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Are You Better Off Financially Than the Average American?

By Todd Campbell - Sep 20, 2015 at 6:03AM

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Comparing net worth, income, debt and retirement nest eggs for the typical American.

Is your net worth higher or lower than people of a similar age? How does your pay compare with others? Do you have more debt than the average Joe or Jane? Do you have more or less money set aside for retirement than your neighbors? 

Knowing how you stack up financially to your peers can offer up insight that allows you to make changes that can secure your financial future, so let's take a closer look at how you stack up against the average American.

Net worth varies widely
Last year, the Federal Reserve released its triennial Survey of Consumer Finances, and that report sheds valuable insight into Americans' net worth that is a bit disappointing.

Despite a multi-year recovery in housing and stock markets that has boosted the net worth of the wealthiest people, the majority of Americans over age 45 saw their median net worth fall, and as a result, the typical American's net worth dipped by a median 2% between 2010 and 2013.

Overall, Americans' median net worth totals $81,200, but that amount varies significantly depending on age.

Americans between 65 and 74 have a median net worth of $232,100, while those between 35 and 44 have a median net worth of $46,700.

Net worth also varies significantly depending on education. People who have a college degree sport a median net worth of $219,400, but the net worth for people without a high school diploma is only $17,200.

Parsing paychecks
Economic growth has led to falling unemployment, but income gains have been slow to materialize, and that's a big reason net worth hasn't improved for many Americans.

The Fed's survey shows that people reporting income that was typical, or usual, saw their median income improve 2% in the 2010 to 2013 period; however, median income fell 6% for those under 35 to $35,300 and 7% to $60,900 for those between age 45 and 54.

Distilling debt
Although net worth and income didn't make a lot of headway in recent years, Americans have done a good job at whittling away at their debt.

The amount that indebted Americans owe in debt obligations dropped a median 20% during the survey's three-year period, primarily because Americans are relying less on loans on their home, but also because the number of families relying on revolving credit card balances has fallen and the median amount owed on credit cards has dropped by 18%.

Overall, the typical American is saddled with a median $115,000 in home loans and a median $2,300 in credit card debt. If we consider average credit card debt instead of median debt, then Americans owe $5,700 on their credit cards.

Repairing retirement
A significant percentage of Americans are worried that their retirement savings are going to come up short, and the survey's results show that people in the bottom half of income earners are participating less in retirement accounts than in the past.

That's a shame, because people who are socking away money in retirement accounts saw their account values climb to a median $59,000 in 2013, up 25% from 2010.

Tying it together
If you're coming up a bit shy on these measures, don't fret. Instead, it could be the perfect time to take action. Even small commitments to long-term investments or credit card balances add up over time, and because of that, adding an extra 1% to your 401(k) or 403(b) contribution and making an extra payment every quarter on your credit card debt can have a big impact on your financial security. 

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