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Average Net Worth of an American Family

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Do you know what the average net worth is in the United States?

Every three years the Federal Reserve Board does a survey of consumer finances, which looks at a wealth of financial information, including income and net worth. They even have statistics of the percentage of people who use the Internet to find financial data broken down by the age of the head of household (did you know that in 2007, 16.5% of families with the head of household above 75 years of age used the internet?)

Well, that’s where I turned to find out the average net worth of an American family.

FRB Net Worth Data

The Federal Reserve Board slices and dices the net worth data better than the CNN Net Worth calculator, which I’ll talk about next. They discuss it as a value of income and age (of the head of household), but they also do it based on family structure, education of the head, race, work status of head, occupation of head, region, urbanicity, housing status, etc.

Across all groups, the 2007 median net worth was $120,300 and the mean was $556,300 (guys like Bill Gates and Warren Buffett really mess things up).

Here are a few of the more interesting ones (2007 median data, 2007 dollars):
Current work status of head:

  • Working for someone else: $350,100
  • Self-employed: $1,961,300
  • Retired: $543,100
  • Other not working: $124,100

Race or ethnicity of respondent:

  • White non-Hispanic: $692,200
  • Nonwhite or Hispanic: $228,500

Housing status:

  • Owner: $778,200
  • Renter or other: $70,600

How can you use this? It’s important to remember that you can’t make broad conclusions based on this data. Owning a home can help you get a higher net worth, but it doesn’t guarantee one. On the flip side, renting doesn’t mean you’ll always have a lower net worth. The same is true for your race or ethnicity and your work status (though I would imagine “other not working” will likely have an impact in improving your net worth).

The FRB has packaged up their data into a nice 56-page document called Changes in U.S. Family Finances from 2004 to 2007: Evidence from the Survey of Consumer Finances. (25.2% of people without checking accounts gave this reason for not having one: “Do not like dealing with banks.”)

CNN Net Worth Calculator (Age, Income)

The easiest way to see how you stack up is by using CNN Money’s Net Worth calculator. I don’t know how fresh the data is, they only cite Nielsen Claritas as their source (with no date), but it’s good enough for our entertainment purposes. They offer two median net worth charts, one based on your income and one based on your age (the two charts are independent).

Age:

  • < 25: $1,475
  • 25 – 34: $8,525
  • 35 – 44: $51,575
  • 45 – 54: $98,350
  • 55 – 64: $180,125
  • 65+: $232,000

Income:

  • < $25K: $1,250
  • $25K – $49K: $34,375
  • $50K – $74K: $168,500
  • $75K – $99K: $301,475
  • $100K – $124K: $301,475
  • $125K – $149K: $644,100
  • $150K+: $1,122,900

How can you use this? It’s tough, which is why I don’t spend too much time with these things. It’s good to know where you stand based on your age and income but it doesn’t give you a good path forward. It would be more useful to know how the net worth was distributed between the different asset classes. For example, if you’re 45 with $125,000 of income, where are your assets? Do you have a home in which you have $100,000 in equity and a stock/retirement portfolio with another $250,000? Are you the $644,100 net worth person (based on income) or the $98,350 (based on age), and where is that net worth?

This is like knowing your credit score relative to the national average of credit scores, without a path forward the information is useful only for entertainment.

Average Net Worth Dropped 23%

Did you know that between the fall in the stock market and the housing market, the average American net worth fell 23% in the last year? It was reported in February in an AP story published on CBS News and while there has been a bit of a market recovery, it’s stunning to think a quarter of all assets held by Americans were wiped off the accounting books. The median net worth fell 17.8%.

How can you use this? Knowing the average went down 23% can really help you psychologically. If you saw your net worth fall by 10%, knowing nothing else, you’d probably be devastated (I know I would). It’s like seeing your retirement account fall 40% last year, it’s very painful. However, knowing that your net worth fell 10% when the rest of America, on average, fell 23%, means you’re better off than most. It means while you may have lost some, you dodged the bullet somewhat because you didn’t fall as much as the average.

Average Net Worth of Congress

A study by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics revealed that the median net worth of the incoming members of Congress is about $1.8 million, compared to the median net worth of the re-elected incumbents, which was $815,000. An executive director then says Congress “remains short on lawmakers who can personally relate to what the average American is going through financially,” which I think is an unreasonable statement when you consider $815,000 – $1.8M is not a ridiculous sum for someone who has worked as a professional and been prudent with their money for thirty or forty years. I’m not saying they’re pinching pennies or in the poorhouse, but to say they can’t personally relate is a bit inflammatory.

I’m always hesitant to put too much stock in “average” or “median” values for anything (I think net worth by age is meaningless), whether it’s net worth or average credit scores, but it’s always good to know where you stand relative to everyone else.

So, how do you stack up? :)

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100 Responses to “Average Net Worth of an American Family”

  1. King_Sol says:

    Lest we all forget and cast stones at spenders, they stimulate the economy enough to allow your fat paychecks or entrepreneurship to be able to save. Frugality is not for everyone, remember to stop by a store near you and thank the spenders for shopping.

    Also remember the bible said it is easier for an elephant to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God… This applies to life, you cant take your wealth with you and financial security means nothing to the human spirit.

    Live and let live I say!

    • Anonymous says:

      I think people are complaining about spenders who spend, but can’t afford to spend and wind up spending on credit…

  2. Anonymous says:

    Atually, it’s a Camel not an elephant.

