Compare your progress Now that you know how well you're doing, see how plump your net worth and major assets are when measured against the holdings of other Americans like you. You may be rather pleasantly surprised.
By John Manners <

(MONEY Magazine) – If you've completed the worksheets in the previous story, you know what progress you've made toward financial security. Now we'll show you how your assets compare with those of your peers. The tables on this page and page 96 show the median holdings of various groups of Americans, as compiled by the U.S. Census Bureau for 1988 (the most recent data available) and estimated by MONEY. If you check these figures against the ones on your worksheets, you may find you have reason to feel good about yourself. The Census Bureau's analysis of what Americans own is less comprehensive than the review of your finances we guide you through on pages 90 to 93. The government's net-worth figures in the table below omit some assets we include in our worksheet, and its categories of assets, listed in the table on page 96, are not quite the same as the ones we recommend for sorting your holdings. For instance, Census doesn't keep tabs on 401(k) savings plans. Yet for millions of people, these plans are their second biggest asset after their homes and will soon be No. 1, according to Ted Lavelle, a senior vice president of sales at Fidelity Institutional Retirement Services in Boston. Still, you can make rough comparisons. And as you size yourself up, don't worry if you find that your holdings in various categories don't match the medians for your age group. Each median is calculated only for households that own the asset in question, and in most cases, that's a distinct minority. Only 9% of all households, for example, hold rental real estate. By contrast, 73% of U.S. households have interest-bearing bank accounts and CDs. You can tease patterns from the broad data that offer glimpses of your personal future. For instance, the tables show that assets increase dramatically with age. Wealth, after all, is a function of two factors: income, which enables you to save, and time, which allows your savings to grow. Given enough of both, and a minimal level of prudence, your assets are reasonably certain to mount up. And they are likely to continue to mount even after you stop working. For the most prosperous 60% of U.S. households -- those earning $20,400 or more a year -- accumulation of assets continues in retirement. The first three lines of the table on page 94 represent the top three quintiles -- or fifths -- of the population. (The fourth line, $75,000 and up, is an extrapolation from Census Bureau data for a portion of the highest quintile -- roughly the top 9%.) In each of the top three quintiles, median net worth rises at least 46% every 10 years, often more than doubling. The median for all households (shown on the bottom line) also increases substantially through age 65 but then tails off. That's because there are so many people over 65 in the lower two quintiles, and most are depleting their assets faster than those assets are appreciating. The same pattern of growth holds for most assets, as shown in the table above. The value of each category increases from one age group to the next at least until age 65, and in four categories, that increase continues even after 65. Growth is most notable in the biggest asset for nearly every age group and income category: home equity. It represents 43% of the net worth of the median household, and its value is more than three times as large for people over 65 as for those ages 16 to 34. Clearly, a growing net worth is something Americans can practically depend on. Aggregate household net worth has risen every year in the past 40 except for dips of less than 1% in 1962 and 1990. The drop in 1990, the latest year for which figures are available, was triggered by a rare fall in home equity, when the recession lowered house prices while the tax law encouraged owners to take out home-equity loans. Most housing analysts say it's unlikely that home equity will take another slide anytime soon, though they expect only modest appreciation in the next few years, in part because of the shrinking number of first-time home buyers. As the previous article explained, however, leverage and tax benefits can significantly boost your real estate returns. Besides, even if your home doesn't appreciate as quickly as you had hoped, your other assets are likely to continue to grow. They should put you closer to the financial security you seek -- assuming you allocate them according to the guidelines in the following article.

CHART: NOT AVAILABLE CREDIT: Tables by Lesley Alderman Source: U.S. Census Bureau CAPTION: Taking a look at what the Joneses have Americans' median net worth by age and income The table below shows you how your net worth stacks up against that of other Americans, including those of your age and income level. The ages are those of ( the head of the household. Bear in mind that these median net worth figures were compiled by the U.S. Census Bureau in 1988 and do not reflect the value of insurance, pensions or personal assets such as collectibles and jewelry. (They do, however, include cars.) So for a better comparison, subtract such items from the net-worth figure you derived on page 92.

CHART: NOT AVAILABLE CREDIT: Tables by Lesley Alderman Source: U.S. Census Bureau CAPTION: Sorting out what the Joneses have Americans' holdings in 10 asset categories This table offers a sneak peek at how much Americans who are invested in various assets actually have in each one. The U.S. Census Bureau, which compiles these data, sifts assets into slightly different categories than we recommend you use to review your holdings. For example -- strange as it seems -- the government combines stocks, stock mutual funds and bond mutual funds into one category and lumps individual bonds with money-market funds. The category called OTHER REAL ESTATE EQUITY refers to vacation homes and land. Still, you can make a rough comparison between your holdings as recorded in the worksheet on page 90 and the totals above. The column on the far right shows the median amount owned by the top 20% of U.S. households: those earning more than $46,600, whose median net worth is $117,770.