What do you own and what do you owe? To figure out where you stand financially, you need to know your net worth — and yet that number is surprisingly difficult to calculate. Your assets are more than just your home and your investments, while your liabilities extend beyond your mortgage and other debts. Drawing up a personal balance sheet listing your assets and liabilities? Here are three key items you ought to include:
If you’re under age 50 and gainfully employed, your most valuable asset is probably your human capital — your ability to pull in a paycheck. The Census Bureau estimates, based on a 2011 survey, that a college graduate who works full time for 40 years might have lifetime earnings of $2.4 million, while someone with a professional degree, such as a doctor or lawyer, might earn $4.2 million.
Your human capital should heavily influence how you handle your larger financial life. For instance, to protect your human capital, you likely need health, disability and life insurance. Suppose you go under the proverbial bus or, alternatively, go under the bus but survive. In either situation, the right insurance can help your family cope.
Early in your adult life, you might take on a heap of debt, including student loans, car loans and mortgages. Reckless? Arguably, it’s rational. By borrowing, you can purchase items you can’t currently afford, thus smoothing out your consumption over your lifetime. With any luck, you will have years of paychecks ahead of you, so you can service these debts and eventually retire debt-free.
Your human capital is also the rationale behind investing heavily in stocks when you’re younger. Think of your regular paycheck as akin to receiving interest from a bond. To diversify your big human capital “bond,” you might devote your portfolio mostly to stocks. But as you approach retirement and your last paycheck, you should shift maybe half your portfolio into bonds, so you have investment income to replace the lost income from your human capital.
Don’t have quite enough saved for retirement? You could always continue to make use of your human capital by working a few days a week. Imagine you can make $16,000 a year working part time in retirement. Based on the often-recommended 4% portfolio withdrawal rate, that part-time work is like having a nest egg that’s $400,000 larger.