A six-figure income ($100,000+ per year) is regarded by many as the Holy Grail of financial security and stability. Although a bit ambiguous, it’s the financial goal and definition of success for many.
In this article, we’ll answer the one question everyone seems to wonder: How can I make six figures in my twenties?
If you took to LinkedIn, Reddit, Twitter, or TikTok, you’d see tons of young people talking about their six- and seven-figure earnings from their tech jobs, side hustles, content creation, and investments.
Of course, social media isn’t representative of the whole population—not even close.
But it does show that young people—millennials and Gen Z’ers—are not just dreaming about six-figure incomes. They’re actually achieving them.
Well, here’s a little secret – you don’t have to be a genius or an expert in something to earn a six-figure income in your twenties. You just need to know what works for you and the tools that are available at your disposal.
In this article, I’ll skip the clichés and get straight to the value. There are a few ways to earn six figures in your twenties, and I’m going to show you exactly what they are.
What is a six-figure income?
It’s well-known that a six-figure income describes any level of annual earnings between $100,000 and $999,999. Of course, that’s a huge range, which is why it is shrouded in ambiguity.
When someone tells you they “make six figures,” you don’t assume they rake in almost $1 million per year.
And they probably don’t.
Here’s a graph of U.S. income by age from Visual Capitalist. In every age group, you can see fewer than 1% of earners make it past the $475k mark (despite many earning over six figures).
How much is a six-figure income actually worth?
Although a six-figure salary, business earnings, or passive income might signify status or achievement for you, its true value depends on where you live and how you’re taxed.
A few statistics that put the value of a six-figure income into perspective:
- Americans need to earn about 78% more money in 2023 than in 2000.
- Wages haven’t kept up with inflation, increasing just 5.1% in this same time frame.
- More than half of the people who earn over $100,000 per year live paycheck-to-paycheck.
- Of six-figure earners, the vast majority earn less than $200,000.
- San Jose is home to the most six-figure earners per capita (35%)
As you can see, a six-figure salary means less than it used to—especially for most of the people earning one.
In San Jose, for example, the average home value is nearly $1.3 million (almost as much as in San Francisco).
Although more than one in three people are earning six figures, many of them won’t earn enough to live comfortably, own a home, or enjoy many of the comforts they would if their six-figure salary were earned elsewhere.
Therein lies the challenge: How can you earn six figures in your twenties without living paycheck-to-paycheck or sacrificing other aspects of life?
The secret nobody is telling you…
…is that making six figures (at any age) isn’t difficult anymore—no matter what people say. But you do need to be willing to learn high-income skills. And you must be willing to invest in yourself in ways you weren’t taught in school.
Long gone are the days when you needed a Bachelor’s degree (although it helps), the right job, and luck to make six figures.
Now, you can earn a higher income from your laptop, from anywhere in the world. Or you could learn a high-value skill that companies hire and pay top dollar for, like software engineering or data science.
Today’s six-figure earners have the advantage of having access to some incredible tools and resources, like online courses and apps that teach skills quickly and relatively cheaply.
5 Ways to Earn Six Figures in Your Twenties
If you have critical thinking skills, personal finance knowledge, and a bit of entrepreneurial spirit, making six figures in your twenties is highly attainable.
Here are five ways to do so:
1. Find six-figure jobs in tech.
The route that most people seem to go is the full-time job route. And it’s the perfect option if you’re willing to develop tech skills (e.g., computer science, coding), get a college degree, and work in a 9-5 setting.
According to Glassdoor’s Best Jobs for 2022 report, here are the best six-figure jobs:
- Enterprise Architect
- Full Stack Engineer
- Data Scientist
- Dev Ops Engineer
- Strategy Manager
- Machine Learning Engineer
- Data Engineer
- Software Engineer
- Java Developer
- Product Manager
All of these roles pay well over $100,000 per year and offer remote or flexible working arrangements.
However, they will certainly require a college degree (e.g., a computer science Bachelor’s degree). If you want to save money and student loan debt, this might not be the best route.
2. Earn a six-figure salary in sales.
One of the major benefits of a career in sales is your income is typically made up of a base salary + a commission of your sales–in other words, the better you are at closing deals, the more you can earn!
Most sales jobs don’t require graduate-level degrees, so this is an industry where it’s definitely common for 20-somethings to earn a six-figure salary right out the gate.
3. Become an independent contractor or freelancer.
35% of the workforce were full-time freelancers in 2021 and millions more kept a freelance business on the side.
If you have a specific skill set, there’s no reason why you can’t become an independent contractor or start your own freelance business.
There are several benefits to this:
- Some of your income is shielded from layoffs (168,343 tech layoffs at the time of this writing).
- You can expand your business network while doing similar work to your full-time role.
- You are in control of your time, take-home pay, and the future trajectory of your one-person business.
- You can scale your freelancing business if you choose to.
- You don’t need a Bachelor’s degree (some high earners don’t even have a high school diploma, which we advise against).
- You can learn just about any profitable skill from an online course or app.
Freelancing is also the best gateway into entrepreneurship. As a freelancer or independent contractor, you’ll gain the confidence, experience, and financial stability to start a more complicated business later in your career.
And with one fewer service to pay for, your startup costs will be significantly lower!
Here are the best high-income freelance skills to learn and sell:
- Web design
- Web development
- Software engineering
- Search engine optimization (SEO)
- Graphic design
- PPC ads (Google, social media, or Amazon)
Of course, there are drawbacks to freelancing—such as self-employment tax, a lack of health benefits, and no guaranteed job security.
But platforms like Upwork make it easy to find clients. And free software allows you to generate a six-figure income with minimal overhead.
4. Start a consulting business.
If you’re already a bit more established in your professional career, consulting is one of the most lucrative potential income streams.
No bias here (though I do love being a money coach!), but consulting is a fantastic way to cover your living expenses, set extra aside, or invest in a side hustle.
Because they don’t regularly meet with their clients, consultants often charge upwards of $250/hour. Some even charge well into the thousands!
Pro tip: Think about where you were a year or two ago. What do you know today that would have saved you months of learning or thousands in mistakes? That know-how is exactly what your ideal client needs from you.
5. Invest in passive income streams.
Passive income should never be your first idea—you have to work first. But once you’re able to save money (presumably from a six-figure job or freelance gig), diversified investing puts you on the pathway to financial independence.
Passive income streams include:
- Investment property
- Stocks and bonds
- E-commerce stores
- Crowdfunding/P2P lending
- Angel investment
- High-yield savings accounts
- Venture capital
All of these require upfront capital and effort, but the payoffs can be enormous. Imagine building wealth without having to come into your office—or even waking up from bed!
5 More Notable Six-Figure Strategies
If none of these six-figure salary jobs or side hustles seem right for you, there are still several other ways people make six figures at a young age:
- Virtual assistant work
- Affiliate marketing
- Online tutoring/teaching
- Video game streaming
Remember: Success takes hard work, especially if you want to earn more money at a younger age. But when you’re older, you’ll be glad you took matters into your own hands.
Making more money is great, but knowing what to do with it is even better. As you’re working on increasing your income, a common question people run into is “Should I save or pay off debt?”. Read more about that here.