MONEY

The Top Gear Boys Are Back in Town

Cue the Jessica.

The Orangutan, Hamster and Captain Slow are back, but on the web only. After Jeremy Clarkson’s contract was not renewed — he allegedly punch a producer while on a shoot — and his co-presenters James May and Richard Hammond decided not to renew theirs, a bidding war begun among ITV, Netflix, Amazon, and a few others. Ultimately, Amazon won, announcing it on Twitter. The show won’t be called Top Gear, but it will be led by former Top Gear executive producer Andy Wilman.

Wilman told the Radio Times the team would start working on the new show as soon as they’re back from their summer holiday. The show is scheduled to debut online next year.

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MONEY Insurance

Bad Credit Can Be Worse Than a DUI for Raising Auto Insurance Rates

Highway sign with DUI crossed out saying "You Can't Afford It"
Richard Klotz—Getty Images/iStockphoto

Insurers swear their rates make total sense.

Your credit score is a number that indicates how likely you are to pay off debts, from credit card bills to mortgages and beyond. The number is based on one’s credit history, and understandably, these scores are used regularly by banks and landlords as a way of determining whether it’s a good idea to give an individual a loan, or an apartment lease.

Increasingly, and somewhat puzzlingly, credit scores are also being consulted by employers to help them figure out who to hire, and by insurers that set premium rates based partially on the scores. Auto insurance companies began using the scores in the mid-1990s, and it’s now commonplace for them to help determine rates. Only California, Hawaii, and Massachusetts have laws banning the use of credit scores as a factor for establishing car insurance rates.

What in the world does one’s credit history have to do with the likelihood of, say, getting into a car accident? The web insurer esurance admits on its site that using credit scores to determine auto insurance is “controversial.” But it claims that doing so is legitimate nonetheless:

While the reasons why are less than crystal clear, research shows that credit scores can accurately predict accident potential. Statistical analysis shows that those with higher credit scores tend to get into fewer accidents and cost insurance companies less than their lower-scoring counterparts.

While insurers acknowledge that credit scores play a role in whether premium rates are high, low, or somewhere in between, it’s largely impossible to tell how big the impact is. That’s why Consumer Reports decided it was worthwhile to launch an investigation and try to get to the bottom of this. “Over the past 15 years, insurers have made pricing considerably more complicated and confusing,” the report states. Because insurers aren’t exactly forthcoming in explaining how they come up with rates (shocking!), Consumer Reports researchers analyzed more than two billion auto insurance price quotes from 700 companies for hypothetical drivers all over the country.

The results, published in the September 2015 issue, are particularly alarming for drivers with poor credit scores—and even for those with scores that are good rather than excellent. “Our single drivers who had merely good scores paid $68 to $526 more per year, on average, than similar drivers with the best scores, depending on the state they called home,” the report states. Nationwide, drivers with good scores paid an average of $214 more annually than their neighbors with the best credit scores.

The impact of one’s driving and credit history on insurance varies widely from state to state. In Florida, for instance, a single adult driver with a clean record pays $3,826 annually for auto insruance, on average, if he has poor credit, or $2,417 more than a driver with a clean record with excellent credit ($1,409). Meanwhile, a driver with merely good credit would pay $1,721 annually, or $312 more than his counterpart with a top credit score.

Astonishingly, at times a poor credit score seems to have a larger influence on auto insurance rates than a drunk-driving conviction—which, one would think, is surely a strong indicator of the likelihood of getting into car accidents. In Florida, a driver with excellent credit and a DUI would pay an average of $2,274 per year for auto insurance, or $1,552 more than the driver with a clean record but a bad credit score.

Apparently, in the eyes of some insurers, the failure to pay off credit card bills is a worse offense than drunk driving.

MONEY Travel

Why This Fall Is The Best Time in Years to Book a Flight

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John Lamb—Getty Images

Airfares could hit a 4-year low.

