Buying into mythology about millionaires

Considering all those financial magazines that play up retiring rich, the books that depict the "millionaire next door," and the relentless TV portrayals of people living large, Americans may be forgiven for thinking 15 percent of US households have net assets of at least $1 million.

The reality: Only 4.6 million homes (4 percent of households) have such wealth, according to a study released by the Consumer Federation of America and Providian Financial, the duo that also polled Americans on perceptions about affluence.

People ages 18 to 24, the poor, and minorities are most likely to overestimate the number of wealthy Americans, according to Stephen Brobeck, the CFA's executive director.

The study also turned up details on where the affluent compile their wealth. While home equity is by far the biggest asset for average Americans, it trails stock and bond holdings and retirement accounts among the wealthy. Millionaires make up:

* 10 percent of households headed by someone between the ages of 55 and 64.

* 17 percent of households headed by someone with a graduate or professional degree.

* 36 percent of households with a minimum of $100,000 in income.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor

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