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Money for (Practically) Nothing: 4 Very Big Paychecks for Very Little Work

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Work hard, get promoted, succeed in your new post, and eventually you'll start earning the big money. This progression seems like a firmly ingrained part of the American Dream, and it's certainly worked for a lot of people.

However, these steps aren't absolutely necessary to fatten your bank account, as Washington Mutual CEO Alan Fishman learned back in September. When WaMu failed and was seized by government regulators, Fishman had been on the job for just 17 days. However, he was contractually guaranteed $11.6 million in cash severance on top of the $7.5 million signing bonus he got for taking the job. Basically, Fishman netted just under $20 million for 17 days of work, which is a pretty nice setup for the head of a collapsing corporation. (In Fishman's defense, it's tough to blame WaMu's failure on his leadership alone; it seems highly unlikely that any CEO, however determined, could crash such a large thrift in just two weeks.)

Fishman's not the only person to reap huge rewards for relatively little work. Here are few other well-compensated employees who didn't have to put in too many years of service:

1. Michael Ovitz

After co-founding Creative Artists Agency in 1975, Ovitz quickly skyrocketed through the ranks of entertainment agents until he established himself as one of the most powerful men in Hollywood. In 1995, though, he left CAA to become president of Disney. Ovitz's tenure at Disney was stormy; he clashed with CEO Michael Eisner, who didn't share Ovitz's penchant for delegation. Ovitz also racked up a $6 million tab for various expenses ranging from renovating his office, buying Lakers tickets, and purchasing a BMW. It quickly became obvious that Ovitz wasn't going to be a great fit at Eisner's Disney, so the board terminated his contract after just 16 months. While Ovitz put in more work that Alan Fishman did at WaMu, he also received a lot more cash: a severance package of stock and cash that was worth around $100 million at the time. As Disney's stock price rose, though, so did the value of the package; at one point Ovitz's take might have been as much as $140 million for those 16 months of work.

2. Billy Dee Williams

Critics raved about Aaron Eckhart's turn as Harvey Dent in this summer's The Dark Knight, and most couldn't help but mention that it was a marked improvement over Tommy Lee Jones' campy portrayal of Two-Face in 1995's Batman Forever. However, Jones wasn't the only man to portray Dent in that run of Caped Crusader films. Billy Dee Williams had the role of Dent in Tim Burton's 1989 film Batman. Although the role was a fairly minor one in that film, Williams allegedly took the part with the understanding that he would reprise the character in a sequel in which Two-Face would be one of Batman's antagonists. To this end he had a pay-or-play clause inserted in his contract that basically assured that if the Harvey Dent/Two-Face character appeared in a future Warner Bros. Batman film, Williams would play the role. If the director chose to cast another actor in the part, the studio would have to cough up a buyout to Williams.

In the end, that's exactly what happened: when Tim Burton left the series' helm, Joel Schumacher took over and wanted to cast Jones in the part. Williams received a cash buyout to not be in Batman Forever, a deal most of the principals in the critical disaster probably wish they'd been offered themselves.

3. Carl Pavano

When a professional baseball player signs a new deal, he's pretty much guaranteed to pull in the cash regardless of whether or not he plays. If you want proof, just mention the name Carl Pavano to New York Yankees fans and watch as their faces contort in terror. After an early stint in Montreal and three fairly strong seasons in Florida, Pavano signed a four-year contract worth $39.95 million with the Yankees before the 2005 season. He then got injured. Frequently. The pitcher's ill-fated tenure in the Bronx included pretty standard baseball injuries like an elbow strain and some problems with his throwing shoulder, but he also had some booboos that made Yankees fans wonder if he might be cursed, including two broken ribs in a car crash and a disabled-list trip for bruised buttocks. In all, the Yankees shelled out that $39.95 million for Pavano to make 26 starts over the four-year span. To make matters worse, on the rare occasions when Pavano was healthy he wasn't very good at baseball. His best season with the Yankees saw him compile a 4.77 ERA and allow 1.47 baserunners per inning he pitched. Even Mike Hampton, baseball's other pricy-but-fragile starter, has to shake his head at those numbers.

4. Edward McSweegan

While he may not be as high profile or as well-paid as the other names on this list, McSweegan may have found the sweetest deal an average guy could find. In a coup ripped directly from one of George Costanza's daydreams, McSweegan claimed that he did nothing for seven years while employed as a scientist at the National Institutes of Health. In 2003 McSweegan told the Washington Post that he hadn't really been given any job responsibilities since 1996. Prior to that, he had been a researcher and program officer on Lyme disease, but he was removed from that position in 1995 for arguing with a sufferers' support group. Although he had a title as director of the U.S.-Indo Vaccine Action Program and a list of nominal duties associated with that role, McSweegan claimed that he only carried out the tiniest of tasks like ordering coffee. In exchange, he received a salary in the neighborhood of $100,000.