If you’ve been putting off purchasing holiday travel tickets, you could be in luck. Hopper, an airfare prediction app, forecasts that domestic airfare prices will drop beginning in August—and stay at an average of $248 until November.

Pre-holiday, your best months to purchase are August and October, when the prices are forecast at $245. And if you’re planning to travel over spring break, buy your tickets in December, when prices are expected to be at an average of $241—a full 12.5% drop from July. Though fall prices are usually, on average, lower than those in the summertime, this year’s expected autumn rates would be the lowest the market has seen in four years. According to Hopper, the app has consistently predicted airfare trends within a single percentage point since beginning to release price indices in April.

Patrick Surry, chief data scientist at Hopper, says the decreases are driven by lower fuel prices, which account for a third of expenses for a typical airline; the entrance of low cost carriers like Frontier, Southwest, and JetBlue into different markets; and the unbundling of services, which might mean you’re paying more in add-ons than you were for the all-inclusive flight three years ago.

If you’re planning on traveling with the whole family in tow, Surry recommends purchasing tickets more than a month in advance for the best prices and availability. And make sure you do your homework: It might seem great to fly from Boston to Orlando for $249, but you could be missing out on the best deal if you have to pay for two additional checked suitcases filled with all the gifts from the grandparents.

Though Hopper only calculates price indices for domestic fights, Surry says August is a good time to travel internationally, as well. With the exchange rate in favor of the U.S. dollar, you can finally take that European vacation you’ve been dreaming of—at a dream price.

Read next: This Is the Cheapest Time of Day to Book a Flight

This article originally appeared in Real Simple.

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MONEY

Consumer Complaints About This Troubling Scam Have Soared

Behold the year's top consumer complaints.

Identity theft was the fastest-growing consumer complaint in 2014, according to a joint annual report by the Consumer Federation of America and North American Consumer Protection Investigators. The list is based on more than 280,000 claims made to 37 consumer-protection agencies in 21 states last year.

Recent, large-scale data breaches at major retailers are at least partly to blame for the rapid rise of identity theft complaints. (It also was the top consumer gripe handled by the Federal Trade Commission last year, making up 13% of all complaints.)

Read next: 10 Funniest & Most Creative Consumer Complaints Ever

Consumer agencies say that stealing someone’s identity to claim their tax refunds, in particular, is a growing problem. “Refund fraud caused by identity theft is one of the biggest challenges facing the IRS,” says the agency, which has 3,000 employees working on tax-related identity theft.

The 37 agencies the two groups canvassed deemed debt collection the worst category overall for consumer complaints, based on a combination of complaint frequency, the dollar amounts involved and how severely vulnerable populations were affected. In some cases, people were hounded to pay debts that weren’t theirs.

“They make harassing phone calls or send threatening emails to scare consumers… to satisfy a loan that doesn’t exist,” the groups’ report says. Other victims who filed complaints with state and local agencies said they were subject to abusive language and other illegal practices from debt collectors, such as threatening them with arrest or calling late at night. (By law, these agencies aren’t supposed to call after 9 p.m.)

Some complaint categories are perennial hot buttons. As in 2013, automotive-related issues were the most frequently reported to protection agencies last year, including, “misrepresentations in advertising or sales of new and used cars, lemons, faulty repairs, leasing and towing disputes,” the CFA says. Other mainstays in terms of generating complaints include telemarketing robocalls, construction and home improvement firms, landlord-tenant disputes and shady retail practices like false advertising or issues with gift cards or coupons.

There were plenty of new contenders causing major consumer headaches last year, too. Consumer protection agencies reported an influx of complaints about student loan repayment or consolidation scams, and businesses refusing to honor customer agreements such as rebates, gift certificates and contracts after changing hands, sometimes even though the businesses retained their old names.

“A good recent example is gyms that have closed and be reopened by other, larger corporations,” says Ethel Newlin of the San Francisco District Attorney’s office. In some cases, she says, “Consumers were left with worthless contracts for the rest of the term they had already paid for.”

