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Presidential Debt Problems: Harry S. Truman’s Personal Debts

Harry Truman debtYou’re not the only one with credit problems – even our greatest leaders have found themselves in drowning in debt and owing money. In this series celebrating Presidents’ Day, we’ll be taking a look at how the nation’s greatest leaders tried to get themselves out of debt and sought debt solutions for their own personal finances, as well as the debt of the country.

Harry S. Truman, one of the poorest presidents, worked hard his whole life, working on farms and serving as a soldier. He foolishly borrowed against his future inheritance and invested it in a zinc mining operation, which failed, leaving him penniless. He then partnered with a fellow Great War veteran, Eddie Jacobson, and opened a haberdashery in Kansas City (store for men’s clothing and accessories).  Though business started out strong, the postwar economic downturn of the 1920s forced the store to close. Truman was determined not to file for bankruptcy, even though he had lost a $30,000 investment (over $400,000 today).

Through his early career as a judge, Truman continued to pay off of his debts, which followed him into the next decade and his days as a senator. His financial state led to the doubling of the presidential salary, which he received after his tenure. In fact, Truman and his wife became the first official recipients of Medicare when President Lyndon Johnson signed it into law.

Humorously, one of Truman’s debts remained unpaid for decades. In 2012, the Truman Library Institute settled a $7.50 debt with a paperboy that Truman owed from 1947. Now 80 years old and living in a retirement community, George Lund delivered papers to Truman’s house for six months and was owed, with interest, $56.63.

Truman is a perfect example of the hard work and discipline that it takes to pay off debt. There is no perfect or easy solution, and even if you work with a credit counselor or enter a debt management program, you will need to commit yourself fully to lowering your debt.

For more presidential debt stories, be sure to check out our blog entry on Abraham Lincoln’s personal debt problems and Mary Todd Lincoln’s shopaholic tendencies.

 

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