Presidents' Salaries During and After Office

From Woodrow Wilson to Donald Trump

Presidents’ Salaries During and After Office: While in office, the U.S. president receives a salary of $400,000 a year and a $50,000 expense account as of 2001.Jimmy Carter: $200,000 per year in office / $437,000 received after term Bill Clinton $200,000 per year in office $1,063,000 received in 2018 George W. Bush $400,000 per year in office $1,140,000 received in 2018 Barack Obama $400,000 per year in office $1,153,000 received in 2018

Image by Catherine Song © The Balance 2020

While in office, the U.S. president receives a salary of $400,000 a year and a $50,000 expense account. Congress added the expense account in 1949. This pays for the president's personal expenses, such as food and dry cleaning.

Title 3 of the U.S. Code also grants a $100,000 non-taxable travel account. Congress has appropriated $19,000 for official presidential receptions and related expenses. Other perks include free transportation in the presidential limousine, Marine One, and Air Force One.

The president receives free furnished housing in the White House. The First Family also receives $100,000 to redecorate the White House to feel more at home. White House upkeep requires permanent residents including maids, cooks, valets, and groundskeepers.

The president receives free health care from the official physician who directs the White House Medical Unit.

Presidents and vice presidents, unlike other federal employees, are expressly permitted to receive any gift, for themselves or on behalf of any family members, as long as the gift is not solicited, coerced, or in exchange for an official act.

Key Takeaways

  • The current salary for the President of the United States is $400,000 per year with an expense account of $50,000.
  • Former presidents receive a pension and other benefits when they leave office. 
  • The benefits former presidents receive is nearly $4 million dollars a year, with more than 40% of that cost in office space. 
  • While the First Spouse has many responsibilities, the position does not pay a salary.

Presidents Who Did Not Take a Salary

The Constitution requires a president to take a salary. The Founding Fathers wanted to protect even wealthy presidents from misfortune that could tempt them to take bribes. The salary may have also been designed to ensure that a lack of personal wealth would not prohibit a president-elect from taking office.

Four presidents refused a salary. Instead, they donated all or part of it.

  • Donald J. Trump donated his $400,000 annual salary to various federal departments from 2017 to 2020. As of October 15, 2020, Trump's net worth was $2.5 billion.
  • John F. Kennedy donated his $100,000 salary to charity. He was the beneficiary of a multimillion-dollar trust fund. He also donated his salary while serving 14 years in Congress.
  • Herbert Hoover divided his salary between various charities. He gave some of it to his staff. Hoover's net worth was around $4 million in 1913, worth about $105 million today.
  • George Washington donated his $25,000 salary. He used some of it for travel expenses. He needed a special chariot to take him through the rugged roads of the South. He had also foregone a salary while he was our nation's military commander.

Salary for First Spouses

The First Spouse receives no salary. The responsibilities include SVP of communications and strategic planning, head of program management, and VP of Global Affairs.

Some First Spouses give up lucrative careers to enter the White House. For example, Hillary Clinton had been a partner at Rose Law Firm in Arkansas and Michelle Obama was an executive at the University of Chicago hospitals.

Vice Presidents' Salary

The Vice President receives the same salary as the chief justice of the United States and the speaker of the House. It is dictated by the Ethics Reform Act of 1989. The Vice President receives an annual cost-of-living adjustment.

The Vice President's pension is calculated like that of other members of Congress. Ex-Vice Presidents and their families are entitled to Secret Service protection for six months after leaving office, and temporarily any time afterward if warranted.

Presidents' Salaries Throughout History

Congress has only given the president a raise five times. A president cannot get a raise while serving a current term. As a result, most raises are gifts from an outgoing president to future ones.

Here is the president's salary through history, and what it would be worth in today's dollars. Thanks to inflation, all previous presidents received more in buying power than the nation's top executive does today.

  • 1789: The president's salary was $25,000. It would be worth around $740,000 in 2020.
  • 1873: President Ulysses S. Grant signed the bill that authorized his raise for his second term. The $50,000 salary would be worth $1.08 million in 2020.
  • 1909: William Taft received a $75,000 salary. It would be worth $2.15 million in 2020.
  • 1949: Harry Truman received a $100,000 salary. It would be worth $1.09 million in 2020.
  • 1969: Richard Nixon's $200,000 salary would be worth $1.42 million in 2020.
  • 2001: George W. Bush received $400,000. That amount paid in 2001 would be worth about $588,000 in 2020.

How Long Do Presidents Get Paid?

The Former Presidents Act of 1958 ensures that U.S. presidents get paid for life. Congress passed the act to provide for President Harry Truman. After he left office, he had many financial problems. The Act provides former presidents with a pension. They also receive funds for travel, office space, support staff, and mailing costs. The pay should equal that of a head of a federal government executive department. In 2020, these Executive Level I employees received $219,200.

Ex-presidents also receive seven months of transition services. It covers the costs of winding down the outgoing administration and briefing the incoming administration. 

They receive funds for office space and office staff. The aggregate salary for the staff is capped at $150,000 a year for the first 30 months and $96,000 a year afterward.

Widows or widowers of former presidents receive $20,000 a year.

