When I hear the term “net worth”, I first think about extremely wealthy people, the kind of people who have so much money that they pay people to manage it for them, the kind of people who get profiled in Forbes’ list of the wealthiest people in the world. Warren Buffett. Bill Gates. Oprah. Those folks.
But really we all have a net worth. It’s simply a measure of how much you have (assets) versus how much you owe (liabilities). And it can be a handy grade for how you’re doing financially. If your net worth is negative, you’re probably in trouble. If it’s positive, in theory you’re doing OK. If it’s very high, you’re probably doing well. However, it’s not that simple. If you could instantly sell all your assets and use the money to pay off all your debts if necessary, you’d still be above water if your net worth is positive. But some assets like houses aren’t so easy to sell. Even some financial assets, such as retirement accounts or CDs, aren’t the same as cash in the bank because they are more difficult to use and can involve penalties if used too soon.
Our situation is pretty straightforward. Our main assets are our retirement accounts and our home. The same is probably true for many of you. Our secondary assets include shorter-term investments, cash, two vehicles, and personal property. Our only liabilities are the mortgage for the house and some student loans.
I won’t post our numbers here since it seems a bit tacky, but there are people who are very open about their net worth and even post it on their blogs or turn it into an online competition. Curious about how you compare to your peers? Try CNN Money’s Net Worth Calculator.
To figure out our net worth, we could go old-school and list all our assets and liabilities on a piece of paper and add everything up, as explained in this article on About.com. Or we could hire a financial advisor like my friend Chris who has lots of letters after his/her name. But instead, we do it the easy way – make Mint.com do all the work for us and update it whenever we want.
A couple of years ago, I told you in this post about Mint, a personal finance website that can pull in your financial data from a variety of different sources and organize it a single convenient view. It can easily add up all your assets and liabilities and calculate your current net worth so you know how you’re doing. It’s not perfect. Certain websites that have unusual security measures such as multi-level authentication don’t play nicely with Mint. However, most of them work just fine. If you’re concerned about security, know that Mint has no ability to make transactions on your accounts, only to retrieve current balances. And it even has an iPhone app. Every day I use my phone to see which transactions have cleared and how much I have in my accounts. It’s been a bit depressing lately since my stock and fund balances have been declining in the market downturn, but at least I know where I stand overall. I hope you do as well, whether it’s through Mint, Quicken, a financial professional, or your own hard work.