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MONEY

Poll: Have You Been a Victim of Identity Theft?

credit card on top of laptop with receipt paper printing out of side
Walker and Walker—Getty Images

Research shows that identity thieves claim a new victim every two seconds.

In 2014 alone, identity thieves managed to get away with a collective $16 billion from 12.7 million U.S. consumers. Two-thirds of the victims had their information exposed via a data breach, which hit a record 783 in 2014, according to the Identity Theft Resource Center.

Have you ever noticed fraudulent charges on one of your accounts? If so, how much was stolen?

 

MONEY Travel

How to Get the Most Out of Your Frequent Flyer Miles

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Aaron Foster—Getty Images

Don't be loyal to an airline that's not loyal to you.

Earning and using airline miles used to be simple. Fly 25,000 miles and earn a free flight. It is not so simple anymore.

The process of redeeming miles is changing in a way that makes it more difficult for all but elite flyers to earn rewards.

One key change: Delta Air Lines’ announcement in mid-July that its SkyMiles rewards will be based on what you spend, rather than on the distance you travel, and the cost will be based on demand rather than a fixed amount.

Experts like Brian Kelly, known as The Points Guy, expect more major airlines to follow suit.

To help sort out the changes to the miles game, Reuters asked Kelly for his advice for travelers to best take advantage of widely varying airline loyalty programs.

Q: Are airlines suddenly being less loyal to their loyal customers?

A: The real answer is that loyalty is being redefined.

In the past it used to be that whoever flew the most was the most loyal, but airlines are now saying it’s whoever spends the most.

Basically, the wealth gap is increasing between economy and first class, which I guess makes senses as the industry keeps changing.

Q: It seems like all the airlines are treating miles like currency, and devaluing them.

A: Pretty much. Every month there are billions of points and miles pumped into the system. But there are just not that many flights, or hotels for that matter, so they are looking for ways to have you redeem more miles and points for less value, and I don’t see that changing.

Q: What airlines are the most generous to their frequent flyers right now?

A: It really depends on where you live and how much you fly, but I still think American Airlines has the best top-tier elite status. American is also the most generous, in my opinion, with international upgrades giving eight system-wide upgrades, versus six on United.

Q: What should travelers look for when they are deciding which airline loyalty program to focus on?

A: Travelers should not have blind loyalty. The biggest thing is don’t put all your miles in one basket. You should get a credit card that allows you to transfer to multiple programs.

You can be loyal to one airline, but don’t over-expose yourself because that program will probably change or that airline won’t fly where you want, so it’s good to have points in all different programs just like your stock portfolio.

Q: Is it even worth it to try to accumulate points with credit cards?

A: Always do the math. If you’re not getting at least 1-2 cents per mile in value you should really just think about getting a cash-back card. The Citi Double Cash and Fidelity Amex both give about 2% back. Why earn one airline mile that’s worth one cent when you could get 2 cents back in cash, which you could use toward anything?

Also, don’t always think that airline mileage cards – especially ones where you’re only earning one mile per dollar spent – are the best value. Sometimes cash is king and the ability to use that cash to purchase whatever you want is a great option.

Q: What strategy should consumers employ for travel this summer or fall?

A: I would recommend that people redeem miles in the near term, don’t hang on long-term in the next several years because these programs are evolving and they are evolving quickly.

If you are spending a lot of money on short flights you should take a look at Delta and United and the programs that reward based on money.

If you’re an economy traveler, especially international, you’re going to lose big time, so do the math and choose a program that rewards you the most.

And, frankly, don’t be loyal to an airline if they’re not loyal to you. If you’re earning less miles and paying more and not getting the perks, it’s time to rethink your strategy.

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TIME Millennials

Even More Millennials Are Living At Home

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Mike Harrington—Getty Images

Sorry mom and dad: Even with an improving economy, the kids aren't moving out

Young adults aren’t doing much to buck the millennials-live-in-their-parents’-basement stereotype; even an improved job market isn’t prompting them to fly the nest.

