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What it takes to feel rich in America

While millionaires describing themselves as middle class may seem odd, the reality is that the general consensus in America is that $1 million isn't what it used to be — and it's no longer enough to be "rich."

Recent analysis of what it means to be “super wealthy” nearing retirement (when ideally you’ll have accumulated most of your net worth) and you’d need to nearly double that $1 million to land in the “well-off” category.

To fall in the top 1%, you’d need a net worth of $16.7 million. Just interested in being considered wealthy? Well, you’ll need at least $3.2 million to qualify.

Of course that $3.2 million to your name might not feel so hefty in certain areas of the country, like New York, where 1 in 24 residents are millionaires or California, which is not only one of the most expensive states to live, it also comes with high taxes.

This regional variation helps to explain why the numbers are so high in the first place. And a Bankrate study shows that the more you earn, the more you think it takes to be considered rich, which makes sense considering most individuals with money tend to be surrounded by others with more of it. This only ups the ante for the wealthy. After all, if you have one mansion, but your neighbor has two and a summer home in Europe, your own impressive home may begin to seem like nothing special.

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What does it actually take to be rich in America?

We know what amount of money Americans think they need to be in the upper class, but how much do they actually require?

To determine that, it's helpful to look at the median value of household wealth by percentile. Here's that data from 2022 Census Bureau research:

  • 10th percentile: $0
  • 25th percentile: $16,560
  • 50th percentile: $166,900
  • 75th percentile: $604,900
  • 90th percentile: $1,623,000

This means that 1-in-10 households have $0 in wealth or less, while half of all households have a net worth of $166,900 or less. With that in mind, a net worth of $604,900 would put you in the upper 25% of American households and having $1 million or more should make you firmly a member of the upper class.

Of course, it's important to remember that net worth is calculated by adding up your assets and then subtracting your liabilities. If you have $1 million in a brokerage account but $2 million in debt without other valuable assets to show for it, then your net worth is actually in the negative.

This means you stand the best chance of being — and feeling — wealthy by investing in assets that go up in value, keeping your debt balance down, and surrounding yourself with smart spenders who know a lavish lifestyle isn't what's going to grow your net worth in the end.

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Christy Bieber Freelance Writer

Christy Bieber a freelance contributor to Moneywise, who has been writing professionally since 2008. She writes about everything related to money management and has been published by NY Post, Fox Business, USA Today, Forbes Advisor, Credible, Credit Karma, and more. She has a JD from UCLA School of Law and a BA in English Media and Communications from the University of Rochester.

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