I'm aware of several people (mirror) earning in a one-dollar salary, and I'm not aware of anyone earning in a one-cent salary. Is it possible to have a one-cent-per-year salary in the United States?

I understand from Wikipedia that:

One-dollar salaries are used in situations where an executive wishes to work without direct compensation, but for legal reasons must receive a payment above zero, so as to distinguish him or her from a volunteer.

so I wonder if the minimum is 0.01 USD or 1 USD.

  • 2
    Not only am I willing to hire you for a salary of one cent per year but I'm also willing to pay you time and a laugh. Aug 11, 2020 at 19:37
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    @BobBaerker as long as the laugh isn't taxable I'll take it. Aug 11, 2020 at 19:40
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    For federal tax purposes we round to the nearest dollar, so 0.01 would round to 0. I don't know if that is the reason $1 is used instead of $0.01. Is that $0.99 difference significant in some context? I don't see why it would matter.
    – Hart CO
    Aug 11, 2020 at 19:40
  • @HartCO To see whether Bob can hire me at that price, and more generally to understand the implications of such a salary. Aug 11, 2020 at 19:44
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    Does anyone actually know if it is technically legal. All I see is speculation.
    – Fattie
    Aug 12, 2020 at 13:04

2 Answers 2


I'm speculating because I don't know what legal reasons would be at play here, but my assumption is that it is either tax related, or that the primary means for proving employee status are tax records. If that assumption holds, the IRS policy of rounding to the nearest dollar would necessitate a pay that rounds to $1 instead of $0.

That makes you wonder if they could then just pay $0.51 so that it rounds to $1. Even if that were the case, my guess is that a nice even dollar is just easier.

A $1 salary in the context of minimum wage/minimum salary laws is certainly legal for business owners:

Under a special rule for business owners, an employee who owns at least a bona fide 20-percent equity interest in the enterprise in which employed, regardless of the type of business organization (e.g., corporation, partnership, or other), and who is actively engaged in its management, is considered a bona fide exempt executive.

That means a business owner can be an exempt employee (no minimum wage/overtime requirement) without meeting the other criteria (minimum salary) that apply to exempt employees.

This Business Insider article from last year highlights a number of CEO's who are/were receiving salary of $1 or less. On the list are several that don't own 20% of their companies, which supports the notion that there are other exceptions to the minimum salary rule, but based on the DOL sheet linked above I don't see what specifically would apply to non-owners.

  • Thanks, good point about the potential rounding complicated. Aug 11, 2020 at 21:02
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    Does anyone actually know if it is technically legal. All I see is speculation.
    – Fattie
    Aug 12, 2020 at 13:38
  • I like that addition about classifying an owner as a "bona fide exempt executive". I interpret it to mean "exempt" from minimum wage, overtime, and hourly regulations, but I don't see where it exempts them from the minimum salary under 29 CFR 514. Still digging -- this is becoming a fun little rabbit-hole. :-)
    – Doug Deden
    Aug 12, 2020 at 22:18
  • @DougDeden You'll notice in the link that the rules for exempt executives includes a salary requirement, but the special rule for business owners does not have that requirement. They get to be an exempt executive regardless of salary.
    – Hart CO
    Aug 12, 2020 at 22:46
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    @DougDeden If all the requirements for "executive exemption" applied to business owners anyway, there would be no point in adding that special business owner section. I agree though, tax code and gov-speak is brutal.
    – Hart CO
    Aug 13, 2020 at 0:28

I like Hart CO's answer about rounding and tax implications. But I'm gonna come at this from another direction.

Even one dollar per year might not be legal

A case can be made to challenge the legality of the one-dollar-per-year salary. The US Department of Labor (DOL) sets a minimum salary for exempt employees. Beginning on 01 January 2020, this minimum is $23,660 annually. In this context, "exempt" primarily means exempt from receiving overtime pay.

So if the employee in question is exempt, they would not be able to receive a salary of one dollar per year without violating that DOL rule. On the other hand, if they are non-exempt, they would be subject to the more well-known minimum wage -- currently $7.25 per hour in the US, and higher in some jurisdictions. Plus, they'd be subject to hour tracking and overtime. (I suspect most of these are senior executives, and they probably work well over 40 hours per week.) Most wage and hour regulations round to the nearest 15-minute increment, and have a minimum number of paid hours per shift. Even if the minimum is fifteen minutes, that's $1.81 even if the employee in question only worked 15 minutes in the entire year.

Per the Wikipedia article linked in the question, many recent or current situations of this phenomenon are government employees. Perhaps the DOL regulations don't apply to government employees -- I haven't found anything on that yet.

The special case of the U.S. President

In the specific case of the president, the U.S. Constitution sets forth that the president is to receive a fixed salary, and then 3 U.S. Code § 102 currently has it set at $400,000 per year. That's why President Trump couldn't opt for zero (or one dollar per year) and instead is donating his salary to various organizations.

  • I seem to remember another DOL rule to the effect that wages must be paid no less frequently than once a month, and so one cent per year would be impossible, but one cent per month might be legitimate. Aug 12, 2020 at 21:41
  • @DilipSarwate Interesting. I've found this -- patriotsoftware.com/blog/payroll/… -- which says that while there is no federal requirement, 47 states plus DC require monthly or more frequent pay. So that penny per year might still be on the table for Alabama, Florida, and South Carolina. :-)
    – Doug Deden
    Aug 12, 2020 at 21:52
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    The exempt employee rules that require a minimum salary don't apply to business owners at the least, so $1 is certainly legal for those folks.
    – Hart CO
    Aug 12, 2020 at 22:17

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