Bill Clinton says he left the White House $16 million in debt

Bill Clinton joins Hillary Clinton on stage after her acceptance speech for the nomination to be President at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia last July.
Bill Clark | CQ Roll Call | Getty Images

When Bill Clinton finished his presidential term in 2001, he was millions of dollars in the red, thanks to legal fees. "I left the White House $16 million in debt," the 42nd president told NBC's Craig Melvin during an interview that mentioned his handling of the Monica Lewinsky scandal.

As NPR reports, "The presidential salary of $200,000 had been overwhelmed by defense attorneys' fees for scandal investigations, the impeachment proceedings against Bill Clinton and action to suspend his Arkansas law license."

While he and his wife Hillary came out of the White House "dead broke," as Hillary put it, their millions of dollars in debt were erased in 2004, just three years later. And by the time she ran for President in 2016, Forbes estimated her net worth at $45 million.

The Clintons climbed out of the multimillion-dollar hole via paid speeches and lucrative books deals. In his first year out of office, Bill gave 57 speeches and earned $13.7 million from his "speaking and writing" business, according to their tax return. A single speech generated anywhere from $125,000, the standard fee, to $350,000, NPR notes.

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That same year, Hillary reportedly received a $2.9 million installment of an $8 million advance for her book "Living History." Bill collected a $10 million advance for "My Life." And 2001 was just the beginning. The politicians brought home more than $153.7 million in paid speeches between 2001 and 2015.

Of course, the couple was in the unique position of being the Clintons. But anyone can use their debt repayment strategy and focus on earning, albeit on a smaller scale, and plenty of regular people have.

Take financial blogger Michelle Schroeder-Gardner, who paid off $38,000 in seven months. The key to getting out of debt quickly, she says, is to focus on making more money: "The biggest reason for why I was able to pay off my student loans is because I earned as much money as I could outside of my day job. I mystery shopped and got paid to take surveys, but the biggest thing I did was I made an income through my blog."

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The problem with relying on finding ways to cut your budget is that "usually there's a limit to how much you can save," she tells CNBC Make It. "Find ways to make more, because there's no limit on how much extra money you can make in your spare time."

Financial blogger and author Lauren Bowling, who paid off $8,000 of credit card debt in 90 days, has a similar perspective. "The only real way to pay off debt quickly," she writes on, is to earn more. "Sure, saving money is good sense, but spending hours and hours of your precious time to bargain hunt to only slightly lower your bottom line? Ridiculous. I make more hourly than I could ever save by bargain hunting."

Even smaller part-time jobs, such as driving for Uber or looking for jobs on TaskRabbit, can go a long way, she tells CNBC Make It: "It doesn't necessarily have to be as involved as a side hustle or side business. In terms of momentum and progress, small ways of making cash really go a long way when paying off debt."

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