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Ranked: The Richest Veterans in America

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Richest Veterans in America

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Ranked: The Richest Veterans in America

The U.S is home to 724 billionaires, many of whom have taken on immense risks in the financial world. 16 of these wealthy individuals have also taken on the risks that come with serving in the U.S. military.

These veteran billionaires are worth a collective $81.4 billion and have served in posts ranging from Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) to infantrymen in the Second World War. This visual, using data from Forbes, ranks the richest living American veterans.

This visual categorizes the individuals by either the military branch or war served in depending on what was applicable or determinable.

I Want You for the U.S. Army

According to the Department of Veteran’s Affairs, there are around 18 million veterans in the U.S. Of these 18 million, less than 0.01% can claim the title of billionaire.

NameNet Worth (Billions, USD)Industry War / Unit Served
Donald Bren$15.3Real Estate Marine Corps
Edward Johnson III$10.3Finance & InvestmentsArmy
Ralph Lauren$7.1Fashion & RetailArmy
Richard Kinder$7.0EnergyVietnam War
Charles Dolan & family$6.1Media & EntertainmentWWII, Airforce 
Fred Smith$5.7Logistics Vietnam War, Marine Corps
Charles B. Johnson$4.9Finance & Investments Army
Ted Lerner & family$4.8Real Estate WWII
Julian Robertson Jr.$4.5Finance & Investments Navy
John Paul DeJoria$2.7Fashion & Retail Navy
H. Ross Perot Jr.$2.7Real Estate Airforce
Bob Parsons$2.2Technology Vietnam War, Marine Corps
David H. Murdock$2.1Food & BeverageWWII
S. Daniel Abraham$2.0Food & BeverageWWII, Army
Charlie Munger$2.0Finance & InvestmentsWWII, Army Air Corps
George Joseph$2.0Finance & InvestmentsWWII

Six of the above veteran billionaires served in WWII. They are some of the last surviving veterans of the historic war which was fought by 16 million Americans—today, only around 325,000 WWII veterans are still alive.

George Joseph, of Mercury Insurance Group, piloted a B17 Bomber plane in WWII, and completed around 50 missions. Warren Buffett’s business partner at Berkshire Hathaway, Charlie Munger, served in the Army Air Corps in the early 1940s.

Richard Kinder (Kinder Morgan Inc.) and Fred Smith (FedEx) both served in the Vietnam war.

One notable figure, Ralph Lauren, whose name is synonymous with his clothing products, served in the Army branch for two years in the early 1960s.

Taking on Financial Risk

Billionaire wealth continues to grow in America. Most of these veteran billionaires saw their net worths increase from 2020 to 2021, as, typically, wealth begets wealth. Here’s a look at the changes in net worth of the top five richest veterans who experienced increases:

  • Edward Johnson III: +$4.9 Billion
  • Ralph Lauren: +$1.4 Billion
  • Richard Kinder: +$1.8 Billion
  • Charles Dolan & Family: +$1.5 Billion
  • Fred Smith: +$3.0 Billion

The majority of these veteran billionaires are in the finance industry and some are tied to well-known companies, but they didn’t always have billions on hand to help them exponentially grow their fortunes.

David Murdock was a high school dropout, and after serving in WWII, had no money to his name. He took over a failing company called Dole, and eventually gained the moniker of ‘pineapple king’ after reviving the business.

S. Daniel Abraham, who was an infantryman in WWII, went on to found Thompson Medical. Their main product was Slimfast, which he later sold to Unilever for $2.3 billion in cash in the early 2000s.

Bob Parsons, who received a Purple Heart for his service in Vietnam, started out his professional career as a CPA. He later founded the enormous domain giant, Go Daddy. He has claimed that his time in the military helped him succeed in business.

Peace and Prosperity

We currently live in one of the most peaceful and prosperous times in history, with wars like WWII feeling to many like a story from the past — but for others these conflicts were defining moments for their generation.

While many veterans struggle to readjust to civilian life, on average pre-9/11 veterans have reported fewer difficulties compared to post-9/11 veterans, and some have even managed to reach the highest levels of financial success.

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Personal Finance

Mapped: Personal Finance Education Requirements, by State

Only 22.7% of U.S. students are required to take a personal finance course. Which states have the highest levels of personal finance education?

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The Percentage of Students Receiving Personal Finance Education

When you graduated from high school, did you know how to create a budget? Did you have an understanding of what stocks and bonds were? Did you know how to do your own taxes?

For many Americans, the answer to these questions is probably a “no”. Only 22.7% of U.S. high school students are guaranteed to receive a personal finance education. While this is up from 16.4% in 2018, this still represents a small fraction of students.

This graphic uses data from Next Gen Personal Finance (NGPF) to show the percentage of high school students required to take a personal finance course by state.

A Closer Look at State-level Personal Finance Education

A standalone personal finance course was defined as a course that was at least one semester, which is equivalent to 60 consecutive instructional hours. Here’s the percentage of students in each state who have a required (not optional) personal finance course.

