In late March my wife reached 20 years of military service. This qualifies her for a pension of half of her basic pay. As she continues to work, the pension has the potential to rise exponentially.
Pensions are very rare nowadays. It seems like almost all companies have stopped offering them. Often companies have difficulties fulfilling those pension obligations. Pensions are still a part of many careers such as teaching, law enforcement, and firefighting. Typically those pensions are set by a state formula and each state is different. Sometimes states mismanage the pension fund. It seems that I’m often reading about how some corruption raided the pension fund.
Military pensions are indexed to inflation. They are also backed by the US federal government. As far as pensions go, it doesn’t get much better than that. We are grateful to have this tremendous financial benefit.
However, it does raise some interesting questions. Chief among them is:
Should we include the pension in our net worth?
I’ve been tracking my net worth with a spreadsheet since at least 2006*. What started as a very simple spreadsheet of a couple of bank and retirement accounts has expanded to incorporate my wife’s assets**, two kids assets, 3 rental properties, and a pile of formulas (liquid cash, real estate equity, and debt/net worth ratio, rule of 4%, etc.). I used to update it every quarter, but over the last 5 years, I’ve religiously updated it every month. It’s not a coincidence that I’ve been more motivated with this bull market.
It’s been a tremendously helpful tool. However, like any tools, you can choose to use it how you want.
Some people choose are adamant that you can’t include the value of the your home in your net worth. They say that since you can’t use that money, it shouldn’t count. I never bought into that argument because there are options to access that home equity such as downsizing, getting a second mortgage, or a reverse mortgage. However, the biggest reason, I include the value of my home is that, if you own it, you don’t have to pay as much for your largest living expense. It’s mostly insurance, property tax, and maintenance.
But let’s get back to pensions. They are a little trickier. That’s money coming in the future. If you don’t have a pension, you can think of Social Security as something similar. Would you include the value of your Social Security benefit in your net worth? I don’t know anyone who does that. To take it a step further, I know very few of my personal finance blogging peers who factor Social Security into their retirement plans. Almost all would say it’s the cherry on top of the sundae, not the ice cream, hot fudge, nuts, or the whip cream.
I decided I’d ask Twitter. My timeline typically consists of personal finance people, so it’s somewhat knowledgeable.
Would you include the value of a pension in your net worth? Why or why not?
— LazyManAndMoney (@LazyManAndMoney) April 16, 2019
While 44 votes may not be enough, a 61% majority gives a slight edge to “count pension in your net worth.”
I’d put myself in that 61%. A pension can save one from having to directly put as much money into their retirement savings. That can free up hundreds of dollars a month that other people would put into their retirement plans. Also as one lawyer pointed out, pensions are considered assets in divorce court.
That other 40% can make a great case. Here’s one article by Government Work FI who doesn’t count a pension as part of his net worth.
As I continued down this rabbit hole, I felt more and more confident about my position in counting it as part of our net worth. However, then I thought about this website. It’s a business that brings in income. It’s an asset. Theoretically, I could sell it. I’m not sure who would want to buy it, but there are some guidelines of how much it would be worth.
Yet, it’s never occurred to me, before now, to count this website in my net worth. I’m not sure many personal finance bloggers do… unless they sell it and unlock that value.
At the end of the day, you can calculate your net worth however you want. It’s simply a number. It doesn’t change the underlying finances.
* I remember using Quicken before that, but I was too Lazy to import and categorize everything and moved to a new system.
** We keep some assets separate, but even if we didn’t, some finances simply can’t be combined like her TSP or Roth IRA.