Personal Finance

Cohen brings Trump's net worth statements to hearing. Here's how to read them

Key Points
  • Michael Cohen, President Trump’s former personal lawyer, released what he said were three copies of Trump’s financial statements — which include details of his net worth — for 2011, 2012 and 2013.
  • Your net worth is equal to your total assets minus your liabilities.
  • Statements of net worth can leave out crucial details, including cash flow. Asset valuations can also be subjective.
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President Donald Trump's financial statements are here — and they likely only tell part of the story of his wealth.

Michael Cohen, the president's former personal attorney, testified before the House Oversight Committee on Wednesday, and provided the committee with a number of documents, among which he said were copies of Trump's financial statements for 2011, 2012 and 2013.

They include details about the president's net worth at the time — the sum of his total assets minus his liabilities.

The statements are available for download here: 2011, 2012 and 2013.

Notable items on Trump's balance sheets include a "brand value" of $4 billion in 2013 — the highest valued asset in that year's statement — which bumped his total assets to $9.1 billion that year and raised his total net worth to $8.6 billion.

The line item for Trump's "brand value" is absent from his 2011 and 2012 statements. In both of those years, the total value of his assets was about $5 billion.

His net worth was shown as $4.26 billion in 2011, and $4.6 billion in 2012, according to the financial statements.

"My net worth fluctuates, and it goes up and down with markets and with attitudes and with feelings, even my own feelings," Trump had said in a 2007 deposition.

Steven Groves, a spokesman for the White House, had no comment.

Read Michael Cohen's opening statement to the House Oversight Committee here

While net worth statements provide some insight into a person's assets and outstanding debt, they don't provide the whole picture.

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"In addition to the balance sheet, it's important to understand someone's net income and their cash flows," said Jeffrey Levine, CPA and CEO of BluePrint Wealth Alliance in Garden City, New York.

Here's what you need to know about deciphering a statement of net worth.

What does it show

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A balance sheet or a statement of net worth includes a breakdown of assets, generally listing them from most to least liquid, as well as liabilities.

On Trump's balance sheets, for instance, cash and marketable securities are at the top of the list of assets, followed by real estate, partnerships — and in the case of the 2013 statement, his brand value.

Cash and marketable securities are the easiest to value. "If you own 1,000 shares of Apple, we can say what it's worth on any given day," said Levine.

However, partnerships and real estate aren't as liquid. Their actual value can also be harder to ascertain.

"When you have illiquid investments, you can say that you're worth a lot more," said Brett Danko, a certified financial planner and managing member of Main Street Financial Solutions in Newtown, Pennsylvania.

A balance sheet can show that someone has $10 million in the bank, which sounds great, but a statement of cash flows might show they're spending $2 million more than they're making every year.
Jeffrey Levine
CPA and CEO of BluePrint Wealth Alliance

"Unless you do an actual appraisal or have a business valuation of that private entity, there's no way to truly check that," he said.

Illiquid and other hard-to-value assets allow individuals some wiggle room to inflate or deflate their net worth.

"It's to an individual's benefit to find an appraiser who will value it at the highest value possible if it's real estate," said Levine.

The story might be different once that individual dies: Lower asset values would result in lower estate taxes owed.

"Looking at estate tax liability, an individual would want their net worth to be as little as possible," he said.

What's missing

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In order to get a full view of someone's wealth and income, you'd need additional documents, including cash flow statements and income tax returns.

"A balance sheet can show that someone has $10 million in the bank, which sounds great, but a statement of cash flows might show they're spending $2 million more than they're making every year," Levine said.

"They'll be broke in five years," he said.

An income tax return would give you a bird's eye view of an individual's income sources.

However, if you want to delve into the finer details, you'd need to take a look at the schedules needed to complete that return.

For instance, Schedule A provides information on itemized deductions that a taxpayer claims. It would shed light on state, real estate and property taxes paid, interest paid on home mortgages, as well as more information on medical expenses.

It also would shed light on charitable giving, which well-to-do filers use to reduce their tax burden.

Meanwhile, Schedules B and D shed light on interest and dividends paid, as well as capital gains and losses.

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