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Banking

Generational Wealth Gap Is Greater Than 20 Years Ago

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

The golden years have never glittered so bright, according to a recent MagnifyMoney analysis of Federal Reserve data that revealed baby boomers possess a much higher net worth than Americans in their age group 20 years ago.

Meanwhile, today’s millennials lag a little compared with their counterparts in 1998. In short, today’s baby boomers (ages 52 to 70 in 2016) are rolling in wealth while young adults struggle to stay above debt.

Key takeaways

    • The average millennial (ages 20 to 35 in 2016) has a net worth of $100,800 in 2019. By comparison, the average Generation Xer (ages 36 to 51) has a net worth of $509,100 and the average baby boomer has an average net worth of $1,210,100. The median net worth for millennials is $13,600, compared with $94,500 for Gen X and $206,700 for baby boomers.

    • The net worth gap between older and younger Americans has widened into a chasm during the last 20 years. In 1998, the average older household amassed roughly seven times the net worth of younger households ($747,600 versus $103,400). In 2019, the average boomer household has 12 times the net worth of a millennial household ($1,210,100 vs. $100,800).

    • Similarly, the median net worth of both millennials and Gen Xers is less than their age cohorts in 1998, while today’s baby boomers are slightly wealthier than their counterparts 20 years ago.

  • Millennial households have $2,600 less in net worth than those their age in 1998, when they had an average net worth of $103,400 in inflation-adjusted dollars. Meanwhile, the average baby boomer net worth has nearly doubled from households their age in 1998, from $747,600 in 1998 to $1,210,100 in 2019.
  • Despite being the youngest, millennials have liabilities (such as debt) in far greater proportions than the other age groups studied — roughly 44% the size of their assets. The 20-to-35 age group in 1998 only had liabilities 36% the size of their assets.

What is net worth and why is it important?

A person’s net worth is all their assets minus any liabilities. Net worth paints one of the most accurate portraits of someone’s financial health since it takes into account looming obligations like student or credit card debt, as well as assets such as home equity, investments and savings.

Examples of AssetsExamples of Liabilities
Home equityMortgage
Investments in stocks and bondsCredit card debt
Car (owned, not leased)Student loan debt
Cash value of whole life insuranceMedical expenses

You’ll notice that although assets help boost your net worth, not every asset is easy to convert into cash.

For example, if you own a car (or a plane or a yacht), it counts as an asset because, in theory, you can turn it into money should the need arise by selling it. But as anyone who has ever tried to sell a used car or even a house can attest, what the market will give you for the asset may not be what you expected. Not to mention an asset such as your vehicle or house fulfills a vital need (like getting you to work or providing you shelter) that you’ll have to satisfy one way or the other. Nonetheless, experts classify the value of these not-too-liquid sources of wealth as assets.

While one’s net worth can fluctuate dramatically depending on life events (think of all the debt assumed by taking out a mortgage on your first home or from student loans), the overall trend serves as a good measure of how well someone is meeting their financial obligations. Here’s the current breakdown of assets and liabilities for each of the age groups examined:


For today’s millennials, liabilities such as debt are about 44% of their assets. While Gen Xers have a greater amount of liabilities, they also have more assets, so liabilities are only roughly 24% of their assets. Boomers have the most advantageous ratio of liabilities to assets, with liabilities at only about 8% of their assets.

To find out your net worth, you can use Charles Schwab’s worksheet or calculators from Kiplinger or CNN Money, among many other options.

Methodology

MagnifyMoney examined the most recent Federal Reserve data on household assets and liabilities and estimated the average increase in household asset and liability data based on economic data from the Federal Reserve and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., as of March 2019. Values for all dates are in inflation-adjusted dollars.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

James Ellis
James Ellis |

James Ellis is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email James here

Advertiser Disclosure

Reviews

Wealthfront Cash Account Review

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

Fintech startups are challenging incumbents in every corner of the financial services industry. Robo-advisor Wealthfront is part of this trend, one of many new investing apps that also offer cash management accounts with high APYs and a mix of features offered by traditional bank accounts.

