How do presidents make money after they leave office?

Since presidents command a fairly hefty salary (today, it’s $400k) while they’re in office, you might assume they’re flush by the time they leave the White House. But that’s not always the case.  In fact, several presidents actually went into debt after they left the Oval Office: Most recently, Bill Clinton walked out of the […]


February 14, 2020

Bill Clinton playing a saxaphone image

Since presidents command a fairly hefty salary (today, it’s $400k) while they’re in office, you might assume they’re flush by the time they leave the White House.

But that’s not always the case. 

In fact, several presidents actually went into debt after they left the Oval Office: Most recently, Bill Clinton walked out of the White House with $16m of debt.

Presidents do earn annual lifetime pensions (today’s are $213.6k/year), but Ol’ Billiam dug himself out of the hole by going big on the speaking circuit and inking book deals. 

But Bill wasn’t the original Oval Office opportunist 

For most of history, ex-presidents who continued giving public speeches did so for free: Rutherford B. Hayes, Teddy Roosevelt, Herbert Hoover, and Harry Truman all delivered numerous speeches but refused compensation for doing so.

But that all changed with President Gerald “Jer Bear” Ford. He wasn’t so shy about cashing in on his commander-in-chief experience.

Ford figured: ‘Why not take a post-Prez victory lap?’

When Ford left office in 1977 (after serving as president for just 895 days), he began giving paid speeches across the country — collecting a cool $25k per speech. 

But as it turned out, Ford’s going rate for his speeches was chump change compared to the spendy speeches sold by his successors.

And he talked his way into more than just speeches 

Ford was an Oval Office opportunist from start to finish: In addition to cashing in on paid speeches, Ford also collected fees for appearing at events ranging from big conventions to the opening of a shopping center.

And he didn’t stop there.

Ford also served on a number of corporate boards — including 20th Century Fox and American Express — and was known for taking presidential power naps in board meetings.

Thus began the era of the Capitalist-in-Chief 

By cashing in on events, speeches, and corporate board seats post-presidency, Ford managed to increase his net worth by more than 400%. 

But some other presidents have done even better. 

Here are the modern presidents (Nixon and beyond) whose net worth increased most dramatically after their election:

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