Everything is relative when it comes to money. If we all earn $1 million dollars a year and have $5 million in the bank at the age of 40, none of us are very wealthy given all our costs (housing, food, transportation, vacations) will be priced at levels that squeeze us to the very end. As such, we must first get an idea of what the real average net worth is in our respective countries, and then figure out the average net worth of the above average person!
According to CNN Money 2014, the average net worth for the following ages are: $9,000 for ages 25-34, $52,000 for ages 35-44, $100,000 for ages 45-54, $180,000 for ages 55-64, and $232,000+ for 65+. Seems very low, but that’s because we use averages and a large age range.
After a 13% rise in the S&P 500 in 2014, surely the average net worth has increased even further for 2015.
The Above Average Person is loosely defined as:
1) Someone who went to college and believes grades and a good work ethic do matter.
2) Does not irrationally spend more than they make.
3) Saves for the future because they realize at some point they no longer are willing or able to work.
4) Takes responsibility for their own actions when things go wrong and learns from the situation to make things better.
5) Takes action by leveraging free tools on the internet to track their net worth, minimize investment fees, manage their budget, and stay on top of their finances in general. Once you know where all your money is, it becomes much easier to optimize your wealth and make it grow.
6) Welcomes constructive criticism and is not overly sensitive from friends, loved ones, and strangers in order to keep improving. Keeping an open mind is critical.
7) Has a healthy amount of self-esteem to be able to lead change and believe in themselves.
8) Enjoys empowering themselves through learning, whether it be through books, personal finance blogs, magazines, seminars, continuing education and so forth.
9) Has little-to-no student loan debt due to scholarships, part-time work, or help from their parents. Our parents have saved and invested through the largest bull market in history. It’s understandable that parents want to help their children out.
Now that we have a rough definition of what “above average” means, we can take a look at the tables I’ve constructed based on the tens of thousands of past comments by you and posts I’ve written to highlight the average net worth of the above average person.
THE ABOVE AVERAGE NET WORTH DECONSTRUCTED
First, we must highlight what the average tax-deferred retirement savings plan is for those in America. We’ll focus on the simple 401K system we have here where one can contribute $18,000 of their pre-tax income every year in 2015 (was $17,500 in 2014).
This chart can be used as a rough estimate for those with the RRSP plan in Canada, and retirement plans in Europe and Australia as well. In fact, any country that has any sort of tax-deferred retirement plan and social safety net program for retirement that has a GDP/capita of $30,000 or more can use the below chart as an aspirational guide. Remember, we are talking about the “above average person.”
FINANCIAL SAMURAI TAX DEFERRED (401K) SAVINGS GUIDE
The assumption here is that the above average person is able to start maxing out their tax-deferred retirement plan every year after the second full year of work, and continue on without fail until 65. The low and high end account for 0% to a relatively conservative 5% constant rate of return. Of course you can lose money and make much more if you are good and lucky.
This chart does not take into consideration any after-tax savings post 401K contribution. To understand what the average after-tax savings rate is post tax-deferred retirement contribution is a gargantuan task because there are too many assumptions that are debatable eg. income and after-tax savings rate post maximum pre-tax retirement contributions. That said, I’ll offer a base case guide anyway.
FINANCIAL SAMURAI POST-TAX SAVINGS GUIDE
The above chart assumes on the low end that one saves about $5,000 a year in after-tax income and around $10,000-$15,000 a year in after-tax income on the high-end after maxing out their tax-deferred retirement vehicle. I’ve tried to keep things as simple as possible, assuming no inflation and no investment returns. I also believe saving $5,000-$15,000 a year in after-tax income is very realistic for the above average person, and probably very easy for many who earn more than $85,000 per person. Finally, the chart should show you the power of consistency.
THE IMPORTANCE OF REAL ESTATE
A 2010 study showed that the average net worth of a homeowner is roughly $200,000, or 40X greater than the average renter’s net worth of $5,000. We can debate the merits of this study (done by a real estate association of course) all day long (demographic sampling, housing price changes, etc), but the point is, “above average” people generally all own homes and are wealthier, be it 2X wealthier or 40X wealthier than the average renter.
The return on rent is always -100%. You get a place to live and that’s that. There is never a positive return on an asset after a month, or 30 years of renting. A renter cannot pass on her paid off house to her kids or grandchildren. There is no asset accumulation at all. There is a reason why some 97% of millionaires are property owners.
The value of real estate varies across all the land and the world. It is very hard to make an assumption of what should be inputted as a result. According to the US Census bureau, the median home price in America is $221,800 while the average home price is $272,900. You can’t get anything livable in San Francisco, New York City, Los Angeles, and maybe even Washington DC and Boston for $250,000. But, you sure can in the mid west for $250,000.
Hence, let’s construct an equity value chart of something based on a range of $250,000-$500,000, with the assumption that upon retirement, you have your house paid off and can attribute this amount into your net worth, or the capitalized value of all rents you would pay if you did not own.
