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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.

BREAKING DOWN 'Net Worth'

Net Worth in Business

In the business context, net worth is also known as book value or shareholders' equity. In fact, the balance sheet is also known as a net worth statement as the value of a company's equity equals the difference between the value of total assets and total liabilities. Note that the values on a company's balance sheet highlight historical costs or book values, not current market values.

Lending institutions scrutinize a business' net worth to determine if its financial healthy. If total liabilities exceed total assets, that is negative net worth, a creditor may not be too confident in a company's ability to repay its loans.

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 as dividends but are retained in the business. For public companies, rising book values over time may be rewarded by an increase in the value of stocks trading in the markets.

Net Worth in Personal Finance

An individual's net worth is simply the value that is left after s/he subtracts her debt from her assets. Examples of debt includes mortgages, credit card balances, student loans, car loans, etc. An individual's assets include checking and savings account balances, value of securities such as stocks or bonds, value of his or her home, market value of automobile, etc. In other words, whatever is left after selling all assets and paying off personal debt is the net worth. Note that the value of personal net worth includes the current market value of assets and the current debt costs.

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, therefore, be calculated as [$250,000 + $100,000 + $25,000] - [$100,000 + $10,000] = $265,000

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 five years later would be [$225,000 + $120,000 + $20,000 + $15,000] - $80,000 = $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. The increase in net worth is due to the fact that the decline in residence value was more than offset by increases in other assets (such as the investment portfolio and savings) as well as the decrease in their liabilities.

An individual can have a negative net worth if his debt is more than the value of his assets. For example, if the sum of an individual's credit card bills, utility bills, outstanding mortgage payments, auto loan bills, and student loans is higher than the total value of his cash and investments, his net worth will be negative. In this case, the individual may file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection to eliminate some of the debt and to prevent creditors from trying to collect on the debt. However, some liabilities such as child support, alimony, and taxes, cannot be discharged. In addition, a bankruptcy will stay on an individual's credit report for many years.

People with a substantial net worth are known as high net worth individuals (HNWI), 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 (SEC), for the purpose of investing in unregistered securities offerings.

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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