What Does “Six Figures” Mean and How Can You Earn It?

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The term “six figures” refers to any annual six-digit salary that falls within the $100,000 to $999,999 range. Securing a post-graduate degree or attaining a highly in-demand position can help you earn six figures over time.

How Much Money Is Six Figures?

A six-figure salary can range anywhere from $100,000 to $999,999 annually. If a person had an annual income of $500,000, here’s what their payments would look like before taxes and deductions:

Salary Breakdown

$500,000 per year


per hour


per week


every 2 weeks


per month


per quarter


every six months

Please note that this breakdown doesn’t include taxes, which can vary depending on your state and filing status. This breakdown will also vary depending on a person’s exact salary and not what they’re expected to receive.

What Percent of America Makes Six Figures?

When you remove demographics such as infants, students, and stay-at-home spouses and focus only on full-time workers, around 18% of all earners in the US make at least six figures.

Conversely, the median American household income in 2023 was approximately $44,225. This number will fluctuate when one examines factors like the location, education, and health of certain populations. 

How Does Education Affect Earning Six Figures?

Having a higher education can create more opportunities to earn a six-figure salary after college. Postgraduate degrees in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) fields are often requirements for high-paying occupations. 

Below are their median salaries, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Keep in mind that median salaries don’t reflect the highest or the lowest paying positions:

Higher education is synonymous with increased student debt, but at least five college degrees are worth the money in the long run. Medical degrees, engineering programs, industrial management studies, and computer science degrees fall under this umbrella.

Can You Make Six Figures Without a Degree?

It’s possible to earn $100,000 or more each year without a college degree by pursuing certain occupations. Roles in this category often require preliminary and on-the-job training, as well as multiple certifications.

Choosing this route can also help you avoid some of the most frequent student loan mistakes, such as borrowing more money than you need and slowing down your financial growth.

Commercial Airline Pilot

The median salary for airline and commercial pilots was $148,900 in 2023. Securing a pilot’s license is the first barrier to entry for this role, though it will take years to gain the necessary experience for the most lucrative positions.

Air Traffic Controllers

The high level of responsibility and focus required of air traffic controllers results in a high compensation of about $132,250 annually. An individual’s performance and personal experience can pave the way for higher wages over time.

Air traffic controllers only need an associate degree to get started, though this role requires extensive on-the-job training.

Police Officer or Firefighter

Police officers and detectives, along with firefighters, can earn larger salaries based on their experience and location. For instance, the salary and benefits for police officers in California total around $117,822 annually and include health and dental insurance.

Hard Labor Jobs

Hard labor jobs often pay very well to compensate for the physical risks and immense technical knowledge that these roles demand. In 2022, power plant operators earned a median salary of $97,570. As technology and energy continue to become more important to society, the demand and compensation for these roles will almost certainly rise.

Athletes and Sports Competitors

World-famous athletes and sports competitors like LeBron James, Lionel Messi, and Naomi Osaka earn millions of dollars each year, but many of their contemporaries also earn fantastic salaries without ever needing a degree. Talented athletes with the proper opportunities earned a median salary of $94,270 in 2022.

Real Estate Agent

Real estate brokers and sales agents can earn six-figure salaries without a college degree. Instead, they will need to invest time and money into securing a real estate salesperson license—which, in California, for example, can cost upwards of $500 once all fees are accounted for.

Real estate agents largely earn income from commissions, so they’ll have to gain experience and build up their network of clients to hit that six-figure mark.

Making Six Figures From Your Investment Strategy

A certified financial advisor is best qualified to help you understand how your investments can grow in the future. A strong investment strategy combined with the proper resources and economic conditions can also help someone earn six figures annually.

Potential investment options include:

  • Pretax retirement savings plans
  • Stocks, bonds, treasuries, and cryptocurrencies
  • Real estate and REITs (real estate investment trusts)

Compound interest helps funds grow exponentially based on the amount you’ve deposited and any additional contributions you add. To see this concept in action, you can use our 401(k) calculator and try out multiple scenarios.

Normally, compound interest accounts can generate 5% to 8% interest each year based on your retirement investments. Jobs that provide employees with 401(k) matching contributions can generate hundreds of thousands of dollars by the time you reach retirement age (around 65 years old).

What Are the Best Ways to Start Earning Six Figures?

Keep these strategies in mind if you strive to make at least $100,000 annually:

  • Consider earning a postgraduate degree. Postgraduate STEM degrees may pave the way for higher-paying roles after graduation.
  • Avoid student loans to the best of your ability.
  • Research vocations that don’t require post-graduate degrees. 
  • Consider attending a trade school or a technical college.

How to Increase Your Income in Your Current Role

You have several options to increase your revenue in your current career.

  • Consider switching companies every few years. Competitors may pay more for experienced workers from other companies.
  • Pursue promotions within your current organization whenever possible.

Explore entrepreneurship once you’ve gained enough practical experience and saved up a set amount of capital. 

2024 Tax Brackets for Single and Joint Filers

As your salary increases, so will your tax obligations for each year. The Internal Revenue Service disclosed the following income tax bracket structure for 2024:


Single Filers

Joint Filers
















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