Elderly man with money.

Does a $170,000 Salary Make You Rich? Maybe, Maybe Not

How much money do you need to make per year to be rich in the U.S.? Americans chime in with some intriguing and polarizing points of view.

Note: Some quotes in this piece have been lightly edited for grammar.

A Wide Range

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The top 1% of Americans make $650,000 per year, while the top 10% make $170,000, according to a foreigner who posted in an online forum based on data they saw. “Don’t get me wrong,” they say, “[That’s] a lot of money.” However, they would have guessed a “rich” American would have to make more to be classified as such.

It led them to this question: How much money does an American need to make per year to be rich?

It’s Relative

Woman throwing money.
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“I know [people in the] top 1% that don’t consider themselves rich,” says one American. They argue that being rich is “relative to your surroundings and who people tend to surround themselves with.”


Toy house sitting on top of coins.
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A salary is just a number until you adjust for age and location, offers one commenter. “$170k at 24 is a lot different than at 60.”

Income vs Net Wealth

Cracked 401k egg.
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An American responded that being rich in the U.S. is independent of salary. “Rich isn’t based on income,” they say. “Net wealth/worth is a far more useful statistic.”


A couple smiling.
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“Yeah,” agrees another commenter. “To me, ‘rich’ means you can retire today and maintain at least an upper-middle-class lifestyle.”

Millions Talk

Money hanging on a clothe's line.
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“When you have approximately $5 million in investments and are able to live a middle-class lifestyle just on returns, I’d say that’s rich,” says an American. They acknowledge that “an argument could be made for $2.5 million.”

Thousands Are for the Birds

Couple throwing money.
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To one commenter, even a $650,000 salary is puny. A $1 million annual household income or $10 million in net worth makes an American rich, they say.

The King of Investments

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Ever wondered how much Warren Buffet makes? A mere $100,000 per year, according to one person. They explain, “A lot of ‘rich’ people don’t have any salary. All of their wealth comes from investments and capital holdings.”

Location, Location, Location

Toy houses sitting on coins.
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Location plays a massive role in whether or not someone makes a “rich” salary. “$170K in Manhattan is not much,” says an American. On the flip side, “$170K in Mobile, Alabama is balling.”

Comparison Game

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“Wealthy people tend to know others who are even wealthier,” observes a commenter. “A guy with a $10 million net worth likely knows a guy with a $100 million net worth, and that guy likely knows a billionaire. The ‘rich guys’ are always someone else.”

Don’t Sneeze, But

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One American would never “sneeze at” a $170,000 annual salary. But for most places in the U.S., they argue that “it’s by no means rich.” They stand firm that “Someone in the top 10% of income is not the same as [someone in the] top 10% of wealth.”

Rich to Me

Two girls holding money.
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To one American, claiming the title of rich “means you could survive without working.” They point out that people with high salaries can spend it all, making them live paycheck to paycheck. Their conclusion? “Someone who has enough investments that they can live off the investments is rich.”

Who’s Working for Who?

Woman holding money.
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$170,000 is nowhere near rich in one person’s eyes. Their definition of rich? “When your money works for you instead of you working for your money, that’s rich.”

Lifestyle Matters

Older couple on bicycles.
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Having an extravagant lifestyle that someone can afford makes someone rich, according to one commenter. They emphasize the affordability part, implying that overextending oneself takes away their rich status.

Case in Point

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Another person shared that they knew a couple with all the bells and whistles of the “ideal” American lifestyle: A big house, multiple Mercedes, and sending their kids to private schools. The catch? “They still lost their house when he lost his job.”

To them, “being actually rich means you don’t have to work if you don’t want to. Ever.”

Hear Me Out

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“Imagine making 200k a year but having 250k worth of expenses,” says a finance wiz. “You’re dirt poor.”

A Theory

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To a philosophical American, being rich is a matter of perception. “I have a theory that most people consider ‘the rich’ as those who make twice as much as they do, and ‘the poor’ as those who make half as much as they do.”

Source: Reddit.

So Darn Expensive

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Living in the U.S. isn’t cheap, but the cost of living in some cities is downright outrageous. Your salary will take an extra big hit if you live in these 25 most expensive American cities.

25 Most Expensive Cities in America Breaking Bank Accounts

The Price of Priorities: 11 People Who Chose Leisure Over Financial Responsibility

Woman with hand over face.
Photo Credit: Fizkes via Adobe Stock.

For some, it’s easy to get carried away with filling a credit card with vacations and shiny things. Financially irresponsible souls took to the internet to share their stories, revealing whether or not they regret their actions.

The Price of Priorities: 11 People Who Chose Leisure Over Financial Responsibility

Most to Least Expensive States to Retire

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Are you looking to move state borders during retirement? From Medicare contributions to taxes and housing costs, these are the best (and worst) states to retire from a financial perspective.

Most to Least Expensive States to Retire Ranked From 1 to 50

17 Things That Are Getting More Expensive and Losing Quality

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Money doesn’t grow on trees, and sadly for millions of Americans, quality doesn’t either. These are the products and services where people are suffering from the worst price increases and quality decreases.

17 Things That Are Getting More Expensive and Losing Quality

The Secret to Never Paying an ATM Fee Abroad (It Works!)

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Americans are missing out on the easy trick to landing free ATM withdrawals in over 200 countries. Are you one of them? Domestic travelers in the U.S. can save hundreds of dollars on ATM fees too.

How to Never Pay an ATM Fee Abroad Again

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