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What is 'Net Worth'

Net worth is the amount by which assets exceed liabilities. Net worth is a concept applicable to individuals and businesses as a key measure of how much an entity is worth. A consistent increase in net worth indicates good financial health; conversely, net worth may be depleted by annual operating losses or a substantial decrease in asset values relative to liabilities. In the business context, net worth is also known as book value or shareholders' equity.

Consider a couple with the following assets - primary residence valued at $250,000, an investment portfolio with a market value of $100,000 and automobiles and other assets valued at $25,000.

Liabilities are primarily an outstanding mortgage balance of $100,000 and a car loan of $10,000.

The couple's net worth would be therefore be $265,000 ([$250,000 + $100,000 + $25,000] - [$100,000 + $10,000]).

Assume that five years later, the couple's financial position is as follows - residence value $225,000, investment portfolio $120,000, savings $20,000, automobile and other assets $15,000; mortgage loan balance $80,000, car loan $0 (paid off). The net worth would now be $300,000.

In other words, the couple's net worth has gone up by $35,000 despite the decrease in the value of their residence and car, because this decline is more than offset by increases in other assets (such as the investment portfolio and savings) as well as the decrease in their liabilities.

BREAKING DOWN 'Net Worth'

People with a substantial net worth are known as high net worth individuals, and form the prime market for wealth managers and investment counselors. Investors with a net worth (excluding their primary residence) of at least $1 million - either alone or together with their spouse - are considered as "accredited investors" by the Securities and Exchange Commission, for the purpose of investing in unregistered securities offerings.

A company that is consistently profitable will have a rising net worth or book value, as long as these earnings are not fully distributed to shareholders but are retained in the business. For public companies, rising book values over time may be rewarded by an increase in stock market value. If you want to save some time in calculating your personal net worth, use our free Net Worth Tracker which allows you to calculate, analyze and record your net worth for free.

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