Cash management accounts combine features like easy access to your money and a decent interest rate, typically found separately in checking accounts and savings accounts, respectively.  Wealthfront admits that its Cash Account won’t replace your checking account, instead touting it as a place to stash your emergency savings or achieve other savings goals and enjoy a high 2.57% APY, all with the FDIC protections of a traditional bank account.

Wealthfront Cash Account Pros

Wealthfront Cash Account Cons

  • Offers a high APY compared to other online savings accounts
  • Charges zero fees, $1 minimum balance requirement
  • Deposits are covered by FDIC insurance up to $1 million
  • Ability transfer funds from Cash Account into Wealthfront's taxable investment account.
  • Takes 1-3 business days to access your funds
  • You cannot make payments from the account

Let’s take a closer look at how Wealthfront’s Cash Account compares to both traditional bank savings accounts, and similar cash management offerings from other fintech startups, so you can determine whether it’s right for your savings.

Wealthfront Cash Account vs. online savings accounts

Wealthfront markets its Cash Account as a place to deposit savings you plan on spending in the next five years, or as a good place for an emergency fund. For longer-term returns on your money, Wealthfront advocates investing in the stock market using its core robo-advisor functionality. As an additional incentive to do so, Wealthfront allows you to transfer money from your Cash Account into one of the company’s taxable investment accounts. However, there is nothing in Wealthfront‘s terms of service that would discourage you from treating this account like any other online savings account.

Here’s how Wealthfront’s Cash Account stacks up against the highest-earning online savings accounts from our best online savings accounts review:

Financial InstitutionAPYMinimum balance
Wealthfront

2.57%

$1 minimum, no monthly fee
Vio Bank

2.52%

$100 minimum, no monthly fee
Customers Bank

2.50%

$25,000 minimum, no monthly fee
Barclays

2.10%

None
Marcus by Goldman Sachs

2.15%

$1 minimum, no monthly fee
Ally

2.10%

None

Judged by APY alone, Wealthfront‘s Cash Account emerges as one of the strongest contenders out there, surpassed only by Vio Bank’s online savings account. Like many online savings accounts, there’s a limit to the liquidity of the money placed in Wealthfront‘s Cash Account.

However, there is no option to withdraw funds or make payments from the account via check or ATM card. Your only way to get money into and out of the account is via ACH transfers to and from a separate checking account that’s held in your name. Transfers take one to three business days, and Wealthfront permits an unlimited number of transfers into and out of your Cash Account (with a daily limit of $250,000).

Wealthfront is not a bank, so it has deals with a network of regional banks that are FDIC insured. After you deposit your money in a Cash Account, your funds are swept into multiple accounts with Wealthfront’s bank partners, giving you FDIC insurance coverage up to $1 million (or $2 million if you have a joint Cash Account). This a big advantage that makes the Cash Account an attractive choice for anyone who wants FDIC coverage beyond the $250,000 limit available with a single online savings account.

Wealthfront Cash Account vs. robo-advisor cash management accounts

Many other robo-advisor firms offer cash management accounts. These accounts take varying forms: Some resemble a personal savings account, others have both savings and checking account features, while some are a type of investment account. Below we compare the Wealthfront Cash Account with cash management offerings from robo-advisors Betterment and SoFi.

Account nameFunctionFeesYield
Wealthfront Cash Account

FDIC-insured savings account

None

2.57% APY

Betterment Smart Saver

Low-risk bond investments

0.25% annual fee

2.14% APY

SoFi Money

FDIC-insured checking/savings hybrid account

None

An average of 2.25% APY

Wealthfront Cash Account vs. Betterment Smart Saver

Betterment‘s Smart Saver account is a low-risk investment account, not a deposit account, so it plays by a different set of rules than Wealthfront‘s Cash Account. For one, as an investment it does not have FDIC coverage. Betterment‘s website claims you could earn returns of 2.14% (which factors in the standard 0.25% Betterment charges for its services) — notice the word “could.” Money placed in the Smart Saver account is invested in a mix of treasuries and corporate bonds—fairly safe investment vehicles—but it still can’t guarantee the 2.14% return in the same way a deposit account can guarantee an APY.