How Long Presidents Get Secret Service

Former presidents and their spouses receive Secret Service protection for life. In 1994, Congress reduced it to 10 years for presidents who entered office after 1997. But Congress reinstated lifetime protection in 2012. Children of former presidents receive Secret Service protection until they are 16 years old. The cost of Secret Service protection is not made public.

The Former Presidents Act provides $1 million a year for security and travel expenses if they didn't receive Secret Service protection. Former first spouses receive $500,000 a year for security and travel purposes if they didn't receive Secret Service protection.

Salaries of Former Presidents

The salaries of ex-presidents are set by the Former Presidents Act. The amount is equivalent to the salary of the head of an executive department. The other costs vary according to each president's needs.

The General Services Administration manages the costs.

The figures stated below are from the FY 2021 budget request:

Jimmy Carter served from 1977-1981. While in office, he earned $200,000 a year with a $50,000 expense account.

As an ex-president, Carter receives $480,000 in FY 2021. That includes $219,000 in pension benefits, $118,000 for office space, and $120,000 for contracted personnel compensation and benefits.

Carter received the 2002 Nobel Peace Prize. He had mediated the 1978 Camp David Accords, established full diplomatic relations with China, and negotiated the SALT II nuclear limitation treaty with the Soviets.

Carter imposed sanctions on Iran in response to the Nov. 4, 1979 hostage crisis. Iranian students took Americans hostage at the U.S. Embassy in Tehran. He also struggled to end the stagflation created by Richard Nixon.

Carter added almost 10 million jobs while president, the fourth-largest increase. He added $299 billion to the debt, increasing it by 43%. Carter created the Department of Education, deregulated oil prices as well as the trucking and airline industries.

Bill Clinton served from 1993-2001. He earned $200,000 a year with $50,000 in expenses.

As ex-president Clinton receives about $1.1 million in FY 2021. That includes $219,000 in personnel compensation and benefits and $237,000 in pensions. He has no travel budget but receives $537,000 for office space.

He signed the North American Free Trade Agreement. He got HIPAA, CHIP, and welfare reform passed.

Clinton added about 18.7 million new jobs, more than any other president. Homeownership was 67.5% when he left office. The poverty rate dropped to 11.3%.

Clinton created a $63 billion budget surplus during his term. The Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1993 raised taxes on the wealthy. He also cut spending by reforming welfare.

George W. Bush served from 2001-2009. He was the first president to earn $400,000 a year.

As ex-president, Bush receives about $1.15 million in FY 2021. That includes $206,000 for staff, and $231,000 in pension benefits. He receives $8,000 for travel, $500,000 for office space, and thousands more for other costs.

Bush fought the 2001 recession with the Bush tax cuts. He responded to the 9/11 attacks with the War on Terror. He started the War in Afghanistan, created the Homeland Security Act, and launched the Iraq War in 2003.

Bush promoted the Medicare Part D prescription drug program. Bush responded to Hurricane Katrina with billions to help with clean up. Bush signed the 2005 Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention Act.

Bush responded to the 2008 financial crisis by approving the $700 billion bailout package. The government took over Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and AIG. 

From fiscal years 2001-2009, the national debt increased by about $6.1 trillion, the second-greatest amount under any president. Bush created about 4.4 million jobs, a 3.2% increase.

Barack Obama served from 2009 to 2017. He earned $400,000 a year while president, with a $50,000 expense account.

As an ex-president, Obama receives about $1.5 million for FY 2021. That includes $244,000 for his pension. For his staff, he is allocated $188,000 in benefits and compensation. Obama receives $711,000 for office space, communications, utilities, and miscellaneous expenses. His travel budget is $5,000.

Obama entered office during the Great Recession. He fought it with the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

He bailed out the U.S. auto industry. Obama's 2010 bill to extend Bush-era tax cuts and unemployment benefits added $858 billion to the debt over two years.

The Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Act improved banking regulation. The Affordable Care Act expanded health insurance and Medicaid. Obama received the Nobel Peace Prize for his work in international diplomacy.

Obama's administration finalized a nuclear agreement with Iran and the International Climate Agreement. He enacted the Clean Power Plan in 2015. His team negotiated the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, but they weren't finalized. 

Obama increased the national debt by about $9 trillion, the most dollar-wise. Federal income was down, thanks to lower tax receipts. He created 14 million jobs from the depths of the recession in December 2009 to the end of his term.

Donald Trump's term is from 2017 to 2021. He earns $400,000 a year with a $50,000 expense account. He donates this to a different federal department each quarter.

Trump's policies follow economic nationalism. He renegotiated NAFTA and started a trade war by imposing tariffs on imports. He withdrew the United States from the Iran nuclear deal and the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Trump's immigration policies focus on blocking illegal immigration. A crucial part of Trump's plan is to build a wall along the 2,000-mile U.S. border with Mexico. He also announced the U.S. withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement.

Trump signed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act to cut income and corporate taxes. It also repeals the Affordable Care Act's tax penalties for those who don't get insurance. As a result, Trump has weakened Obamacare even without repealing and replacing it

Trump promised to reduce the debt but instead added about $3.3 trillion in his first three years, and almost $7.2 trillion by October 2020. He added 6.6 million jobs in his first three years in office, a 4.3% increase. By October 2020, the net job increase was 4.6 million jobs, a 3.1% increase.

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