Trillionaire Definition: How Much Money Is That and Who Will Be First?

A trillionaire is an individual with a net worth equal to at least one trillion in U.S. dollars or a similarly valued currency, such as the euro or the British pound. Currently, no one has yet claimed trillionaire status, although some of the world’s richest individuals may only be a few years away from this milestone.  

Key Takeaways

  • In the United States, the title “trillionaire” refers to someone with a net worth of at least $1 trillion.
  • Net worth refers to a person’s total assets—including business interests, investments, and personal property—minus their debts.
  • No one has yet claimed the title of trillionaire, although the speed at which the world’s wealthiest individuals have grown their fortunes suggests that it could happen in just a few years.
  • As of 2020, $1 trillion is a sum greater than the gross domestic product (GDP) of all but 16 countries around the globe.

Calculating Net Worth 

Extremely affluent individuals often derive their wealth from a variety of sources: business interests, investments, real estate holdings, cash, and personal property. To tabulate your net worth, start by totaling up all of those assets. You then deduct liabilities—everything from personal loans to mortgages. Someone with at least $1 trillion (or one trillion euros) of net assets would qualify as a trillionaire.

For those in the highest strata of wealth, arriving at an accurate net worth figure tends to be a complex undertaking. While some assets are relatively stable, the value of business interests, in particular, can fluctuate wildly from one day to the next.

In fact, Forbes, which publishes the preeminent list of the world’s wealthiest people, operates a “Real-Time Billionaires List” that is updated by the minute, based on stock valuations. Sitting atop it in the first three slots, as of April 15, 2022, are Elon Musk ($264 billion), Jeff Bezos ($177 billion), and Bernard Arnault & family ($167 billion), who are separated by $97 billion. Trailing them by about $35 billion in slots four and five are Bill Gates and Warren Buffett.

Examples of Net Worth: Who’s on First?

Let’s look at French fashion magnate Arnault. Most of his and his family's roughly $167 billion wealth isn’t simply sitting in a bank account. It’s tied to the value of his holding company, LVMH, which owns famed brands such as Louis Vuitton, Christian Dior, and Hennessy. A quick rise in the value of LVMH stock, relative to the holdings of Musk and Bezos, could vault him back to the first slot, which he held in May 2021. And, indeed, the three men often change positions with each other.

As the value of Arnault’s brands surged during the COVID-19 pandemic, so did his net worth. Back in March 2020, Forbes estimated it at $76 billion. In nearly two years as of February 2022, that figure had grown nearly 2½ times. 

First on the current Forbes list is Musk, who has a current net worth of approximately $264 billion. As of February 2022, he owns roughly 23% of electric car manufacturer Tesla and about 50% of the aerospace company SpaceX. Bezos, founder of Amazon, is second and worth $177 billion, with a 14% ownership of shares in the online retailer’s stock (AMZN on Nasdaq).

As an example of how volatile those personal wealth estimates can be, Musk lost a reported $8.9 billion in one day back in December 2020, when a J.P. Morgan analyst concluded that Tesla shares were significantly overvalued.

The World’s First Trillionaire?

Even the likes of Arnault and Bezos—with $167 billion and $177 billion, respectively—might seem a long way off from reaching the trillionaire designation. However, the pace at which some of the world’s richest people have been able to accumulate wealth suggests that it may only be a few short years before someone garners that designation. 

Arnault, for instance, was able to increase his net worth by about six-fold in eight years—from $29 billion in 2013 to $185 billion in 2021. Were he to repeat that accomplishment, he would be a trillionaire before the decade is over.  

Bezos, who owns The Washington Post and aerospace firm Blue Origin in addition to his stake in Amazon, has similarly experienced a rapid buildup of wealth. Since 2017, the Forbes estimate of Bezos’ net worth soared from nearly $67 billion to $177 billion, a more than 2 1/2 times gain.

Musk, who has built his wealth on game-changing companies—Tesla in the realm of electric cars and SpaceX for commercially developed rockets—may stand as good a chance as any. Just five years ago in 2017, the enigmatic entrepreneur had a net worth estimated at $13.9 billion. As of April 15, 2022, his wealth is in the ballpark of $264 billion. If those ventures continue on anything like their current valuation trajectory, then he could get to trillionaire status before long. 

How Much Is $1 Trillion?

A fortune of $1 trillion is, to put it mildly, an enormous amount of money—so much that it’s hard to conceptualize how much wealth that actually is. 

Here’s some context: According to the Federal Reserve’s latest Survey of Consumer Finances, taken in 2019, the median net worth of U.S. households was $121,700. Thus, a trillionaire would have wealth equal to 8.2 million times that of the typical American family.  

Here is another way to put that amount of personal treasure in perspective: It took the U.S. Senate months of arduous negotiations to agree on a $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill which was passed in November 2021. In large part, that was because many Republicans balked at that much additional federal spending (though, technically, the bill has only $550 billion of new expenditures).

Net assets of $1 trillion represents a greater sum than the gross domestic product (GDP) of countries such as Switzerland, Sweden, and Austria. In fact, $1 trillion is more than the current GDP of all but 16 countries.

Article Sources
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  2. Forbes. “The World’s Real-Time Billionaires.”

  3. LVMH. “Group.”

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  5. Barron's. "How SpaceX and Tesla Could Make Elon Musk a Trillionaire."

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  8. Forbes. “Elon Musk’s Fortune Tumbles $9 Billion In One Day As JPMorgan Warns Investors Tesla Shares Are ‘Dramatically’ Overvalued.”

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  11. Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System. “Changes in U.S. Family Finances from 2016 to 2019: Evidence from the Survey of Consumer Finances,” Page 11.

  12. U.S. Congress. “H.R.3684 — Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.”

  13. The Brookings Institution. “The Senate Infrastructure Bill Puts America Closer to Another New Deal.”

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