The Smart Saver account does have some bells and whistles that may make it an appealing choice for your savings. These include:

  • Smart Sweep: This feature aims to maximize your investing returns by only maintaining as much cash in your linked checking account as you need for day-to-day spending. It works like this: After giving  access to your checking account, the app analyses how you spend money. Then it sweeps money above and beyond what you need to pay 35 days of expenses — up to $5,000 per sweep — into the Smart Saver investment account. Likewise, if the app thinks you’ll need more money to cover your expenses, it will sweep money from the Smart Saver investment account into your checking account. You can read more details here.
  • Tax relief: While you can’t avoid paying taxes entirely, the fact that 80% of the money placed in the Smart Saver investment account will be invested in U.S. Treasury bonds means that some of the earnings from the Smart Saver account won’t be subject to state and local taxes. You can read more details here.

Like Wealthfront’s account, there is an inconvenient waiting period to withdraw money from the account — four to five business days, which is longer than Wealthfront‘s one to three business days. This longer period accounts for the fact that your money is invested in bonds, making it less liquid than funds placed with Wealthfront in FDIC-insured deposit accounts.

Wealthfront Cash Account vs. SoFi Money

SoFi Money is a checking and savings hybrid account, meaning you earn both a high yield — 2.25% APY vs. Wealthfront‘s 2.57% APY — and enjoy instant access to your money with a debit card and paper checks.

Similarly to Wealthfront, SoFi Money spreads any funds you deposit across multiple FDIC-insured bank accounts — six in this case — providing up to $1.5 million in FDIC insurance vs. Wealthfront‘s $1 million.

SoFi Money may lag behind Wealthfront in terms of APY, but it makes up for this by providing the utility of both a savings and checking account. You can use your debit card to make purchases and withdraw money from ATMs (there is a daily limit of $610) just like you would with any other checking account. You can read more details on SoFi Money in our review.

Who should get a Wealthfront Cash Account?

If you’re looking for an FDIC insured account that provides one of the highest APY’s available, than the Wealthfront Cash Account may be right for you. However, you won’t have easy access to your funds like you would with a hybrid checking/savings account, such as SoFi Money. However the simplicity of the account, and the promise of additional features in the future such as a debit card and ATM withdrawals, could make it a compelling option for your savings.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

James Ellis
James Ellis |

James Ellis is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email James here

Advertiser Disclosure

Retirement

Maximize Your Retirement Savings with IRAs

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

Americans don’t like to think about retirement. According to a recent report by the Federal Reserve, 6 in 10 respondents who aren’t retired yet and have a self-directed retirement plan, such as an individual retirement account (IRA) or a 401(k), don’t feel comfortable making investing decisions.

This discomfort with key retirement decisions can be blamed in part on the fact that many Americans don’t have the right savings strategy for retirement. Let’s take a look at some scenarios of hypothetical savers that could provide you with novel IRA saving strategies.

Picking the right IRA for your retirement savings

401(k) accounts provide millions of Americans with a retirement savings account. Still, not everybody has a 401(k) — and even those who do have one should complement it with an individual retirement account (IRA).

Given you have a limited amount of income at your disposal to sock away for retirement, what kind of IRA would work best for you depends on your individual situation. Here’s a few scenarios for different kinds of savers, providing a combination of accounts that play to the strengths of their financial situations.

IRA retirement saving strategy: Entry-level office worker

What you need to do: You may have to endure endless status meetings and office birthday parties for coworkers you barely know, but at least you have a 401(k) with an employer match. You should set your contribution to maximize your employer’s 401(k) match and open a Roth IRA in order to tax advantage of your biggest asset: your potential future earnings.

