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What Are My Assets?

April 6, 2017
Managing Money, Personal Finance
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Income, expenses and debts are just a few pieces of your financial puzzle. Taking inventory of your assets is a critical part of completing the picture.

An asset is something you own that has monetary value, like a car or stock. Assets are generally grouped into two categories: cash and cash equivalents, and property. They can be personal or business-related, but we’ll focus on the personal use here.

Knowing what your assets are and what they’re worth helps you protect them and measure whether you have enough to put toward goals and unexpected expenses as they arise. “It’s allowing you to be accountable for the increase in your wealth over time,” says Laura Scharr-Bykowsky, a certified financial planner in South Carolina.

Armed with this information, you can make educated financial decisions. Here’s a basic introduction to assets and how they might affect you.

Types of assets

Identifying assets is the first step toward figuring out their worth. There are several types of assets, and some examples fit more than one description. Some depreciate in value, others appreciate. Here are some definitions:

  • Cash and cash equivalents: The money that’s in your pockets or stored in a savings account, checking account, certificate of deposit or other account
  • Tangible assets: These are physical objects, or the assets you can touch. Examples include your home, business property, car, boat, art and jewelry.
  • Intangible assets: The nonphysical assets like stocks, bonds, pensions and royalties
  • Liquid assets: Liquid assets are cash or the things that can be sold and converted to cash quickly, like readily tradable stocks and bonds. Selling these assets generally does not affect their price.
  • Illiquid or fixed assets: Sometimes referred to as “fixed assets,” illiquid assets usually take longer to convert into cash, and their value may change in the process. Real estate, furniture, antiques and equipment are all considered illiquid or fixed assets.
  • Fixed-income assets: Investment money that is lent for interest, including government bonds, certificates of deposit and securities
  • Equity assets: Your ownership interests in a company, like stocks, mutual funds and retirement accounts

Why they matter

Your assets come into play when determining your net worth, or personal price tag.

“Net worth is important to track to see how it grows with time. Hopefully, as you age, you should increase your net worth,” Scharr-Bykowsky says. This metric can help you monitor your progress toward reaching financial goals like buying a house or saving for retirement.

Here are some specific reasons why you might need to figure out your asset value:

  • Net worth: Again, your net worth helps shape your financial health. You can calculate your net worth by subtracting your liabilities (what you owe, or debts) from your assets (what you own).
  • Insurance: You’ll need to know how much certain assets, like houses and jewelry, are worth to get them properly insured. Insurance gives you coverage in case of an event like a fire, flood or robbery, or potential liability, say if you’re sued after a car accident. Another asset people tend to overlook is their ability to earn an income. Consider protecting your livelihood with disability insurance.
  • Loan applications: Liquid assets are often part of what lenders look at when you apply for a mortgage, car loan or home equity loan. You may get lower rates or better terms if you have funds to fall back on to quickly make loan payments if you lose your job.
  • Collateral: Some lenders require you to put your house or car up as collateral to receive a loan. If you do not repay the loan, these items may be seized to help cover the cost.
  • Divorce: Your money and possessions may be divided up with your ex-spouse during a divorce
  • Bankruptcy: There’s a possibility that you’ll have to give up some assets, like jewelry or a car, if you file for bankruptcy
  • Retirement: Having a stockpile of liquid assets is crucial when you’re retired. It’s best to have money readily available to cover living expenses when you no longer receive a paycheck. Make sure to account for taxes when converting your assets to cash.

How to determine the value of your assets

The value of tangible assets like cars and antiques isn’t as clear cut as cash and cash equivalents; You can’t simply log in to an account and check the balance. The original price you paid or retail price of an item can serve as a benchmark. To get a current value, get your property appraised by a professional or do your own assessment. Scharr-Bykowsky recommends using tools like Kelley Blue Book for cars and Zillow or Trulia for home value estimates.

Lauren Schwahn is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: Twitter: @lauren_schwahn.