When the NIH vehemently disputed McSweegan's story that he simply went to work and did nothing all day, he maintained that he never received any assignments. McSweegan would show up, sit in his office, and read to kill time. He took up fiction writing to fill his workdays and published a pair of novels he allegedly wrote while at the office. He told CBS in an interview that he also joined a health club near work "just to sort of break up the day."

The most amazing part of McSweegan's story isn't that he managed to stay employed through this seven-year period, but that he received positive performance reviews from his superiors. He wryly explained to CBS, "I guess I'm good at doing nothing."

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The Average Age When People Become Millionaires
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If you start investing in a retirement plan early in your career, you don’t have to bring home an insanely high salary to become a millionaire—eventually. (Thank you, compound interest.) The average age when bank accounts reach the seven-figure mark is in a person’s late 50s, according to Business Insider and The New York Times.

The average age when women become millionaires is slightly lower than the average age for men, despite the persistent wage gap in the workforce. For women, the average age is 58.5 years old, while for men, the age is 59.3. Or at least that’s the case for people with Fidelity 401(k) retirement plans, according to the investment firm’s research. That means that millionaires are reaching that milestone several years before the usual retirement age of 66 to 67 years old.

Nevertheless, how much money you need to retire comfortably varies based on your current salary, your expenses, and the number of years you’ll be living off your nest egg. Many financial advisers say you should aim for $1 million or more, which will hopefully last you through a 30-year retirement.

Reaching that million-dollar mark may seem like a long shot, but Fidelity has found that more and more of its savings plan customers have become millionaires in recent years. One of the firm’s recent analyses found that 133,000 of its customers had $1 million or more in their accounts in 2017, compared to 89,000 in 2016. (The company oversees 401(k) accounts for around 15 million people, so that’s not exactly a huge portion of its customers, though.) Between 2005 and 2017, the number of women who had $1 million in their retirement accounts doubled.

Fidelity attributes this increase to people putting more money away for retirement than in past decades. On average, the firm’s customers making less than $150,000 a year become millionaires by saving around 22 to 25 percent of their salaries in retirement funds, including employer matches. That may seem like a lot if you aren’t making a six-figure salary, but keep in mind that the earlier you start saving, the more your money grows. Investing just a little money in your 20s is a more effective way to save for retirement than investing a lot of money in your 30s and 40s. So if you want to become a millionaire (and who doesn’t?), now would be a good time to start investing in that 401(k).

[h/t Time]

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How Rich the U.S. Is Compared to the Rest of the World, Visualized
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The U.S. is often called the richest country in the world. But how rich is it, really? A new infographic from How Much, spotted by Digg, explores the average household income across the 36 countries in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). As you can see in the graphic below, the U.S. is, on average, quite rich compared to most other countries.

The infographic explores finances on two different levels. The size of each bubble corresponds to household wealth: in other words, assets minus debts. That means it takes into account savings, stocks, and other financial assets as well as loans. (It doesn't include property holdings due to a lack of data, so it doesn't encompass the big boost of wealth that comes from say, owning a penthouse overlooking Central Park in New York City.) As you can see, the U.S.'s bubble is a pretty big outlier. On average, U.S. families have a net worth of $176,100, compared to just $128,400 in the second-wealthiest country on the map, Switzerland.

Colored bubbles represent household income and wealth across the OCED
How Much

The colors of the bubbles correspond to "household net adjusted disposable income," as the OECD refers to it, which has to do with the money you bring in each year rather than what you own. That takes into account salary, income from things like stock dividends and rental properties, and government benefits (like Social Security, unemployment, food stamps, or housing subsidies). It also takes into account what each household pays in taxes, providing a snapshot of the take-home pay people actually have available to spend, rather than their pre-tax salary.

The U.S. has relatively high salaries, at $44,000 a year (the top of the scale) in disposable income. Only Switzerland, Luxembourg, and Norway have disposable income levels greater than $35,000. Mexico falls at the bottom of the scale, with average adjusted disposable incomes of less than $15,000. Most of Western Europe falls within the $25,100 to $30,000 range, while income in Eastern Europe, Israel, South Korea, and New Zealand is a little lower.

There could be a lot going on behind this data, though. The U.S. has an increasingly stratified economic system, so while the averages seem fairly high, that's probably because the few billionaires among us are skewing the numbers. The U.S. also doesn't have the social safety net offered by governments in much of the rest of the world, meaning that while we have relatively high salaries and pay lower taxes in some cases, we have to pay for things like healthcare and retirement on our own.

Read more about the OECD numbers here.

[h/t Digg]

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