New analysis of U.S. Census data by the Pew Research Center reveals that 18- to 34-year olds are less likely to be living on their own today than they were during the Great Recession.

Unemployment among young adults has shrunk from 12.4% in 2010 to 7.7% early 2015, yet the share of millennials living independently has decreased in that time, from 69% in 2010 to 67% this year. The share of young adults living with their parents has increased in that same period from 24% to 26%.

The decline in the number of millennials living away from family reflects the decrease in independent living during the financial crisis. In the first third of this year, approximately 42.2 million millennials lived independently. In 2007 prior to the recession, about 42.7 million individuals in that age group lived on their own. In the years in between the population of 18- to 34-year-olds grew by 3 million.

In addition to shrinking unemployment, young adults are also experiencing higher rates of job-holding and full-time employment and are earning more per week now than they were just after the recession, yet the number of millennials heading their own households is no higher in 2015—25 million—than it was before the recession in 2007—25.2 million.

Pew says that these trends are not necessarily being driven by labor market fortunes since college-educated young adults have experienced a stronger labor market recovery than their lesser-educated counterparts, but the decline in independent living since the recovery began is apparent in young adults with a college education and those without one.

What’s certain is that millennials’ penchant for living at home is stifling the housing market come-back. “The growing young adult population has not fueled demand for housing units and the furnishings, telecom and cable installations and other ancillary purchases that accompany newly formed households,” Pew said.

MONEY credit cards

How Soon Will Your Credit Card’s APR Go Up Once the Fed Raises Interest Rates?

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Stuart Pearce—Getty Images/age fotostock RM -

The prime rate could go up as soon as the Fed acts.

When the Federal Reserve raises interest rates — and it won’t be today, but may come in September — your credit card’s APR is almost certainly going to go up as well.

For those who carry a balance, that means higher monthly minimums and higher interest charges.

How quickly will they hit you? Once the Fed acts, your card agreement spells it out, and there are variations between banks. Some will act superfast, others will grant customers a brief reprieve.

It has been nine years and one huge recession since June 2006, the last time the Fed voted to raise short-term interest rates. In the interim, a new federal law, the Credit CARD Act of 2009, imposed regulations on how card issuers could raise rates.

In those nine years, card issuers have switched en masse to variable rate cards tied to an index called the prime rate, and the prime rate moves in lock step with the federal funds target rate that the Federal Reserve can change.

The change to variable-rate cards makes sense for the issuers, since the CARD Act contains an exception allowing changes to variable rate card’s index to be passed along to consumers. The question I wanted to answer is: How fast will it happen?

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I reviewed credit card terms and conditions from the nation’s biggest credit card issuers and found some variation. Most issuers say their cardholders’ APRs will change with the start of their first billing period after the first of the month following the prime rate change. But Capital One says they only make those types of changes quarterly, meaning that cardholders will get a brief reprieve. That reprieve isn’t going to be a huge deal for most folks, but a lower APR is a lower APR, even if it’s only for a few extra weeks or months.

Don’t expect to find information about these policies easily, though. While some issuers addressed prime rate changes in the terms and conditions pages on their website, making it easy for card applicants to find, others didn’t. Some issuers — including Citi, Chase and Bank of America — mentioned the information only in the full credit card agreement, which may or may not be easy to find when applying for a specific card.

Here’s a look at what I found in issuers’ terms and conditions:

The Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express
“When the Prime Rate changes, the resulting changes to variable APRs take effect as of the first day of the billing period.”

Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCard

“We use the highest Prime Rate listed in The Wall Street Journal on the last business day of each month…”

Wells Fargo Cash Back Visa Signature Card
“For each billing period we will use the U.S. Prime Rate, or the average of the U.S. Prime Rates if there is more than one, published in the Money Rates column of The Wall Street Journal three business days prior to your billing statement closing date.”

Discover It
“We calculate variable rates based on the Prime Rate by using the highest U.S. Prime Rate listed in The Wall Street Journal on the last business day of the month.”

