How to Calculate Your Net Worth

October 11, 2012 : Amelia Granger

Editor’s Note: Before you get rollin’ with the wealth building, we need to determine exactly where we’re starting. NerdWallet explains how to calculate your current net worth (and how to get to the next level). Enjoy!

On the surface, that might sound like a silly question—how many of us walk around knowing the exact figure for the ratio of our debts to our assets? But calculating your net worth isn’t the dry, academic exercise it might sound like. Calculating your net worth means taking a long, hard look in the mirror and accurately assessing your financial situation. It’s the first step on the process towards more advanced financial planning, like saving for retirement or paying off your debts.

For instance, your net worth calculation might look like this:

 Assets Liabilities Cash in checking: \$2,000 Student loans balance: \$11,000 Cash in savings: \$5,000 Balance owed on credit cards: \$1,150 Value of car: \$10,000 Balance owed on car loan: \$8,000 Value of 401(k): \$16,000 Balance owed on other loans: \$2,000 Total: \$33,000 Total: \$22,150

Subtract total liabilities (\$22,150) from total assets (\$33,000): \$10,850

In this example, your total net worth is \$10,850.

You may find that the number is negative, meaning you have more liabilities than assets. Don’t be discouraged! While it’s not a rosy picture of financial health, you can’t fix the problem until you know the extent of the damage. Remember: net worth is unique to your situation, and a negative number doesn’t always mean your affairs are out of order. For instance, a doctor just graduating med school is likely buried in student debt, but due to the steady future income stream and employability conferred by the new degree, a negative net worth isn’t as bad as it appears. That’s what we found when we at NerdWallet recently challenged five contestants in our personal finance reality show ‘So You Think You Can Finance’ to create a net worth statement. Many of the contestants are young and just making the jump to financial independence—so the majority of them came up with a negative net worth number. Of course, it’s better to have a positive number—your net worth is an accurate way to measure how much money you truly have, so the larger your net worth number, the more well-off you are right now.

Once you have assessed your net worth, the next level is to figure out how to get from your current state to where you want to go. Again, it’s a highly individual process, but for many it will include creating a timeline for becoming debt-free, as well as creating or optimizing a retirement savings plan. Let’s take the example of Jia, one of the contestants on ‘So You Think You Can Finance’. She did a great job on the net worth challenge – but the judges questioned whether she was ready to build on her net worth foundation to achieve her long-term financial goals. Had she begun incorporating her retirement savings into what she described as a balanced and healthy net worth picture? Also, she talked a lot about how her plans for marriage to her boyfriend figured into the future—but how would he fit into the financial picture? Deciding on joint accounts, prioritizing joint expenditures and aligning future savings is a key part in building on a basic net worth statement. Below are additional examples.

• If you are planning to save \$1,000,000 for retirement, but right now you have a net worth of just \$5,000, the first thing you have to do figure out how many years you want to give yourself to reach that goal. Then assign a reasonable rate of return on your retirement savings account (this part will obviously take a little research and guesswork – a financial planner can help). From there, you can calculate how much you must save per month to reach your goal.
• If you have \$2,000 in credit card debt and you decide you want to pay it off in two years, remember to add the interest it will accrue, as well as any annual fees, into your calculation. For high-interest liabilities such as credit card debt, consider if you can it off sooner rather than later, to avoid racking up the interest payments.

Subtracting your liabilities from your assets may seem like a simple math problem, but a well-thought out net worth statement is an important foundation you can build all your future financial planning on top of. So go ahead and calculate your financial worth, and let us know in the comments how you’re going to use it to plan your financial future!

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