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It takes $650,000 a year to reach America’s top 1%


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It’s easy to assume what life might look like for the top 1% of earners in the U.S.– the exclusive tag might conjure images of big houses, luxury cars and exotic vacations.

The average American household needs to bring in $652,657 a year to be classed among the top 1% of earners across the country, according to research published Thursday by financial advisors SmartAsset.

The report analyzed 2020 IRS data to identify America’s highest earners.

But what it really takes to join the 1%–in terms of earnings at least–comes down to your zip code, the findings revealed.

Connecticut is the state with the wealthiest top earners, according to SmartAsset, where reaching the top 1% means having an annual income of at least $952,902.

It’s followed by Massachusetts, which has a threshold of $903,401, and California, where the state’s very highest earners earn upward of $844,266 a year. New Jersey came in fourth on the list–ahead of its neighbor New York–with a bar of $817,346.

Next on the list was the state of Washington, followed by New York, where households have to rake in $776,662 a year to reach the wealthiest 1%–despite it being America’s second-most expensive state to live in.

“It’s easier to get into the 1% in New York than it ever has been,” Jaclyn DeJohn, SmartAsset’s managing editor of economic analysis, told Bloomberg on Thursday.

The report also highlighted that Southern states generally had lower wealth thresholds than their coastal counterparts.

The easiest state in which to reach the wealthiest 1% is West Virginia, the findings showed, where an annual income of $367,582 would be enough to make the cut. It was followed by Mississippi, where households need to earn $381,919 a year, and New Mexico, where the top 1% make at least $411,395 a year.

The top 1% of earners is a group that’s becoming increasingly powerful. According to a 2022 report from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) the richest 1% owns more than a third of all U.S. wealth, while the top 10% holds 72% of America’s total wealth.

It’s a share that’s increased over time, CBO data shows. In 1989, the richest 10% of Americans controlled $24.3 trillion in assets. By 2019, that control had increased to cover assets worth $82.4 trillion.

While joining the 1% club remains an elusive goal for many, the threshold for feeling “rich” in the U.S. varies wildly between individuals.

According to a survey from Bankrate published earlier this month, Americans felt they’d need to earn about $483,000 a year to feel wealthy.

Approximately a third of the 2,521 adults questioned said they’d need an annual income of $500,000, and 21% said they’d need to earn at least $1 million a year to consider themselves rich.

The study also found that the expectation of what it takes to achieve financial freedom gets higher the more a person earns. For example, people who earned $50,000 or less said they’d need to earn $406,000 to feel rich, whereas Americans who earned $100,000 or more said they’d need to earn at least six times their salary to feel wealthy.

“For some, being wealthy might be seen as having the ability to buy things they don’t need,” said Mark Hamrick, a senior economic analyst at Bankrate. “If someone attains wealth along the way, more power to them. That doesn’t necessarily equate to being happier, of course. But it makes many things easier to navigate.”

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