Capital One Quicksilver
“Your variable rates may change when the Prime rate changes. We calculate variable rates by adding a percentage to the Prime rate published in The Wall Street Journal on the 25th day of each month. If the Journal is not published on that day, then see the immediately preceding edition. Variable rates on the following segment(s) will be updated quarterly and will take effect on the first day of your January, April, July and October billing periods.”

Again, Citi, Chase and Bank of America don’t address the timing of the change in their cards’ terms and conditions on their websites. You have to dig out the information in the full card agreement — a far lengthier, far denser document.

Here’s what these issuers say:

Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select MasterCard
“If the Prime Rate causes an APR to change, we put the new APR into effect as of the first day of the billing period for which we calculate the APR.”

Chase Freedom
“Any new rate will be applied as of the first day of the billing cycle during which the Prime Rate has changed.”

And Bank of America provides just sample credit card agreements, because “final rate and fee information depends on your credit history, so your actual rates and terms will be found on your Credit Card Agreement.” Here’s what they say in their sample credit card agreement for a Bank of America Visa/MasterCard Preferred Gold-Platinum card: “An increase or decrease in the index will cause a corresponding increase or decrease in your variable rates on the first day of your billing cycle that begins in the same month in which the index is published.”

Clear as a bell, eh? Not even close.

So what should you do? Your best plan of action is to tackle any credit card debt you have, while you still have time to pay it off at a lower rate. If you have no balance, a higher rate is only a theoretical problem.If you do carry a balance into the coming rate-hike era, the increases will happen without you having to do anything. It may happen more quickly or slowly, depending on which card you have, but it will happen. Meanwhile, if you’d like some clarification on exactly how and when your bank will implement the increase, your best move would be to just pick up the phone and give them a call. That’ll likely be a whole lot easier than searching through a giant credit card agreement for language that probably won’t be easy to understand anyway.

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MONEY credit cards

When No Credit Is Worse Than Bad Credit

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Jetta Productions—Getty Images

A blank credit history could hurt you in the long run.

Although we’re constantly hearing about how much student loan and credit card debt we collectively carry, there are a few of us who don’t have any loans to our names or balances on our cards. Some people even avoid credit cards altogether, assuming it’s better to be completely free of financial products that could potentially lead to trouble.

That’s not a bad way of thinking, but it’s not accurate to say that avoiding credit is better than carrying a dinged-up score. In fact, if you ever face the decision to finance a major purchase (such as when you fill out a mortgage application to buy a home) or need to use your score to prove your ability to pay a monthly bill (like signing the lease on an apartment or setting up some utilities) having no credit at all may causemore problems than having a bad credit score.

What’s wrong with no credit?

When you don’t have any credit, it means you haven’t done anything to establish a credit history. That means you haven’t taken out any loans or lines of credit — again, a good thing considering that means you have no debt either!

But having no credit can hamstring you if you’re looking to get a car loan or a mortgage. A bank or other lender has nothing to go on when evaluating whether you’re likely to pay back the money you borrow. There’s no history to analyze, which turns you into a large question mark for them. Essentially, they’ll need to guess at how likely you are to repay the loan.

Most lenders simply don’t want to do a lot of guesswork when it comes to approving large financing decisions like mortgages.

Bad credit, on the other hand, does give the financial institution considering the loan something to work with — it provides them with information about your habits. Granted, it can show a lender that the borrower is more of a liability, which means that applicant will likely receive a less favorable interest rate. They may pay more in interest over the lifetime of their loan, but they can still receive approval.

When considering this from the perspective of getting approved for a loan, it may be worse to have zero credit at all.

How to responsibly build a (good!) credit history

It’s smart to plan ahead if you know you don’t have a credit history (or if you have a very short history). Give yourself some time to build something good!

Start by taking out a credit card at your bank. This will make it easy to tie your new card to your checking account, so you can view everything in one place and get in the habit of paying off your balances.

Use your credit card consistently over time — and always make sure you’re paying off whatever purchases you put on the card, on time and in full. That being said, don’t use up all your available credit each month (even if you’re paying it all off). Spending up to your credit limit will impact your debt-to-credit utilization ratio, which can hurt your credit score.

