300 lakes and reservoirs.

Job Opportunities

The Volunteer State is home to large companies like Dollar General, Eastman Chemical, AutoZone, and FedEx, making Tennessee among the US states with low unemployment rates (5 points). Pre-pandemic, it was around 2.5, a national low.

Nashville offers work opportunities in entertainment, hospitality, and music.

Music Scene

A few musical styles and genres grew up in Tennessee, including the Blues, Country Music, and Bluegrass.

Grand Ole Opry in Nashville holds concerts year-round. Every weekend, Beale Street and Memphis play the best Blues in the world. From east to west, small and medium-sized towns host concerts and music festivals like Bonnaroo.

Barbeque Mecca

Tennessee barbeque offers a unique blend of sweet and spicy, and Memphis is among the state’s barbeque meccas. Memphis uses a dry-rub technique, a rare preparation that gives the meat a hot, slightly sweet, and tangy combo.


The state-brewed liquor will give the Irish spirits a run for their money because whiskey is one of the symbols that make Tennessee a legend. JD Distillery offers ground tours, but you can sample hundreds of local blends at homemade distilleries.

Scenic Landscape

The Great Smoky Mountains, ranked by The National Park Service as among the US’ treasures, has a vast network of caves, fall display of foliage, mountain ranges, and wildflower ecosystems.

The best way to explore Tennessee’s stunning landscape is by foot. Trek the wide-ranging series of trails at the Lookout Mountain in Chattanooga or climb the Smoky Mountains. You can also explore the Ozarks, Appalachians, and the numerous surrounding parks.

Colorful festivities include Daffodil Day in Bell Buckle and Trails and Trilliums, a flower festival in Monteagle.

Tennessee Cons

What are some reasons you might think twice about living in Tennessee?


Tennessee summer can be brutally inconvenient, something familiar among many southern states.

It’s hot and sticky with 100% humidity that shoots up to 90 degrees for weeks. An air conditioner (view on Amazon) is a wise investment in Tennessee.

Tornadoes are rare since the state is outside the Tornado Alley, but thunderstorms are the primary concern.

Population Overflow

Tennessee is among the popular migration destinations for people trying to escape pricy coastal locations. While this seems a plus point for Tennessee, it’s a demerit in population density and its effects.

When families and companies move to Tennessee, infrastructure is overtaxed, resulting in transportation overhauls.

More Cars, Less Commute

If you’re used to commuting in cities like San Francisco, New York, or Chicago, Tennessee may not be the best choice. You need a vehicle to get around the state. While transportation is good, it’s not very reliable.

Nuclear Power Plants

The three plants in the state, operated by TVA, are well-operated and new. While they aren’t dangerous, some people aren’t particularly comfortable living near them.

Kentucky Pros

What are the top reasons why living in Kentucky is the better choice?

5 Seasons

The fifth season in Kentucky is Derby Season when locals spend time at the horse track.

Kentucky Derby happens every May at the Churchill Downs in Louisville. Weeks before the big event, residents participate in annual golf tournaments, Kentucky Derby Festival Marathons, and concerts.


Hunting is more than just a popular activity in Kentucky – it’s a way of life.

During the winter months, hunting is a food source for many families. The games include squirrels, black bears, river otters, and turkeys.

Kentucky is among the few states where hunting bobcats and elks is legal.


Kentucky is in the heart of the US’ southcentral, giving you easy access to cities like Nashville, Cincinnati, and St. Louis.

Going to Chicago is also a breeze, and if you’re up for longer drives, go south to Atlanta or the Gulf Coast.

Auto Manufacturing Industry

Toyota has manufacturing facilities in Erlanger and Georgetown, while Ford has an assembly plant in Louisville.

These industry giants are among Kentucky’s top employers generating job opportunities for residents.

Spirits and Food

The Kentucky Bourbon Trail has a distinct flavor that it’s a world-popular signature spirit produced in 11 distilleries in the state.

Hot Brown is another proudly Kentucky-made. It’s an open-faced sandwich of turkey, bacon, and tomato slices, with thick Mornay sauce that soaks this Texan toast.

In Kentucky, there are two types of barbeque. South-central has sliced pork shoulder with pepper sauce and vinegar on bread. The west has a lamb shoulder with either Worcestershire or soy sauce.

Kentucky Cons

Central Kentucky Farm

Here are some ‘bad’ things about living in Kentucky.


Unless you’re a retiree whose income-generating days are past, Kentucky’s income tax is a drawback. Sales tax on services and goods isn’t to be sneezed at either.

Local Language

Understanding Kentucky’s southern accent is a challenge. Words can also be tricky. In Kentucky, living on a ‘holler’ means living on a dirt road.


You’ll meet many friendly people in Kentucky, but cultural diversity is scarce.


According to the U. S. News & World Report in 2018, Kentucky ranked 32 out of US’ 50 states in Pre-K12 education and 43rd in Higher Education.

Parameters considered in the ranking included test scores, graduation rates, and public school enrollment.

Hunting Equals Accidents

During the hunting season, the significant populations of turkeys and deer are often seen trying to cross the roads while you’re driving. Accidents are more on the rise when it’s deer season.


Louisville’s air is so polluted that you can smell the factory fumes from the city’s other side.

Least Expensive Places To Live in Kentucky

Some of the inexpensive locations in Kentucky are the following:

  • Burlington
  • Central City
  • Ellesmere
  • Flatwoods
  • Hebron
  • Hillview
  • Independence
  • Lexington
  • Princeton

Least Expensive Places To Live in Tennessee

Tennessee ranks seventh in the most affordable US state, and here are some places to check out:

  • Alcoa
  • Bartlett
  • Chattanooga
  • Clarksville
  • Collierville
  • Farragut
  • Johnson
  • Murfreesboro
  • Oak Ridge
  • Portland
  • Smyrna

Conclusion: Pros and Cons of Living in Kentucky vs Tennessee

Which is the best place to live: Kentucky or Tennessee?

The choice rests on valuable factors that may make or break living in either of the states.

Kentucky’s cost of living is low, and there’s an abundance of outdoor activities to explore. But the state’s education system isn’t very impressive, and the taxes, while lower than the national averages, can be financially challenging.

Tennessee’s soul is country music. Tennesseans are among the friendliest, plus the state is a barbeque Mecca. Best of all, there’s no income tax levied in the state. However, the Volunteer State is also known for its scorching summer heat and uncomfortable humidity. The population is also getting dense.

Therefore, the key is in your hands. What factors matter to you most? What perks are you willing to let go in consideration of something that you value more?

We’re confident that you’d arrive at an informed decision through this exhaustive guide.

Kris Peter

A positive individual enjoying the journey, and always searching for adventure. I created Sunlight Living to help my parents (and eventually myself) prepare for retirement. About Kris

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