Earlier this week, Donald Trump sent The New York Times an email. In it, he claimed that he was very rich — pointing to a “June 30, 2014 Statement of Financial Condition” that said he was worth $5.8 billion in the year before he started running for president.
But, as the Times noted, when Trump declared his candidacy in 2015, he said that a “Summary of Net Worth as of June 30, 2014” put his total wealth at $8.7 billion. A month after that, Trump’s campaign put out another statement on his wealth. It read, in part:
“Real estate values in New York City, San Francisco, Miami and many other places where he owns property have gone up considerably during this period of time. His debt is a very small percentage of value, and at very low interest rates. As of this date, Mr. Trump’s net worth is in excess of TEN BILLION DOLLARS.”
Pinning down how much Trump is actually worth is a bit of a moving target, largely because the former president often exaggerates. Wildly.
As far back as 2012, when Trump was considering a run for president, he spent time making sure everyone knew he was very wealthy.
“I mean, part of the beauty of me is that I’m very rich,” Trump told ABC. “So if I need $600 million, I can put $600 million myself. That’s a huge advantage. I must tell you, that’s a huge advantage over the other candidates.”
When he eventually did announce for president in June 2015, he did so with his wealth front and center. “I’m really rich,” Trump told the crowd. “I have total net worth of $8.73 billion. I’m not doing that to brag. I’m doing that to show that’s the kind of thinking our country needs.”
How rich is Trump, really? It’s a question that has been asked all of his adult life — and one that remains the subject of much debate. The news earlier this week that Mazars, Trump’s former accounting firm, was distancing itself from the veracity of all Trump financial statements between 2011 and 2020 has reignited the conversation over how much the billionaire businessman has — and how much he owes.
That’s sort of hard to tell — primarily because the former president, in a break with tradition, refused to publicly release any of his previous tax returns, insisting that they don’t actually reveal all that much about a person’s financial status. (Fact check: They do.)
That said, Forbes has been closely monitoring Trump’s wealth for a long time now. And, as of September 2021, they say that Trump’s net worth is actually $2.5 billion. The bulk of that wealth is tied up in real estate ($1.1 billion) with his golf clubs and resorts accounting for another $650 million.
According to Forbes’ calculations, Trump’s net worth peaked in 2015, when he was worth $4.5 billion. It steadily declined during his years in the White House, a fact Trump regularly talked about.
“I said to one of my friends, a very wealthy friend, I said, ‘You know, I’ll bet you it cost me $2 or 3 billion and it’s worth every penny of it,'” Trump told Fox News in 2018. “I don’t need the money and it’s worth every penny because I’m doing so much for the country.”
And there was this in 2020: “[It] cost me billions of dollars to be president of the United States.”
He’s not wrong!
The other thing you have to consider when trying to calculate Trump’s actual wealth is his debt obligations. We know, thanks to amazing reporting from The New York Times, which got their hands on years of Trump’s tax returns, that he owes a massive sum — and those debts are coming due in the not-too-distant future.
As David Leonhardt noted in September 2020:
“In the 1990s, Mr. Trump nearly ruined himself by personally guaranteeing hundreds of millions of dollars in loans, and he has since said that he regretted doing so. But he has taken the same step again, his tax records show. He appears to be responsible for loans totaling $421 million, most of which is coming due within four years.”
Trump is also in the midst of a dispute over a $70-million-plus refund he received from the IRS in 2010. (In 2011, the IRS began looking into whether or not Trump actually merited that refund for business losses. The case remains unresolved.)
The extent of Trump’s wealth, like so much in his life, appears to be, at least in part, made up. Or at least heavily exaggerated.
Perhaps the best way to understand Trump’s approach to his wealth — and to life in general — comes from his 1987 book “The Art of the Deal.” Wrote Trump:
“The final key to the way I promote is bravado. I play to people’s fantasies. People may not always think big themselves, but they can still get very excited by those who do. That’s why a little hyperbole never hurts. People want to believe that something is the biggest and the greatest and the most spectacular. I call it truthful hyperbole. It’s an innocent form of exaggeration—and a very effective form of promotion.”
Truthful hyperbole indeed.