You can also become an authorized user on someone else’s credit card if you don’t want your own — but be careful. If that person fails to manage their own credit wisely, yours could be negatively impacted too.

Repairing the damage from a bad credit score

All this being said, a bad credit score isn’t ideal. Bad credit can also hurt in the form of increased costs over the lifetime of a loan — if you’re able to secure one in the first place.

You can check your credit by pulling your report for free, once a year. When it arrives, check it for errors and contact any or all of the three credit bureaus if you find a mistake. If everything looks good, move to step two: Get your credit score by going to a site like Credit Karma or Credit.com.

Is your credit in rough shape? Start repairing the damage by taking the following actions:

  • Make all loan and credit card payments on time and in full.
  • Don’t close old accounts — doing so can affect the average age of your credit history, and the longer you have established lines of credit, the better for your overall score.
  • Keep a low debt-to-credit utilization ratio.
  • Don’t open lots of new accounts at once or incur multiple new hard inquiries on your credit over the span of a few weeks.

It takes some time to improve bad credit, but it’ll be worth the effort. Having a good credit score — and some credit history! — will go a long way to helping you secure a loan at the best interest rate available.

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MONEY

The 10 Richest People of All Time

A comparison of wealth across history

Who had more money, John D. Rockefeller or Genghis Khan? It’s a simple question with a very difficult answer.

This ranking of the richest people of all time is based on hours of interviews with academic economists and historians. To read more about how the order was determined despite the difficulty of comparing wealth across a wide range of time periods and economic systems, read this.

But for now, suffice to say that the following is a rigorous but highly debatable attempt to list the wealthiest historical figures in order of their economic influence.

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  • 10. Genghis Khan

    Genghis Khan
    A. Dagli—De Agostini/Getty Images Genghis Khan

    Lived: 1162-1227

    Country: Mongolian Empire

    Wealth: Lots of land, not much else

    Genghis Khan is undoubtedly one of the most successful military leaders of all time. As leader of the Mongol Empire, which at its height stretched from China to Europe, he controlled the largest contiguous empire in history. However, despite his great power, scholars say Genghis never hoarded his wealth. On the contrary, the Khan’s generosity was key to his influence.

    “One of the basis of his success is sharing the spoils with his soldiers and other commanders,” says Morris Rossabi, a distinguished professor of history at CUNY’s Queens College.

    Jack Weatherford, author of Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World, explains that Mongol soldiers, unlike many pre-modern armies, were banned from taking personal loot. After an area was conquered, every item taken was inventoried by official clerks and then later distributed amongst the military and their families.

    Genghis still received a share of the spoils, but that hardly made him rich. “He built no palace for himself or family, no temple, no tomb, and not even a house,” says Weatherford. “He was born in a wool ger [yurt] and he died in a wool ger. At death he was wrapped in felt, like any common person, and then buried. ”

  • 9. Bill Gates

    Bill Gates
    Edgar Su—Reuters Bill Gates

    Lived: 1955-present

    Country: United States

    Wealth: $78.9 billion

    As the richest living person, Bill Gates’ wealth is refreshingly easy to determine. As of this year, Forbes estimates the Microsoft founder’s net worth at $78.9 billion. That’s about $8 billion more than Zara co-founder Amancio Ortega, the second-richest person in the world.

  • 8. Alan Rufus (a.k.a. Alan the Red)

    Alan Rufus
    Bodleian Library Oxford—The Art Archive

    Lived: 1040–1093

    Country: England

    Wealth: $194 billion

    The nephew of William the Conqueror, Rufus joined his uncle in the Norman conquest. He died with £11,000, according to Philip Beresford and Bill Rubinstein, authors of The Richest of the Rich, which they say amounted to 7% of England’s GDP at the time. That would amount to $194 billion in 2014 dollars.

