Marvin Chan says he doesn’t live an extravagant life. He lives in Palo Alto, but drives a 2007 Nissan Murano. Family vacations with his wife and two sons are usually camping trips.

Chan, who grew up in New York, considers himself middle class, but with an estimated household income of more than $400,000 once his wife returns to work — the startup she was at shut down last year — he’s actually upper class by common definitions.

Yet in the Bay Area, with housing prices and a cost of living far beyond the national average, it’s hard for even high-earners to feel well off.

“I know that, given our income, we would be considered wealthy in other parts of the nation,” said Chan, a software engineer at Nyansa, a Palo Alto-based networking startup. “But in the Bay Area, I think we’re just kind of middle class. We have a good salary, but we have a lot of expenses.”

There’s no single standard for determining who is middle class and who is wealthy. One of the best definitions, from Pew Research, says anyone making more than double the median household income in their area can be considered upper class. But that can be just a few dollars more than middle class, which is defined as anywhere between two-thirds and twice the median household income. And it makes no adjustments for the cost of living.

In San Jose, where median household income has grown 19 percent in the past five years, middle class is anything from $64,400 to $193,300. By definition, upper class is anything beyond $193,301 — although some financial managers say that income level is far from wealthy here.

The numbers vary widely from city to city. In the five-county Bay Area, Richmond has the lowest threshold for upper class at around $122,000 while Los Altos has the highest at about $416,600, according to 2017 data from the U.S. Census Bureau, the most recent available. Nationwide, households making more than $115,300 are considered upper class.

In Palo Alto and Cupertino, households have to make at least $300,000 to be considered upper class by Pew’s definition. In San Ramon, Pleasanton and Dublin, upper class household incomes start at roughly $276,000.

Helen Dietz, a partner and director of wealth management for Aspiriant, which has offices in Mountain View, says, “As a family, if you’re making even $200,000 to start, you’re not feeling wealthy and you’re not having many choices.” For example, at that income, you couldn’t pay for a top education for your kids, a larger home, a new car and save for retirement. You’d still have to set priorities. But it depends where you want to live, she said.

“As you go closer to $350,000 in the San Jose, Milpitas, maybe Los Gatos, Willow Glen area, you’re kind of feeling that you’re able to get a home and send your kids to school and have health care and probably not be able to save beyond your retirement accounts,” Dietz said.

But in large parts of the Peninsula, all that would require an income of about $500,000 and about $1 million somewhere like Mountain View, she said.

Those numbers may sound breathtaking to many, but others put the threshold for being wealthy in the Bay Area even higher — $4.2 million in net worth, to be exact, according to a 2017 survey from San Francisco-based investment firm Charles Schwab. A Bay Area household could be financially comfortable at a more attainable $1.1 million, Schwab found.

The $4.2 million requirement was the highest of the 10 cities Schwab surveyed, including New York ($3.2 million) and Washington D.C. ($3 million). But it’s still not enough according to Steven Jon Kaplan, CEO of True Contrarian Investments LLC. He said that’s because incomes in the Bay Area have not increased as much or as quickly as housing prices, something he expects to change in coming years.

“Right now probably $10 million is needed to be comfortable,” he said in an email interview.

Getting to that level of wealth on salary alone is rare, said David Callisch, vice president of marketing at Nyansa who has worked for years with early-stage startups, some of which were later purchased or went public.

“I consider myself well-off, yes, but I just consider myself lucky,” said Callisch. His wealth comes from his time at successful start-ups, not his annual $150,000 salary at  Nyansa. “If I wouldn’t have worked for these companies that have gone public and got bought, I’d have to live somewhere else, period.”

Younger tech workers realize that, he said, so to improve their odds of cashing out some switch companies every two or three years, earning stock in multiple startups and hoping one of them hits big, Callisch said.

“Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t,” he said. “Most of the time, it doesn’t.”

Financial planners say income is only one aspect of being well-off in the Bay Area. A better measure of wealth may be the ability to accomplish personal priorities.

“Wealth isn’t necessarily a number,” Dietz said. “Wealth translates into health and happiness and freedom — and choices.”



Source link

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here