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US Presidents experienced their fair share of money problems during their lifetime

7 U.S. Presidents Who Had Money Problems

Updated on January 19, 2023


You might not know it from looking at the White House, private jets, and impeccable suits, but many US presidents struggled behind the scenes with financial obligations and burdensome debts. Here is every past POTUS that couldn't float us with easy personal loans because they experienced their fair share of money problems during their lifetime.

Thomas Jefferson: 1801 to 1809

While known for being a brilliant writer, a Founding Father, and wealthy landowner, Jefferson actually died $107,000 in the hole—roughly over a million dollars by today's standards. Since he was a farmer, he was subject to all the monetary fluctuations of the business, as well as burdened with a heavy debt he inherited from his father-in-law and a friend. Jefferson was also prone to lend out money and the payments made for those registration loans were rarely reliable. In those days, filing for bankruptcy wasn't really a common option. Thus, excluding a brief period from 1800 to 1803 when he actually could do file, Jefferson died with hardly a nickel to his name.

James Monroe: 1817 to 1825

Due to an extensive career in public positions that paid poorly and demanded expenses for entertaining and protocol, James Monroe was crushed with financial obligations when he left the White House after his second term. For the next several years, he spent time pressuring the government for thousands of dollars due to him for past services. Eventually, the government did pay him a portion of the funds he wanted, and Monroe was able to leave a sizable inheritance for his family when he died in 1831 on July Fourth—the third of five founding father presidents to do so.

William Henry Harrison 1841 (for 31 days)

Though being born into a prominent Virginian family gave William Henry Harrison untouchable government credentials, he decided to pursue a career in medicine. When his father died, however, he didn't have enough money to continue his studies, so he used his family connections to start a military career. His financial troubles, enhanced by a growing family (he had fathered ten children) mounted over the years. When he was eventually appointed ambassador of Columbia, it nearly bankrupted him, and he returned from a year abroad to find that bad weather had destroyed his crops, his sons had run up the bills, and creditors were kicking down the door. His attempts to repair the damages were fruitless, and when he died a month after his inauguration, he was close to insolvency.

Abraham Lincoln: 1861 to 1865

Even Honest Abe wasn't immune to his fair share of money problems. His business ventures were unsuccessful and saddled him with troublesome debt for years. There was also the fact that Lincoln just didn't seem to be very business savvy. Around 1831, the not-yet US president and his cousin ferried provisions for a store in Mississippi, where the owner said he was going to open another store and make Lincoln manager. However, the store was run into the ground and Lincoln went on a year later to partner with a friend in buying a store in Illinois. He had no money and so took out loans. Business was bad and the men were unable to pay back their debts. When his business partner died, Lincoln inherited the debt and it took years to pay off. Eventually, however, he managed to pull himself out of the swamp and was elected to Congress eight years later. Shortly thereafter, he was propelled into the presidency.

Ulysses Grant: 1869 to 1877

Grant's humble beginnings never would have predicted his brilliant military career. He had little business sense and so was sent by his father to West Point, where he proceeded to graduate in one of the lowest ranks in his class. But when the Civil War came along, he was swept up into the tides of fame, which he rode straight into the White House. At the end of his second term, he and his wife went on a world tour, disregarding all expense. Eventually Grant’s son, Buck, talked his father into partnering with Buck's business associate, Ward. It turned out that Ward as an embezzler. When he was caught and sent to jail, Grant lost everything. Desperate, Grant decided to write his memoirs and, with some help from friend and publisher Mark Twain, managed to become a bestselling novelist. He died shortly after, but his family inherited $450,000 in royalties, which would be over 11 million dollars today.

William McKinley: 1897 to 1901

Like his predecessor Jefferson, William McKinley made the mistake of cosigning on a debt for a friend. This caused him problems when the said friend went bankrupt. The debt totaled to about $100,000. To make matters worse, McKinley was forced to declare bankruptcy during the time he was governor of Ohio. He asked his friends to help him sell his property and manage finances, but they all turned out to be self-interested and unreliable. McKinley was eventually scooped out of the gutter by Mark Hanna, political boss. Though the news got out that he was having money problems, the Ohio voters didn't seem to care; they re-elected him for another term and in 1897 he was chosen as president of the United States.

Harry Truman: 1945 to 1953

Probably one of the poorest candidates to ever reach the White House, Harry Truman lost his inheritance by borrowing against it in order to invest in a zinc company that ultimately went under. Later, his own business failed and his partner declared bankruptcy. Truman followed suit and like Lincoln, insisted on honoring his financial obligations that saddled him with debt for years. The past presidents' salary wasn't enough for Truman to meet his obligations, so Congress increased it to a total of $150,000. Nearly 20 years later, Truman served as an example to President Lyndon Johnson, who pointed out the need for a national health insurance plan and honored Truman as being among the first of the country's Medicare participants. We hope you enjoyed our little history lesson today. Remember, being in financial distress can happen to everyone - Even presidents of the United States. If you find yourself in need of extra funds because of a financial misstep you can always check online and learn about our payday loan requirements. If you need a larger loan amount our title loans could get you $50,000 using your car title as collateral.