The President’s Paycheck: A Look at U.S. Presidential Salaries

The White House in Washington DC with waving United States flag.
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The office of the President of the United States is arguably the most important job in the country. Compared to the salaries of executives of Fortune 100 companies, however, it may appear that the compensation doesn’t keep up.

Read: What To Do If You Owe Back Taxes to the IRS

While it’s true that the president’s salary is modest by some standards, other perks go along with the job, and those often lead to far greater earnings after the term has ended.

How Much Does the President Make?

The presidential salary is $400,000, which is taxable to the president as income. There is also a $50,000 expense account, which is not taxed. This account is used to defray expenses associated with the president’s official duties, and, if not used, reverts to the U.S. Treasury.

The Presidential Pension: What They Make For Life After Leaving Office

When the president leaves office they are still considered a federal employee and therefore receives an annual pension, travel expenses and more. Here are some key takeaways:

  • $221,400 annual pension for life
  • Allowances for office space and staffing, beginning six months after leaving office
  • $1 million in travel expenses, or are reimbursed up to that amount
  • Lifetime health benefits
  • Funeral ceremony with full honors and, if they so choose, burial at Arlington National Cemetery

Presidential Income Breakdown

Compensation Type Amount
Salary $400,000
Expense account $50,000
Travel $100,000
Entertainment $19,000

Presidential Historical Salary Range

The president gets a raise far less often than most workers. The presidential salary has only been changed five times from the initial salary.

  • 1789: $25,000 per year
  • 1873: $50,000 per year
  • 1909: $75,000 per year
  • 1949: $100,000 per year
  • 1969: $200,000 per year
  • 1999: $400,000 per year — remains to present day
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Some presidents don’t take their salary. George Washington declined his presidential salary in his inaugural address. John F. Kennedy and Herbert Hoover donated their salaries to charity, and, in the case of Hoover, to staff. Donald Trump donated his salary to several federal departments.

What Some Former Presidents Did After Leaving Office

Being President of the United States is a tough act to follow, but many who leave the office don’t wish to retire. Here’s what some former presidents have done since their terms ended.

Former President Barack Obama

Barack Obama earned $400,000 a year as president, up from the $157,000 per year he earned as a U.S. Senator before becoming president. Before that, Michelle Obama was the family’s primary breadwinner, as she earned $247,000 as an attorney, according to Celebrity Net Worth.

In 2017, both of the Obamas signed publishing contracts for their autobiographies, to the tune of $60 million. They own homes in Washington, D.C., and on Martha’s Vineyard, Mass., and have an estimated worth of $70 million.

Former President George W. Bush

After leaving the White House, George W. Bush also got a book deal but was reported to have been paid just $10 million. His memoir, “Decision Points” was published in 2010.

He has also written “A Charge to Keep,” “We Will Prevail: President George W. Bush on War, Terrorism and Freedom,” “George W. Bush on God and on Country: The President Speaks Out About Faith, Principle, and Patriotism” and “41: A Portrait of My Father.” A collection of his speeches was published as “The George W. Bush Foreign Policy Reader: Presidential Speeches with Commentary.”

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Former President Bill Clinton

After leaving the White House, Bill Clinton, like many other ex-presidents, worked on establishing his presidential library and had many speaking engagements. Unlike any other ex-president in history, however, he was also very active in his wife’s campaign for president in 2016.

Like Obama, Bill Clinton also wrote a book after he left the White House, called “Between Hope and History,” and he was reportedly paid $14 million to do so. Since then, he has written three other non-fiction books, called “My Life,” “Giving” and “Back to Work.”

Clinton also co-authored two fiction books with best-selling author James Patterson. Political thrillers “The President is Missing” and “The President’s Daughter” were both on the New York Times bestseller list.

Former President George H. W. Bush

Some ex-presidents have sufficient assets that they don’t need to work after leaving the office.

When George H. W. Bush finished his presidential term, he re-entered private life by volunteering at a church and sitting on the board of a local hospital. He set up his presidential library and museum and raised funds for disaster relief in Asia along with Bill Clinton. He also campaigned for his sons George W. Bush and Jeb Bush.

Former President Jimmy Carter

Carter was not only an unusual president, but he is also an unusual ex-president. He has dedicated his post-White House life to human rights and charitable causes.

He is a very visible volunteer with Habitat for Humanity, an organization that builds houses for the underprivileged. While other ex-presidents use their notoriety to raise funds and give speeches, Carter can be seen hammering nails and painting walls.

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After his presidency, Carter wrote “Keeping Faith: Memoirs of a President,” “Turning Point” and “An Hour Before Daylight.”

Final Take To GO

Being President of the United States requires selfless dedication to the country, and since the salary is modest, it’s understandable that some former presidents are well-compensated for sharing their experience. Writing books, giving speeches and working for charitable organizations are all ways that ex-presidents can benefit from their unique position.

Of course, presidents get other benefits, as well. Their cost of living is virtually non-existent, as they live in furnished residences such as the White House, and travel expenses are paid for through such means as Air Force One. They and their spouses get Secret Service protection for life.

Caitlyn Moorhead contributed to the reporting for this article.

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