52% of Americans say they need to earn at least $100,000 a year to be financially comfortable


With student loan payments resuming, interest rates climbing, and record-high credit card balances, it shouldn’t be surprising to see money keeping so many people awake at night. 

In fact, about 3 in 4 Americans say they are at least somewhat stressed about their finances, according to the latest CNBC Your Money survey.

It wouldn’t take an unreasonably large salary to make many people feel comfortable though. Nearly 1 in 3 say a salary between $50,000 and $99,999 would suffice, the survey of over 4,300 adults found.

Still, 52% of Americans say they would require at least $100,000 a year to be financially comfortable, with 26% saying they would need a salary in the range of $100,000 to $149,000 per year.

Everyone defines comfort differently. If your idea of comfort is owning a home and being able to take a vacation every year, you might need a larger income to support those goals. But if you’d rather live simply and spend on only essentials, your number may be lower.

Here’s how much money it takes for various groups to feel comfortable.

Younger people say they can live comfortably on less

The majority of respondents ages 18 to 34 say they would be comfortable earning less than $100,000 a year. Just 17% say they could live on $50,000 or less, but 34% say between $51,000 and $99,999 would suffice. This is the only age group with a majority (52%) feeling comfortable on less than six figures.

Among those 65 and older, 49% say they’d be comfortable with a salary under $100,000, with 36% saying they’d need a salary between $50,000 and $99,999 to feel comfortable.

However, 59% of the middle-aged crowd — those ages 35 to 64 — require a six-figure salary to be comfortable. At 17%, this age group has the largest share of respondents saying they’d need to make at least $200,000 a year to be comfortable.

It’s likely many of the people in this group have children or are caring for their own parents or other relatives. Those caretaking costs may be significant, making it feel like these families need more money to get by, much less feel comfortable.

Still, 27% of respondents in this age group said they would be comfortable on a salary between $50,000 and $99,999 and the same percentage said they’d need between $100,000 and $149,999.

Americans’ goal salaries are comfortable, not excessive

When it comes to the amount of money Americans say they’d like to make in a year, it’s not too far off from how much they say would make them comfortable.

Overall, 51% of survey respondents say they would like to earn between $50,0000 and $149,999 a year. A slightly larger share (57%) of people say a salary in that range would allow them to live comfortably.

Here are the salary ranges Americans report as their goal:

  • Less than $50,000: 18%
  • $50,000 to $99,999: 29%
  • $100,000 to $149,999: 22%
  • $150,000 to $199,999: 11%
  • $200,000 to $299,999: 6%
  • $300,000 to $399,999: 3%
  • $400,000 to $499,999: 1%
  • $500,000 or more: 5%
  • No answer: 5%

The most common ranges held pretty consistent across age groups. But the youngest cohort, those ages 18 to 34, are slightly more likely than their older peers to say they would like to earn $500,000 or more. While just 5% of all respondents said they’d like to earn half a million dollars a year, 7% of those 18 to 34 said the same. 

Current high-earners need more to feel secure

A bigger salary doesn’t always mean less stress or more contentment. 

Those who currently earn $100,000 or more were much more likely than those who earn less to say they’d need at least a $200,000 salary to be comfortable.

Here’s the share of each income group that says they’d need at least $200,000 a year to be comfortable:

  • Below $50,000: 7%
  • $50,000 to $99,999: 9%
  • $100,000 or more: 32%

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