Why you need to do it: Employers who match your contributions to your 401(k) are essentially giving you free money. Even if you’re working for a modern day Mr. Scrooge who doesn’t give you a match, a regular 401(k) account still allows you to make contributions directly from your paycheck before any tax is applied, and those contributions will remain safe from the IRS until you begin taking your withdrawals decades later.

As an entry-level office worker, you’re probably not making a lot of money, and that likely puts you in a lower tax bracket. By the time you’re ready to take your withdrawals, you may discover the money you saved by avoiding taxes isn’t worth the bigger bite Uncle Sam takes now that you’re a member of the country club crowd.

To see this in action, take a look at the income tax brackets for tax year 2019. Even if we make a generous assumption regarding your salary as an entry level office worker and say you earn more than $39,475 (but less than $84,200) a year, you still would only be taxed 22% on this income. That means the money you contributed to your 401(k) was sheltered from this 22% tax, and you face tax payments when you withdraw it in retirement, decades later. If you were a retiree taking withdrawals this year and making, for example, more than $160,725 (but less than $204,100) you could be paying up to 32% on money you withdraw from a 401(k).

Contributions to a Roth IRA are not sheltered from taxes, meaning you pay taxes on all your income and then make your Roth contribution, while the interest earned in the Roth is tax-free. Because you’ve already paid income tax on Roth IRA contributions, you aren’t taxed again when you take your withdrawals from the account. Anyone who expects to find themselves in a higher tax bracket when they’re ready to retire should open a Roth IRA now, as you can reap extra tax benefits from your current status as a lowly office drone.

IRA retirement saving strategy: Self-employed freelance worker


What you need to do: Whether you’re making enough money from your Etsy shop to avoid the 9-to-5 office grind or you hop between projects as a freelancer, the freedom of self-employment comes with non-trivial costs. But you don’t have to sacrifice your retirement savings just because you don’t have a 401(k). On the contrary, you need to look into opening a Simplified Employee Pension (SEP) IRA and a Roth IRA.

Why you need to do it: A SEP IRA is a retirement account that’s easy to set up and has low, or often zero administrative fees, which are big advantages for the busy freelancer. It also allows you to contribute up to 25% of the gross annual salary you make from the business (which as a self-employed freelancer usually works out to about 20% of your adjusted net income), up to a limit of $56,000 in 2019. That far outstrips the $6,000 contribution limit on traditional and Roth IRAs for those under 50 years of age, making it a powerful saving tool for your retirement.

However there’s no Roth version of a SEP IRA, meaning all of the contributions you make to it will be taxed when you start making your withdrawals — at whatever tax bracket you happen to find yourself in. That’s why you may also want to open a Roth IRA so you have a source of money you can withdraw tax-free.

IRA retirement saving strategy: Bold market expert with money to burn


What you need to do: When it comes to saving for your retirement, we generally advocate for a slow and steady approach. However, if you don’t have confidence in traditional investment assets such as stocks and bonds but are brimming with self-assurance about your ability to judge non-traditional investments such as real estate, you can open a self-directed IRA.

Why you need to do it: Because you’re convinced you need more flexibility in your investments than a gold medal gymnast, you want a tax-advantaged account for your holdings in peacock farms, marshmallow factories, and yacht fleets. In short, you want to make sure you’ve diversified your investments to such a degree that even if the unthinkable happens and the market permanently implodes you’ll have a safe haven of funds.

If you go down this route, pay attention to the additional pitfalls that come with a self-directed IRA, such as the fact that you won’t have a team of financial experts vetting the quality of your investments and that you can inadvertently disqualify your IRA of its tax advantages if you gain a direct financial benefit from one of the IRAs investments (beyond the money it earns for your IRA).

The bottom line on IRAs

None of the three scenarios outlined above will likely fit your unique financial situation to a T, but it should prove a good starting point for you to think about how an IRA can work into your overall retirement savings strategy. Putting away any money at all is better than nothing, but when it comes to the savings that will fund your golden years, “better than nothing” may not be good enough. Make sure you’re doing everything you can to make sure your IRA is A-OK.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

James Ellis
James Ellis |

James Ellis is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email James here