  3. money is bad says:

    what is the point of money

  4. money is bad says:

    awesome speech :)

  5. zuidlimb says:

    In the 1960 period it was discovered that Camilo meant “thread” not camel. Now it makes sense that its as hard for a rich person to enter Heaven as it is for a camel (camilo) to go through the eye of a needle.
    The other sayings make no sense at all.

    • Eric says:

      Can you point me to a source for that?

    • jd says:

      wrong, it’s camel and eye of a needle does not refer to a sewing needle it is a stable for donkeys. Therefore it is not impossible for a rich person to get into heaven, just difficult.

      • jd says:

        stable or gateway it referred to the frame size popular for fitting a person riding a donkey some refute this but they are wrong “Eye of a Needle” was a popular phrase at the time.

  6. Steve Dunfee says:

    Wow, based on this information, Americans are very poor wealth builders. We all think we should have boats, cars, trucks, ATV’s, and all the toys BEFORE we have savings for the future, or a healthcare savings account. And let’s not even get started on the appropriate retirement funds that should be funded before ANY of the non-essentials are purchased.

    It’s terribly sad and troubling to see how bad these numbers really are, but what the hell, Obama and his team of enablers will ensure that ALL Americans qualify for some ridiculous program so that they can continue to do dumb, irresponsible money management tricks!

    I have some suggestions for all of us:
    1. Spend less
    2. Take more walks
    3. Work harder
    4. Study more, read more, etc.
    5. No fast food, alcohol, or cigs…ever!
    6. STOP relying on government programs!
    7. STOP looking to others for handouts!
    8. START working HARDER!
    9. PRAY MORE!

    • LA says:

      Here here! I see people complaining about the “rich” while they carry $1200 purses and wear $500 jackets. That’s just silly. They want the trappings of extreme wealth first and then wonder why they don’t have any money. They are taught in school how to be poor and stay that way and then we are surprised that everyone stays poor.

    • Diane M. says:

      As soon as I started doing that (44 years old)I got what is by today’s (POOR standards)RICH!

      I suggest everybody follow your rules and stay off the “Animal Farm.”

  7. John. C says:

    Forget budgets, writing expenses down etc etc. Its simple people. 50/50 its as simple as that. Put down what your gross income is (if you are married add your wife/husband’s to it). Divide by 2. Half goes into paying your Federal, State taxes and all debt, the other half is your living expenses.

    With the first 50%, after paying all your taxes, attack credit card debt. Put down all your CCs balances on paper and start paying off the smallest one first. Once that is paid off cut the card and role the payment to the next one. Repeat, rinse. Every penny needs to go into paying your CCs off this way. Once done just keep a VISA debt card since sometimes you will need one to book a hotel room or a flight, rental car etc.

    The minute you are done paying your CCs do this in this order:

    Build a 3 month expense emergency fund. Once that is done look at your 401k plan of your company and put enough to get the match if they have one. If they don’t, fully fund a Roth-IRA FIRST. Then fully fund an IRA and if there is money left over put it in your 401K. I put the 401K last because if they don’t have a match most likely the 401K at your place of employments sucks. High fees, limited choices. Hell if you can only put it in a few mutual funds and company stock and they don’t match don’t put a penny in it. Use that leftover money to buy precious metals. 80% silver 20% gold. Best prices right now for silver is in junk silver. Your Roth, and IRA should be invested into the bluest of blue chip companies that pay AND grow their dividend, year after year. You be amazed how reinvesting this divided grows your nest egg, especially when its tax free.

    The other 50% you pay everything else without going over. Yes just like the Price is Right. The minute you go a dollar over in living expenses you are toast. I know what most of you are going to say. “Well I can’t live on 50% of my gross income”. Sure you can, you just haven’t tried. If you are in a home where you pay a mortgage that cuts deep into this 50% sell the damn thing and downsize. To you need that new car or better said that 600 dollar per month payment? Can you get by with a 6 year old car you pay upfront cash for it? You guys know the drill. Here is the beauty of THIS 50%. Spend it all, especially if you have your emergency fund full funded.

    The advice I written down for you I got from my economics professor in college. Since I graduated in 1984, I have lived by this rule. When I got married in 1990 I told the wife upfront about this and not only agreed but thought it was a great idea (getting your partner to buy into this is essential). here are my results:

    2006, I walk into closing for our new home with a cashiers check of 1.2 million. House paid for in cash. Currently have 2.6 million dollars in stock, 340K in precious metals, two other paid off properties worth 350K, collectibles that are insured for 400K and an emergency cash account at 90K. Oh college for the two kids. Fully funded.

    Still live on the 50/50 rule but because I have zero debt, the family takes 3 major vacations per year, wife and I drive leased BMWs, I love my cigars and good scotch, well you get the idea. Yes our gross income is high (a little over 200K) but when we started out, we held off having kids, our vacations were walk in the park and bike riding, and we eat dinner out once every 6 months. Up until 2001 my car was a 10 year old Honda Civic and wife was driving a 8 year old Subaru.

    Today I am amazed the lifestyle one can have with a 150,000 of disposable income (don’t forget even though our gross income is 200K, we make an additional 100K in dividends so yes that is also part of the 50%)

    Its simple people the reason why our country is in such a mess is because people forget you need to work before you can enjoy the fruits of your labor, not the other way around. Our government wants a bunch of serfs they can guide by the nose and they are succeeding. Remember the golden rule, 50/50 and the old saying. Gold is for Kings, Silver for gentlemen, and debt is for slaves.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Proud to be well above average

  9. well, this is peanuts to what celebrities in America make. Salaries are counted in millions.


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