How to Get to $1 Million

10 Things You Didn’t Know About Millionaires

diptych of John D. Rockefeller with modern soccer dad
When you think "millionaire," John D. Rockefeller might spring to mind. But most American millionaires look more like your neighbor. Left: Oscar White/Corbis; Right: Ariel Skelley/Getty Images

The seven-figure club is chock-full of surprises.

By Kara Brandeisky

Thanks to rebounding real estate prices and a bull market in stocks, millionaires have been staging a comeback since the financial crisis. The number of American households with more than a million in assets has hit 9.6 million, according to the Spectrem Group, finally surpassing the pre-recession high of 9.2 million. (And that’s a million bucks without counting your primary residence.)

If you want to join their ranks, take this quiz to figure out your best path, then adopt one of these seven strategies to get there. But first, get to know your future peers.

1. Millionaires are most at home in Maryland.

Maryland has more millionaires per capita than any other state—7.7% of all households—according to the Phoenix Global Wealth Monitor. New Jersey, Connecticut, and Hawaii are also packed with millionaires, and oil-rich North Dakota is gaining fast, jumping from No. 43 to No. 29 in the 50-state ranking in one year.

2. One in 21 New Yorkers is a millionaire.

Walk down New York City’s Fifth Avenue, and you’re bound to brush past a few millionaires. Some 4.6% of the city’s residents are worth $1 million or more, according to another take on the millionaire population by Spear’s. Monaco, Zurich, and Geneva are the only cities that can claim more rich folks per capita.

3. For the first time, a majority of members of Congress are millionaires.

Congress has more millionaires than ever, according to an analysis of financial disclosure reports by the Center for Responsive Politics. At least 268 members of the House and Senate are worth $1 million or more. The richest is former businessman turned legislator Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., who has an estimated net worth of $464 million, the Center found.

4. Millionaires fret about retirement too!

Almost a third of millionaires worth $5 to $25 million worry about being able to retire when they want to, the Spectrem Group found. And 44% of those with $1 million and $5 million in assets have the same concern.

5. Millionaires are not necessarily super savers.

You don’t have to sock away 30%, 40%, or 50% of your income to amass $1 million (though that would help get you there faster). In an analysis of 401(k) savers who made less than $150,000 a year and still had more than $1 million in their plans, Fidelity found that those millionaires saved only 14% a year on average.

Their secrets? Save steadily, of course. And let the company do some heavy lifting. Fidelity’s 401(k) millionaires saved 19% on average when employer contributions were included, and 28% of their account balances came from the match. In fact, a new study from the Center for Retirement Research confirms that saving 15% a year for three decades is enough for a comfortable retirement.

6. About 15% of millionaires didn’t bother with a college degree.

Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates aren’t the only millionaires without diplomas. Spectrem Group found that 85% of millionaires have college degrees. Another 12% attended college and dropped out. On the other hand, 31% earned an advanced degree.

7. The young generation of millionaires lives lavishly.

Gen X and Y millionaires have had less time to reach seven figures, so not surprisingly they tend to earn far more than their baby boomer millionaire brethren: $677,000 a year on average, vs. $198,000 a year, reports Fidelity. And they tend to act the part to the hilt: 63% of Gen X and Y millionaires own vacation homes (vs. 21% of boomers), 44% own boats (vs. 12% of boomers), 63% belong to country clubs (vs. 15% of boomers), and 38% fly first class (vs. 5% of boomers).

8. Ultra-millionaires love Home Depot.

Where do the wealthy shop? Not where you’d think. About 57% of millionaires worth more than $5 million say they shop at Home Depot all the time, according to the Spectrem Group. Other favorites include Costco, Lowe’s, and Target. Only 8% say they regularly shop at Neiman Marcus.

9. Most million-dollar-earners don’t violate the “Buffett Rule.”

In 2011, Warren Buffett wrote in the New York Times that his effective federal tax rate was 17.4%, less than what all the people who worked for him paid. Why? When you make most of your money from your investment portfolio, as Buffett does, more of your income is subject to capital gains taxes, which are lower than ordinary income tax rates. That led to tax reform proposals based on the “Buffett Rule,” which held that no household making more than $1 million should pay a lower tax rate than middle-class Americans do.

But Buffett’s situation isn’t universal. In 2012, the Congressional Research Service found that many, but far from all, millionaires run afoul of the Buffett Rule. CRS reported that one-quarter of those making more than $1 million a year face a tax rate that’s lower than what 10.4 million moderate-income taxpayers pay (representing 10% of those earning less than $100,000 a year).

Still, taxing millionaires remains a hot-button issue: USA Today reports that about a dozen states have increased taxes for the the highest earners over the past five years, and Illinois voters will consider a new 3% surcharge for millionaires come November.

10. Inheriting your millions is the exception.

Inheritance isn’t the only way to amass a fortune. Some 86% of millionaires say they made their own wealth, according to Fidelity’s 2012 Millionaire Outlook Survey. Of these self-made millionaires, 30% told Fidelity that they struggled financially when they were young. But fruitful careers in finance, accounting, or technical industries set them on a different financial path. The good news for you? Even a simple business idea can get you into their club.

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