Making a Million Dollars Investing in Stocks

How Long Before I Become a Millionaire on the Stock Market? Investing in the markets is not a get-rick-quick scheme, but a solid plan for accumulating wealth over a lifetime Whether you hit the million-dollar-mark depends on when you start investing, how consistently, and how much Be sure to save up emergency funds so that you’re not forced to withdraw money from the markets during a downturn

Image by Kelly Miller © The Balance 2020

Investing in the financial markets is one of the best long-term approaches to wealth, but many investors probably wonder how long it takes to make a million dollars using the stock market or treasury bonds at a slow and steady pace.

Between 1928 and 1966, the S&P 500—a group of 500 of the largest stocks by market-capitalization—rewarded investors with 9.25% average annualized returns. From 1967 to 2006, investors enjoyed a 11% average annualized return. But just in case that makes you giddy with enthusiasm, S&P 500 average returns were only 7.1% between 2007 and 2018.

Key Takeaways

  • The value of your initial investment in the stock market can grow exponentially over time, thanks to compounding returns.
  • To estimate how long it might take to make a million dollars in the stock market, you can use a projected 8.5% long-term annualized return.
  • If you begin investing in the stock market at age 30, you only need to contribute $5,000 annually to hit the million-dollar mark by age 65.
  • Comparatively, if you wait until you’re age 45, you will have to pony up $20,000 per year to reach that same $1 million by age 65.

Stocks Tend to Grow Over Time

Much like a credit card given to you by a bank with the expectation of interest payments, you give money to someone, expecting a return on your investment. Both use the same guiding principle: compounding. The value of your initial investment grows exponentially over time. In simple terms, compounding is the cycle of generating additional returns on the money that you previously invested.

To get a clearer idea, look at how these S&P 500 return percentages work out in real dollars. Imagine that you had invested $100 in the S&P 500 in 1928. Here’s what it might be worth over time:

Result of a $100 Investment

1928

$143.81

1938

$121.53

1948

$229.79

1958

$1435.84

1968

$3694.23

1978

$5081.77

1988

$22,672.40

1998

$129,592.25

2008

$113, 030.22

2012

$193,388.43

2018
$382,870.94

Notice that at the end of 1928, your $100 would have surged in value to $143.81. Yet, 10 years later, in 1938, the value would have dropped to $121.53. In the end, your initial $100 would have grown to over $382,000.

Despite the lofty annualized investment returns, results vary during individual years. Since the turn of the twenty-first century, the lowest annual-return year has been 2008, with a -36.55% annualized decline, while 2013 saw a 32.15% increase in value. During the prior 18 years, there were five negative-return years and 13 positive-return years in the S&P 500:

S&P 500 and Treasury Bill Rates 2000-2018
Year S&P 500 3-month T. Bill 10-year T. Bond
2000 -9.03 % 5.82% 16.66%
2001 -11.85% 3.39% 5.57%
2002 -21.97% 1.60% 15.12%
2003 28.36% 1.01% 0.38%
2004 10.74% 1.37% 4.49%
2005 4.83% 3.15% 2.87%
2006 15.61% 4.73% 1.96%
2007 5.48% 4.35% 10.21%
2008 -36.55% 1.37% 20.10%
2009 25.94% 0.15% -11.12%
2010 14.82% 0.14% 8.46%
2011 2.10% 0.05% 16.04%
2012 15.89% 0.09% 2.97%
2013 32.15% 0.06% -9.10%
2014 13.52% 0.03% 10.75%
2015 1.38% 0.05% 1.28%
2016 11.77% 0.32% 0.69%
2017 21.61% 0.93% 2.8%
2018 -4.23% 1.94% -0.02%

If these historic norms hold true, investing in the stock market over the long term should yield tremendous financial rewards.

How Long Until You’re a Millionaire?

Based on the returns from previous years, see how long it might take you to reach a million dollars if you invest $5,000, $10,000, or $20,000 in an S&P 500 index fund. The tricky part of this calculation is choosing a hypothetical future rate of return.

Going forward, you can use a projected 8.5% long-term annualized return. By averaging the 10.09% returns from 1967 through 2016 with the lower 2007-2018 return of 6.87%, an 8.5% future return is a reasonable estimate. As the U.S. industrial base matures, and GDP growth slows, it’s reasonable to expect future stock market returns to temper.

Annual Investment Amount Years to $1 Million
$5,000 35
$10,000 27.59
$20,000 20.32
*Assumes 8.5% compounded annual rate of return  

If you begin investing in the stock market at age 30, you might only need to contribute $5,000 annually to hit the million-dollar mark by age 65. Comparatively, if you wait until you’re age 45, then to reach that same $1 million by age 65, you will have to put away $20,000 per year. That’s a difference of $1,667 monthly for the 45-year-old versus $416 per month for the 30-year-old.

If becoming a millionaire is your goal, then investing in the stock market could be a good path. But as the numbers show, investing in the markets isn’t a get-rich-quick scheme. Financial-planning experts will remind you that stocks are a long-term route to wealth building.

Finally, before diving into the financial markets, make certain to save up some emergency cash, so you won't be forced to withdraw money from the markets during a downturn.