How will Donald Trump pay the $438m he owes in penalties from civil trials?

<span>Donald Trump speaks to the media after testifying in court in New York on 6 November 2023.</span><span>Photograph: David Dee Delgado/Getty Images</span>
Donald Trump speaks to the media after testifying in court in New York on 6 November 2023.Photograph: David Dee Delgado/Getty Images

In a matter of weeks, Donald Trump was hit with two giant penalties from two civil trials in New York – $83m for defamation against the writer E Jean Carroll and $354.9m for inflating the value of his assets on government financial statements.

The verdicts combined will cost him some $438m, and that’s only part of what Trump could owe across numerous lawsuits. The payments will probably create a sizable dent in his wallet. Bloomberg’s billionaires’ list estimated that Trump’s net worth in 2021 was about $2.3bn, meaning these two rulings alone could take out almost a fifth of Trump’s net worth.

Related: Donald Trump ordered to pay E Jean Carroll $83.3m in defamation trial

Trump’s finances have been notoriously opaque, not least because the Trump Organization is a private business, meaning it does not have to file public financial reports. But here’s what we know about what Trump has to pay and how it will affect his finances.

It all depends on the appeals

Trump is likely to appeal both cases, the outcomes of which could affect how much he ends up owing. It is unclear how long the appeals will take. For reference, an appeals court has yet to rule on a May 2023 ruling for a separate Carroll case that found Trump guilty of sexual abuse and defamation. Trump was ordered to pay $5m in damages in that case.

Also, the appeals court is technically considering two appeals coming out of Trump’s fraud trial. The first appeal came after a September pre-trial ruling found Trump guilty of fraud, ordering the removal of his business licenses. The second appeal is about the penalty the New York judge Arthur Engoron ordered Trump to pay after the months-long trial. It is unclear whether the appeals court will decide on the two appeals together or separately, but it will probably be at least a few months before any decision is announced.

Bankruptcy for Trump is unlikely

While $438m is no small sum, Trump is wealthy. Trump ally Rudy Giuliani declared bankruptcy after a jury ordered him to pay $148m to two Georgia election workers; the former New York mayor has declared he owes between $100m and $500m and has assets of between $1m and $10m.

To declare bankruptcy, Trump would have to prove that the verdict outweighs his assets, something that is highly unlikely.

During a deposition with prosecutors for the fraud trial in April 2023, Trump said that he had more than $400m in cash. However, last year, Forbes reported that Trump had since invested the bulk of his cash in bonds and treasuries, with a small portion kept in stocks and mutual funds. After his guilty verdicts, Trump will probably have to sell a good chunk of those investments.

A big question is whether Trump will have to touch anything in his real estate portfolio. Trump has gotten a cash boost from selling his properties before: he sold his golf club in the Bronx last year, and in 2022, he completed the sale of the Old Post Office building in Washington DC, which was converted into a hotel. Court documents showed that the sale of the Old Post Office netted $131.4m before taxes, according to the New York Times.

It will be a tough decision for a man who, just several years ago, claimed he was worth $10bn. This pride in his wealth has recently been used against him. In closing arguments in Carroll’s January trial, her lawyers told the jury that they should punish Trump with higher damages precisely because he claims he is so wealthy.

“A billionaire like Donald Trump could pay a million dollars a day for 10 years and still have money left in the bank,” Carroll attorney’s Roberta Kaplan told the jury on 26 January. “It will take an unusually high punitive damages award to have any hope of stopping Donald Trump.”

Trump will still have to pay the court, even as appeals go through

Even though Trump is waiting on multiple appeals decisions, he will have to give the court the money to hold on to. If Trump wins any of his appeals, he can get his money back.

Trump has a few options in paying the court. He could pay up everything that he owes now in cash. Or he could try to get an appeal bond, meaning he wouldn’t have to pay all the cash up front in exchange for a premium and putting up collateral.

In his May 2023 Carroll case, Trump set aside the $5m he owed in cash, saving him about $55,500 in what would have been bond premiums. Though Trump may prefer to pay out the verdicts in cash, it is unclear whether he has enough on hand to avoid a bond this time.

Trump is rich with campaign money, but spending it on personal legal expenses will be complicated

Trump has been zealously fundraising off his legal troubles, probably because he has sizable legal fees for his two civil trials and four criminal trials.

What Trump can pay for using his campaign money is unclear. A federal law bans candidates from using campaign funds for personal use, making it unlikely that Trump can use campaign funds to help pay off some of the Carroll award and fraud penalty.

But Trump has not shied away from using campaign funds for some of his trials. The Associated Press reported in October that Trump’s Save America political action committee (Pac) had paid $37m in legal fees, more than half of the Pac’s total spending.

And the money keeps flowing in. Trump was the Republican candidate who received the most donations last fall, raising $45.5m in the third quarter. Ron DeSantis, who dropped out of the race in January, raised the second most, taking in about $30m.