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It’s hard to imagine an American president not having enough money to pay his debts, but for at least 6 of the most powerful men in our nation’s history, bankruptcy could have been a real possibility. That is, it could have been if there were bankruptcy laws back in the 19th century.
It’s not as if these presidents were deadbeats. They weren’t even bad businessmen, necessarily. Presidents in the 19th century not only got less compensation — they were responsible for paying for their own travel, diplomatic entertaining and the salaries of their staffs. George Washington’s annual salary in 1789 was just $25,000. That number did not rise until 1873 when Ulysses S. Grant made $50,000 during his second term.
Sitting presidents have never been paid well. When a reporter commented that Babe Ruth’s $80,000 salary for 1930 was more than President Herbert Hoover’s ($75,000), Ruth famously replied, “I know, but I had a better year than Hoover.”
Even today, presidents don’t make a lot of money — certainly not as much as star athletes. Since 2001, the annual salary of the nation’s chief executive has been fixed at $400,000, plus a $50,000 expense allowance and up to $100,000 for travel. That’s modest when you consider that the median salary of a CEO is about $750,000, before bonuses and other perks.
Bankrate takes a look at the financial storms that overwhelmed 6 U.S. presidents.
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