Denverites define $2 million as the entryway to wealth, lower than national mark

Being wealthy can mean different things to different people, but for residents of the Mile High City, the threshold is a net worth of $2 million, according to the new Modern Wealth Index for Denver from Charles Schwab & Co.

Nationally, the “financially comfortable” mark was $1.1 million and the “wealthy” mark was $2.4 million, according to an online survey of 1,000 people. In metro Denver, financially comfortable was defined as $541,700 and wealthy as $2 million, according to a survey of 500 people.

“Older generations have a more structured definition of wealth, and it will be accompanied by a number,” said Brad Bartick, manager of Charles Schwab’s downtown branch. “For others, it is leading a rich life.”

About 29 percent of those surveyed in Denver defined wealth as having “a lot of money.” But 23 percent described wealth as being able to buy whatever they wanted or enjoying life’s experiences. Another 22 percent described wealth as living stress-free and having peace of mind, while 13 percent described it as financial security and stability.

Geography can influence perceptions of wealth. Philadelphia and Houston had the lowest wealth threshold of the participating metros at $1.7 million each, while in Boston it was closer to Denver at $2.1 million. New Yorkers, not surprisingly, had the highest definition of wealth at $3.2 million, followed by San Diego residents at $2.7 million and Los Angeles respondents at $2.6 million.

Net worth is assets minus liabilities. For many people, home equity can make up a big share of net worth, especially in areas with rapidly rising home prices such as Denver.

Although $2 million may seem like a large sum, it may not generate the lifestyle expected in retirement if a large share of it is tied up in home equity, said Charlie Farrell, CEO of Northstar Investment Advisors in Denver.

Unlike investments, a primary residence doesn’t generate income that can be spent in retirement. In fact, a home can eat up 3 percent to 4 percent of its value in insurance, property taxes and maintenance every year, Farrell said.

“The bigger the house, the less you have in discretionary income,” he said.

When it came to building wealth, the survey found Denver-area residents had above-average confidence of achieving success and did a better job handling their debts. But they lagged when it came to crafting a plan and taking other steps needed to accumulate wealth.

“The number isn’t as important as the process and the plan and the discipline,” Bartick said. A person’s nest egg may seem small, but starting early and staying focused can generate a big number over time.

Bartick said that during his career, which included time in Oregon, he knew of a doctor who earned large sums over his career but retired with meager savings and survived on Social Security. He also knew a logger who never graduated from high school but started investing early and consistently and retired a multimillionaire.

A separate study from Phoenix Marketing International found that 70 percent of U.S. households were “nonaffluent” with under $100,000 in investable assets. Another 25 percent had $100,000 to under $1 million set aside, while 5 percent had $1 million or more.

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