State/Territory% of Students Required to Take Personal Finance Course
Mississippi100.0%
Missouri100.0%
Virginia100.0%
Tennessee99.7%
Alabama99.6%
Utah99.6%
Iowa91.3%
North Carolina89.2%
Oklahoma47.1%
New Jersey43.0%
Nebraska42.8%
Kansas40.8%
Wyoming38.3%
Arkansas34.6%
Wisconsin33.5%
South Dakota27.1%
Ohio23.5%
Pennsylvania16.2%
Maine15.6%
Rhode Island14.8%
Connecticut14.7%
Illinois13.9%
Maryland12.5%
North Dakota12.2%
Vermont12.1%
Nevada11.0%
Indiana10.9%
Oregon7.5%
Minnesota6.9%
Montana6.9%
New Hampshire6.0%
Kentucky5.5%
Colorado5.4%
Delaware5.0%
Massachusetts5.0%
West Virginia3.2%
Louisiana2.7%
Washington2.4%
Texas2.2%
New York2.0%
Michigan1.7%
Idaho1.4%
Arizona1.0%
California0.8%
South Carolina0.8%
Alaska0.6%
Florida0.4%
New Mexico0.4%
Georgia0.0%
Hawaii0.0%
Washington, D.C.0.0%

Eight states currently have state-wide requirements for a personal finance course: Alabama, Mississippi, Missouri, Iowa, North Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, and Virginia. Naturally, the level of personal finance education is highest in these states.

Five states have begun the process of implementing a requirement, with Florida being the most populous state yet to guarantee personal finance education for high schoolers. The state previously required schools to offer a personal finance course as an elective, but only 5% of students took the course.

Outside of the guarantee states, only 9.3% of students are required to take a personal finance course. That number drops to 5% for schools that have a high percentage of Black or Brown students, while students eligible for a free or reduced lunch program (i.e. lower income students) also hover at the 5% number.

Why is Personal Financial Education Important?

The majority of Americans believe parents are responsible for teaching their children about personal finance. However, nearly a third of parents say they never talk to their children about finances. Personal finance education at school is one way to help fill that gap.

People who have received a financial education tend to have a higher level of financial literacy. In turn, this can lead to people being less likely to face financial difficulties.

Chart showing that people with low financial literacy are more likely to face financial difficulties, such as being unable to cover an unexpected $2,000 expense, compared to people with high financial literacy

People with low levels of financial literacy were five times more likely to be unable to cover one month of living expenses, when compared to people with high financial literacy. Separate research has found that implementing a state mandate for personal finance education led to improved credit scores and reduced delinquency rates.

Not only that, financial education can play a key role in building wealth. One survey found that only one-third of millionaires averaged a six-figure income over the course of their career. Instead of relying on high salaries, the success of most millionaires came from employing basic personal finance principles: investing early and consistently, avoiding credit card debt, and spending carefully using tools like budgets and coupons.

Expanding Access to Financial Education

Once the in-progress state requirements have been fully implemented, more than a third of U.S. high school students will have guaranteed access to a personal finance course. Momentum is expanding beyond guarantee states, too. There are 48 personal finance bills pending in 18 states according to NGPF’s financial education bill tracker.

Importantly, 88% of surveyed adults support personal finance education mandates—and most wish they had also been required to take a personal finance course themselves.

When we ask the next generation of graduates if they understand how to build a budget, it’s more likely that they will confidently say “yes”.

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Markets

Charted: U.S. Consumer Debt Approaches $16 Trillion

Robust growth in mortgages has pushed U.S. consumer debt to nearly $16 trillion. Click to gain further insight into the situation.

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Charted: U.S. Consumer Debt Approaches $16 Trillion

According to the Federal Reserve (Fed), U.S. consumer debt is approaching a record-breaking $16 trillion. Critically, the rate of increase in consumer debt for the fourth quarter of 2021 was also the highest seen since 2007.

This graphic provides context into the consumer debt situation using data from the end of 2021.

Housing Vs. Non-Housing Debt

The following table includes the data used in the above graphic. Housing debt covers mortgages, while non-housing debt covers auto loans, student loans, and credit card balances.

