Getting Rich: What Are Your Odds?

Do you hope to be rich some day? The United States had 2,886,200 millionaires in 2009, meaning that about 0.9% of Americans, or about one in 106 people, were millionaires as of last year. In the same year, 391 Americans were billionaires - that's about one in 785,166 people or around 0.0001% of the population. Given these numbers, how good do you think your odds are that you could join the ranks of the wealthy? Let's look at the percentages of other commonly examined phenomena for comparison. (For related reading, also see 6 Simple Steps To $1 Million.)
Being Struck by Lightning
Your chances of being an American billionaire are similar to your chances of being an American who gets struck by lightning. The National Weather Service estimates that the odds of an American being struck by lightning in a given year are approximately one in 750,000, and the odds of being struck if you live to be 80 are one in 6,250.

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Winning the Lottery
Your chances of winning the lottery really depend on which lottery you're talking about and what you mean by winning. For example, if you play the multi-state Mega Millions lottery, you would win anywhere from $2 to $250,000 in a non-jackpot prize, or you would win a jackpot prize starting at $12 million (you could also win nothing, of course, which is the most common outcome). Mega Millions states that your odds of winning a jackpot prize are 1 in 175,711,536; your odds of winning any prize are one in 40. The odds of winning a $10,000 prize are one in 689,065. The largest jackpot Mega Millions has awarded was $390 million in 2007.

Becoming a Homeowner
The numbers fluctuate somewhat each year, but in general, 60% to 70% of U.S. homes are owner-occupied, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. People in the Midwest and South are more likely to own their residences than those living in the West or Northeast. This is not surprising, given the higher real estate prices in the latter two regions. It seems that becoming a homeowner is an attainable goal for most people, especially considering that not all of the people who rent actually want to become homeowners. (For more on this topic, see To Rent or Buy?)

Earning a Six-Figure Income
According to the Current Population Survey's 2010 Annual Social and Economic Supplement, 13,269,000 men and women earned a six-figure income in 2009. With the U.S. population estimated at around 307 million for 2009, the data means that one in 23 Americans, or about 4%, earned six figures in 2009. Almost three times as many men as women earned six figures. 1,460,000 men and women, about one in 210 people or 0.5% of the population, earned $250,000 or more in 2009.

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So, What are Your Odds?
The idea that your "chances" of getting rich can be quantified is a fallacy based on the idea that there is a finite amount of wealth in the world. Actually, there is no cap on the number of people that can become millionaires or billionaires. The more good ideas that are implemented and made successful by creative and hardworking people and that are facilitated by a favorable regulatory climate and tax regime, the greater the percentage of wealthy people we can have in the United States and in the world.

In fact, if you live in the United States, Japan or Germany, you already have a better chance than most people at becoming wealthy. The annual World Wealth Report put together by Capgemini and Merrill Lynch defines high net worth individuals (HNWIs) as "those having investable assets of U.S. $1 million or more, excluding primary residence, collectibles, consumables and consumer durables."

According to the 2010 report, in 2010, "North America remains the single-largest home to HNWIs, with 3.1 million representing 31% of the global HNWI population." The United States also contained 40% of the world's billionaire population in 2009. Adding Japan and Germany's HNWI population to that of the United States, HNWI population results in more than half of the global HNWI population. China, the United Kingdom, France, Canada, Switzerland, Italy, Australia, Brazil and Spain also have significant populations of HNWIs.

The Bottom Line
Still, even if only a small percentage of people are what we now consider extremely wealthy, this doesn't mean that you can't live a financially comfortable and even financially successful life. (For additional reading, see What's Your Billionaire Age?)

Find out what happened in financial news this week. Read Water Cooler Finance: GM's Dramatic Return.




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