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Net Worth By Age Is Meaningless

Posted By Jim On 06/19/2008 @ 6:54 am In Personal Finance | 20 Comments

Net Worth By Age charts are mere entertainment at best and misleading at worst.

Check out this CNN Money charting tool [3] in which you enter in your age and your annual salary and it calculates some fun facts and figures. It takes your age and gives you what the median net worth figure is for each age group; it also takes your salary and gives you what the media net worth figure is for each age group. And with two numbers, you’re expected to figure out if you’re doing well, doing poorly, or just plain doing. Except you can’t.

There are simply too many variables.

Take someone who is between 25 and 34 and think of all the life changes that occur in that time period. If you didn’t go to college, you’ve probably been working for at least half a decade by the time you turn 25. Someone who did go to college likely will be a couple years into their first job by the time they hit 25. Can you compare the two? Can you honestly compare that against the median of $2,125? What if you’re 25, married and have two kids? What if you’re 25, not married, don’t have kids… is it even fair to compare the financial situation of the two 25 year olds? No way. Age is the least significant part of that equation.

What about salary? $50,000 annual salary means you should have a net worth of around $109,975. Well if a 25 year old’s net worth is around $2,125 and a $50,000 annual salaried person’s net worth is around $109,975… which is it? Which number is one supposed to believe? I know that at my first employer, someone with a bachelor’s degree in engineering could command a $50,000 salary in 2003. That person was likely younger than 25, so should they have around $2,125 or $109,975 in net worth?

If you play with these tools and find yourself ahead, that’s great. If you play with these tools and find yourself behind, you might consider it a shot across the bow if you have no extenuating or mitigating circumstances. Chances are you don’t fit into the cookie cutter scenarios so don’t get too high or low on yourself.

Net worth by age tables are fun, but take them with a ton of salt.

What do you think of these surveys and tools? Useful? Deceptive?


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[3] CNN Money charting tool: http://cgi.money.cnn.com/tools/networth_ageincome/index.html

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