DateHousing Debt
(USD trillions)
Non-Housing Debt
(USD trillions)
Total Consumer Debt
(USD trillions)
Q1 20035.182.057.23
Q2 20035.342.047.38
Q3 20035.452.107.55
Q4 20035.962.108.06
Q1 20046.172.138.30
Q2 20046.342.128.46
Q3 20046.642.208.84
Q4 20046.832.229.05
Q1 20057.012.199.20
Q2 20057.232.269.49
Q3 20057.452.359.80
Q4 20057.672.3410.01
Q1 20068.022.3610.38
Q2 20068.352.4010.75
Q3 20068.652.4611.11
Q4 20068.832.4811.31
Q1 20079.032.4611.49
Q2 20079.332.5311.86
Q3 20079.562.5812.14
Q4 20079.752.6312.38
Q1 20089.892.6512.54
Q2 20089.952.6512.60
Q3 20089.982.6912.67
Q4 20089.972.7112.68
Q1 20099.852.6812.53
Q2 20099.772.6312.40
Q3 20099.652.6212.27
Q4 20099.552.6212.17
Q1 20109.532.5812.11
Q2 20109.382.5511.93
Q3 20109.282.5611.84
Q4 20109.122.5911.71
Q1 20119.182.5811.76
Q2 20119.142.5811.72
Q3 20119.042.6211.66
Q4 20118.902.6311.53
Q1 20128.802.6411.44
Q2 20128.742.6411.38
Q3 20128.602.7111.31
Q4 20128.592.7511.34
Q1 20138.482.7511.23
Q2 20138.382.7711.15
Q3 20138.442.8511.29
Q4 20138.582.9411.52
Q1 20148.702.9611.66
Q2 20148.623.0211.64
Q3 20148.643.0711.71
Q4 20148.683.1611.84
Q1 20158.683.1711.85
Q2 20158.623.2411.86
Q3 20158.753.3112.06
Q4 20158.743.3712.11
Q1 20168.863.3912.25
Q2 20168.843.4512.29
Q3 20168.823.5412.36
Q4 20168.953.6312.58
Q1 20179.093.6412.73
Q2 20179.143.6912.83
Q3 20179.193.7712.96
Q4 20179.323.8213.14
Q1 20189.383.8513.23
Q2 20189.433.8713.30
Q3 20189.563.9513.51
Q4 20189.534.0113.54
Q1 20199.654.0213.67
Q2 20199.814.0613.87
Q3 20199.844.1313.97
Q4 20199.954.2014.15
Q1 202010.104.2114.31
Q2 202010.154.1214.27
Q3 202010.224.1414.36
Q4 202010.394.1714.56
Q1 202110.504.1414.64
Q2 202110.764.2014.96
Q3 202110.994.2415.23
Q4 202111.254.3415.59

Source: Federal Reserve

Trends in Housing Debt

Home prices have experienced upward pressure since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. This is evidenced by the Case-Shiller U.S. National Home Price Index, which has increased by 34% since the start of the pandemic.

Driving this growth are various pandemic-related impacts. For example, the cost of materials such as lumber have seen enormous spikes. We’ve covered this story in a previous graphic, which showed how many homes could be built with $50,000 worth of lumber. In most cases, these higher costs are passed on to the consumer.

Another key factor here is mortgage rates, which fell to all-time lows in 2020. When rates are low, consumers are able to borrow in larger quantities. This increases the demand for homes, which in turn inflates prices.

Ultimately, higher home prices translate to more mortgage debt being incurred by families.

No Need to Worry, Though

Economists believe that today’s housing debt isn’t a cause for concern. This is because the quality of borrowers is much stronger than it was between 2003 and 2007, in the years leading up to the financial crisis and subsequent housing crash.

In the chart below, subprime borrowers (those with a credit score of 620 and below) are represented by the red-shaded bars:

Mortgage originations by Credit Score

We can see that subprime borrowers represent very little (2%) of today’s total originations compared to the period between 2003 to 2007 (12%). This suggests that American homeowners are, on average, less likely to default on their mortgage.

Economists have also noted a decline in the household debt service ratio, which measures the percentage of disposable income that goes towards a mortgage. This is shown in the table below, along with the average 30-year fixed mortgage rate.

YearMortgage Payments as a % of Disposable IncomeAverage 30-Year Fixed Mortgage Rate
200012.0%8.2%
200412.2%5.4%
200812.8%5.8%
20129.8%3.9%
20169.9%3.7%
20209.4%3.5%
20219.3%3.2%

Source: Federal Reserve

While it’s true that Americans are less burdened by their mortgages, we must acknowledge the decrease in mortgage rates that took place over the same period.

With the Fed now increasing rates to calm inflation, Americans could see their mortgages begin to eat up a larger chunk of their paycheck. In fact, mortgage rates have already risen for seven consecutive weeks.

Trends in Non-Housing Consumer Debt

The key stories in non-housing consumer debt are student loans and auto loans.

The former category of debt has grown substantially over the past two decades, with growth tapering off during the pandemic. This can be attributed to COVID relief measures which have temporarily lowered the interest rate on direct federal student loans to 0%.

Additionally, these loans were placed into forbearance, meaning 37 million borrowers have not been required to make payments. As of April 2022, the value of these waived payments has reached $195 billion.

Over the course of the pandemic, very few direct federal borrowers have made voluntary payments to reduce their loan principal. When payments eventually resume, and the 0% interest rate is reverted, economists believe that delinquencies could rise significantly.

Auto loans, on the other hand, are following a similar trajectory as mortgages. Both new and used car prices have risen due to the global chip shortage, which is hampering production across the entire industry.

To put this in numbers, the average price of a new car has climbed from $35,600 in 2019, to over $47,000 today. Over a similar timeframe, the average price of a used car has grown from $19,800, to over $28,000.

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