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SAug 13, 2006

Yes, the Rich Have (Still) More Money

If you're young, I've got some good news.

You don't need as much money to be considered well off as you did a few years ago. A 20-something is in the top 25 percent with a net worth of only $30,000. That's down from $37,800 only three years earlier.

The other side of that coin: The wealth gap between young and older Americans is growing.

I learned this from the latest update of the Wealth Scoreboard, my tool for letting us all know how we are doing relative to the Joneses in our lives, all of whom seem to be driving Porsches---while they await delivery of their Aston Martin.

Here's how the Scoreboard works. Households in the U.S. are divided by age groups and then by the net worth required to be in the top 1 percent, top 5 percent, top 10 percent, and top 25 percent of all households in that age group. A median figure is also provided so you can tell whether you are in the top, or bottom, half of your age group.

If you are 50 to 59 years old, for instance, you'll need a net worth of at least $188,000 to be in the top half of households that age. You'll need 3 times that, $570,000, to be in the top 25 percent. And you'll need a whopping $9,554,000 to be in the top 1 percent. (See table below.)

The Wealth Scoreboard

The table shows median net worth for households, arranged by age of the chief earner. To find your rank, go to the right age category and find the net worth closest to yours. (Data are from 2004; all U.S. dollars are in nominal terms, in thousands.)

Age Group

Top 1%

Top 5%

Top 10%

Top 25%

Median

80 or Older

$3,349

$1,770

$1,149

$536

$188

70 - 79

$9,198

$1,945

$1,106

$489

$183

60 - 69

$10,188

$3,075

$1,522

$699

$232

50 - 59

$9,554

$2,223

$1,180

$570

$188

40 - 49

$4,710

$1,297

$746

$353

$113

30 - 39

$1,971

$451

$272

$121

$39

20 - 29

$607

$206

$103

$30

$6

Source: VIP Forum, based on data in the 2004 Survey of Consumer Finances
The Scoreboard is put together by VIP Forum, a Washington DC based group that does research on wealth and wealth management practices. The basic data comes from a Federal Reserve survey that is done every three years, the Survey of Consumer Finances. The last survey was done in 2004 and the first article on the results was published early this year. The Scoreboard is assembled from the survey data tapes.

Chuck Murphy, project manager at VIP Forum, said, "Mostly we've got higher numbers here. But some are lower--- such as being in the top 25 percent in your 20's and 30's." A 30-something household needed $148,000 to be in the top 25 percent in 2001 but needed only $121,000 in 2004.

On the other hand, Mr. Murphy noted, some of the older groups are getting much wealthier. To be in the top 10 percent of those 80 and over, for instance, the net worth requirement soared from $762,600 to $1,149,000--- an increase of 50.7 percent.

He also noted that those in the top 1 percent of households continued to pull away from the rest of us. To move from the top 5 percent to the top 1 percent, for instance, most households would have to triple or quadruple their wealth

What do you need to do to get into the top 1 percent?

Own your own business. Citing data from other sources, Mr. Murphy observed that 50 percent of all households with a net worth of $1 million to $10 million were business owners. But 76 percent of those with $10 million to $50 million owned a business and 89 percent of those worth more than $50 million owned a business.

Can you be well off if you have no interest in owning a business? Yes. Just check out that top 25 percent column. Get a good education, get a job, get married, stay married, and save in the 401(k) plan and you'll have no difficulty staying in the top 25 percent.

On the web:

Sunday, March 12, 2006: Recheck the Fiscal Checkup Previous Wealth Scoreboards The VIP Forum

Filed Under: Wealth Scoreboard & Life of Riley Index