What is Net Worth?


Net worth is an important measure of wealth. For individuals, net worth is total assets minus total debts. So, net worth is the value of the assets remaining after all debts are paid.

Net worth is one of the most important metrics in personal finance.


Net worth definition

Net worth is a measure of wealth. It is the sum of the assets owned by a person or household, minus any debts. If assets are higher than debts, the net worth is positive. If the liabilities are larger than the assets, the person has a negative net worth.

Net worth is important because it is a measure of financial health. If a person has a negative net worth, they owe more than the sum of their assets. This indicates poor financial health.

As net worth grows, the person’s financial health improves. Tracking net worth over time can show how much a person’s financial health has improved.

The formula for net worth is net worth = total assets – total liabilities. Net worth is also called net assets because it shows the assets remaining after the debts were paid.

Assets are resources owned by a person or a household. Liabilities are debts the household owes to creditors.


net worth formula
Net Worth Formula

For example, assume John’s assets are $120,000 and his debts are $50,000. So his net worth is $70,000. See the example below.

net worth example
Net Worth Example

To calculate net worth, households need a list of personal assets and liabilities.

Personal assets

The following assets are typical personal assets:

  • cash in bank or money market accounts
  • value of cars and other vehicles
  • retirement accounts such as a 401k, IRA, and Roth IRA
  • investment accounts with stocks and mutual funds
  • value of a house or other real estate
  • collectibles, antiques, or jewelry
  • value of ownership in a business

Personal liabilities

The following list shows a list of personal liabilities:

  • car loans
  • student loans
  • mortgage loans
  • credit card balances
  • other personal loans

From the total assets subtract total liabilities to calculate net worth.


Net worth example

Assume Mary, age 35, wants to calculate her net worth. First, she needs a list of her assets. Her assets are:

Household AssetsAmount
Cash in bank accounts$ 10,000
Value of car$ 20,000
Investments$ 35,000
Retirement account$ 55,000
Home$ 200,000
Total Assets$ 320,000
Total Assets

Second, Mary needs a list of her personal liabilities. She has the following debts:

Household LiabilitiesAmount
Credit card balance$ 5,000
Student loan $ 30,000
Car loan$ 15,000
Home loan$ 175,000
Total Liabilities$ 225,000
Total Liabilities

What is Mary’s net worth? Since total assets are $320,000 and total debts are $225,000, Mary’s net worth is $95,000. Mary’s calculation is below.

Net WorthAmount
Total Assets$ 320,000
Total Liabilities$ (225,000)
Net Worth$ 95,000
Net Worth Calculation

Average net worth vs. median net worth

In the U.S., the average net worth is shown in two ways: the mean and the median.

The average (mean) net worth in the U.S. is $748,800. This is from the Federal Reserve 2019 data, the most recent year the data is available.

However, the median net worth in the U.S. is $121,700. So, which one should we use?

One of the problems with calculating a mean is that means are skewed by large numbers. In this case, large net worth numbers would increase the mean significantly. So, the $748,800 does not show the typical household.

In contrast to the mean, the median is not affected by large or small numbers. The median is the middle number of the data set. So, the median is more representative of a typical household than the mean. The median shows the middle value. 50% of the households are above the median and 50% below it.

So, use the median for financial metrics like income and net worth.


Median net worth by age

In 2019, the median U.S. household net worth was $121,700. This is the overall median for all ages. For most people, that number isn’t very helpful.

Net worth increase over a person’s lifetime. So, compare your net worth by your age. So, what is the median net worth by age?

The following table and graph show the medians by age. The youngest age bracket, 18-24, has the lowest median net worth. One reason is young people are just starting their careers. Another reason is that some young people have negative net worth because of student loans early in their careers.

AgeMedian
Net Worth
Average
Net Worth
18-24$8,216$28,707
25-29$7,512$49,388
30-34$35,112$122,700
35-39$55,519$274,112
40-44 $127,345$623,694
45-49$164,197$761,560
50-54$171,320$897,663
55-59$193,549$1,165,477
60-64$228,833$1,187,730
65-69$271,805$1,250,679
70-74$258,531$1,173,653
75-79$272,976$945,480
80 +$235,193$973,141
U.S. Average and Median Net Worth by Age

To understand the chart, find the median for the age category. From the previous example, Mary is 35 years old with a $95,000 net worth. The median for her age is $55,519. This means half of the households are above $55,519 with half below.

Mary is in the top half of her age category. She has a higher net worth than the typical household. So, she is doing better than most households.

The following graph shows the same information as the previous table. As people get older, the median net worth increases until the retirement years of 75+.

U.S Median Net Worth by Age

Additional net worth questions

Can you have a negative net worth?

Yes, negative net worth is when the debts are greater than the household assets. To eliminate the negative net worth, pay off debts or increase assets.


Does every person or household have a net worth?

Every household has assets and/or debts. So, yes every household has a net worth. It could be negative or positive, but it would still be net worth.

Adults who own assets and debts would have a net worth. Typically minor children do not own assets and do not have a net worth.


What is a millionaire?

A millionaire is a person with a net worth of at least $1 million dollars. So, their assets exceed their liabilities by at least one million. Technically, net worth is calculated by households. However, the term millionaire usually refers to individuals.


What is a high net worth individual (HNWI)?

A millionaire is also called a high net worth individual (HNWI). Some definitions of HNWI require at least $1 million of liquid investments not including home equity.

There are additional categories of high net worth individuals:

  • High net worth individuals (HNWI) have liquid assets between $1 – $5 million.
  • Very high net worth individuals (VHNWI) have liquid assets between $5 – $30 million.
  • Ultra high net worth individuals (UHNWI) have liquid assets greater than $30 million.

What is a billionaire?

A billionaire has a net worth of at least $1 billion. So, their assets exceed their debts by at least one billion. There are an estimated 2,700 billionaires worldwide.


What is another name for net worth?

Net worth for an individual is also called wealth, or net assets.

Net worth for a company is called stockholders’ equity, equity, or net assets.


Net worth calculator

This calculator is an easy way to calculate your net worth. You need an estimate of the value of your personal assets. You will also need to find your loan balances for your debts.

You can use different amounts for different dates to start tracking your net worth. Knowing your net worth is a great habit to start.



Sources:

Federal Reserve: Changes in U.S. Family Finances from 2016 to 2019


More on net worth

What is Net Worth?

U.S Average Net Worth by Age

U.S. Average Net Worth by Age 30

U.S. Average Net Worth by Age 40

U.S. Average Net Worth by Age 50

U.S. Average Net Worth by Age 60

U.S. Average Net Worth by Age 70

U.S. Average Net Worth by Age 80


Jeff Mankin

Jeff Mankin teaches financial literacy. His website is FinallyLearn.com.

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