FINANCIAL SAMURAI HOME EQUITY ACCUMULATION GUIDE
I assume that the above average person buys a $250,000-$500,000 piece of property at 27. By the time they turn 28, they will have owned the property for 1 year and have paid down $3,500-$7,500 in principal on a $250,000-$400,000 loan. I conservatively assume a $250,000 no money down loan for the low end house, even though after 5 years of working, the low-end above average person should have around $25,000-$30,000 saved up in cash based on the after-tax savings charts above.
By the time a 27 year old pays off his or her mortgage in 30 years, s/he will be 57 years old with a place to live rent from for the rest of his/her life. That is the true value of the property, the rent saved for the remainder of the owner’s life. It can be calculated as the present value of those future rental payments, or simply the market value of the home. I assume zero price appreciation on the home to keep things conservative and no extra payments to accelerate the payoff either.
Home prices have historically returned just a bit above inflation every year e.g. 2-3%. But given the above average person puts down about 20%, the 2-3% returns suddenly turns into a 10%-15% cash-on-cash per year. 10-15% compares favorably to the average S&P 500 return of roughly 8%. Add on the tax benefits for mortgage interest deduction and owning a home through a mortgage becomes very beneficial for higher income earners.
THE X FACTOR
So far, we’ve touched upon pre-tax savings, after-tax savings, investment returns of 0 for those savings to remain conservative, and real estate. You need to spend less than you earn for that inevitable day you no longer have an income. You also need to live somewhere, hence, you should own your property if you know you will be there for much longer than 5-10 years.
There’s something missing in all of this, and that something is what I call the X Factor. Above average people seem to always be thinking of new ways to build wealth. There is an optimism about them that no matter what happens, they can always find ways to make more money. It’s hard to quantify what that X Factor is for the average above average person, but it’s there somehow through music, writing, athletics, communication, entrepreneurship, hustling, and so much more.
The great thing about savings and real estate is that the process is highly automatic. If you implement the plan and wake up 10 years later, you will inevitably be worth much more provided you keep your job and your home. Given savings and building equity in your home over the next several decades is largely automatic, the X Factor comes out because you have so much more free time to do something else!
THE AVERAGE NET WORTH OF THE ABOVE AVERAGE PERSON
I have gone ahead and averaged the averages for pre-tax savings, post-tax savings, and real estate equity progress in the spreadsheet below. The pre and post tax savings can be invested however you see fit and is a topic of another post. Another thing to note is taxation, given pre-tax savings have to eventually be withdrawn and taxed. Again, these are rough estimates to give you an idea of the average net worth of the above average person.
There you have it! Based on my assumptions above, the average net worth of the above average 30 year old is around $250,000. By the time this person is 40, his/her net worth should climb to around $660,000 and all the way up to around $2,180,000 million by the age of 60.
The key is to stay disciplined with your savings and investing routine. With a proper asset or net worth allocation, you’ll be amazed at how far your net worth will grow over time.
Of course some of you above average Financial Samurai readers will have a total net worth much higher than the chart. But then, I’d have to write another post entitled, “The Average Net Worth Of Financial Rockstars!”
Recommended Actions For Increasing Your Net Worth
* Manage Your Finances In One Place: The best way to build wealth is to get a handle on your finances by signing up with Personal Capital. They are a free online platform which aggregates all your financial accounts on their Dashboard so you can see where you can optimize. Before Personal Capital, I had to log into eight different systems to track 28 different accounts (brokerage, multiple banks, 401K, etc) to track my finances. Now, I can just log into Personal Capital to see how my stock accounts are doing, how my net worth is progressing, and where my spending is going. You also get your net worth amount sent to your inbox weekly.
One of their best tools is the 401K Fee Analyzer which has helped me save over $1,700 in annual portfolio fees I had no idea I was paying. You just click on the Investment Tab and run your portfolio through their fee analyzer with one click of the button. Their Investment Checkup tool is also great because it graphically shows whether your investment portfolios are property allocated based on your risk profile. There is no better free online tool that has helped me stay on top of my finances more than Personal Capital. It’s important to aggregate all your accounts to get an entire view of your net worth profile. It only takes a minute to sign up.
* Check Your Credit Score: Check your credit score at least once a year given the risk of identity theft as well as the importance of having a good credit score when borrowing money, apply for a mortgage, and applying for a job. For over a year, I thought I had a 790ish credit score and was fine, until my mortgage refinance bank on day 80 of my refinance told me they could not go through due to a $8 late payment by my tenants from two years ago. My credit score was hit by 110 points to 680 and I could not get the lowest rate. I had to spend an extra 10 days fixing my score by contacting the utility company to write a “Clear Credit Letter” to get the bank to follow through. Check your credit score for free here at GoFreeCredit.com and protect yourself.
Completely updated 1/27/2015.