  • 7. John D. Rockefeller

    John D. Rockefeller Sr.
    Seattle Times/JR Partners—Getty Images John D. Rockefeller Sr.

    Lived: 1839–1937

    Country: United States

    Wealth: $341 billion

    Rockefeller began investing in the petroleum industry in 1863 and by 1880 his Standard Oil company controlled 90% of American oil production.

    According to his New York Times obituary, Rockefeller was valued at about $1.5 billion based on a 1918 federal income tax return and estimates of his overall fortune—the equivalent of almost 2% of U.S. economic output that year according to data compiled by MeasuringWorth (the U.S. did not keep official records on national income until 1932).

    The same economic share in 2014 would be equivalent to $341 billion.

  • 6. Andrew Carnegie

    Andrew Carnegie standing on the steps of his estate, circa 1910s.
    Corbis Andrew Carnegie standing on the steps of his estate, circa 1910s.

    Lived: 1835–1919

    Country: United States

    Wealth: $372 billion

    Rockefeller gets all the press, but Andrew Carnegie may be the richest American of all time. The Scottish immigrant sold his company, U.S. Steel, to J.P. Morgan for $480 million in 1901. That sum equates to about slightly over 2.1% of U.S. GDP at the name, giving Carnegie economic power equivalent to $372 billion in 2014.

  • 5. Joseph Stalin

    Joseph Stalin
    Ullstein Bild—Getty Images

    Lived: 1878–1953

    Country: USSR

    Wealth: Complete control of a nation with 9.6% of global GDP

    Stalin is an uncommon figure in modern economic history: a dictator with absolute power who also controlled one of the largest economies in the world. While it is virtually impossible to separate Stalin’s wealth from the wealth of the Soviet Union, his unique combination of economic might and complete control of the USSR lead multiple economists to nominate him as one of the richest people of all time.

    You can easily see their logic. Data from the OECD shows that in 1950, three years before Stalin’s death, the USSR made up roughly 9.5% of global economic output. As of 2014, that level of production would be equivalent to nearly $7.5 trillion dollars.

    While that money didn’t belong directly to Stalin, he had the ability to leverage Soviet economic might for any reason he chose.

    “He had enormous power, and through his power he could have anything he wanted,” says George O. Liber, a professor of history at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. “He controlled 1/6th of the land surface of the planet without any checks or balances.”

    Does that make Stalin rich in the traditional sense? Liber isn’t so sure. “Was he among the wealthiest men?” the professor wonders. “I suppose if you want to stretch the definition of wealth, but it was not his wealth. He controlled the wealth of the country.”

    Even so, it’s hard not to include Stalin on a list of the most economically powerful people in history. His wealth might be uncertain, but there’s no question the premier’s personal economic influence is unrivaled in recent history.

  • 4. Akbar I

    The Great Akbar
    Peter Newark Pictures—Bridgeman Images The Great Akbar

    Lived: 1542–1605

    Country: India

    Wealth: Ruled empire with 25% of global GDP

    The greatest emperor of India’s Mughal dynasty, Akbar controlled an empire that accounted for about one-fourth of global economic output. Fortune’s Chris Matthews cites the late economic historian Angus Maddison, who speculates India’s GDP per capita under Akbar was comparable to Elizabethan England, but with “a ruling class whose extravagant lifestyle surpassed that of the European society.”

    That assertion that India’s elite class was wealthier than their counterparts to the west is backed up by data from economist Branko Milanovic, whose research shows the Mughal Dynasty was one of the most effective empires of all time at extracting wealth from the population.

  • 3. Emperor Shenzong

    Emperor Shenzong
    Pictures from History—Bridgeman Images Emperor Shenzong

    Lived: 1048–1085

    Country: China

    Wealth: Ruled empire with 25% to 30% of global GDP

    China’s Song Dynasty (960 – 1279) was one of the most economically powerful empires of all time. According to Prof. Ronald A. Edwards, a Chinese economic historian of the Song Dynasty at Tamkang University, the nation accounted for between 25% and 30% of the world’s economic output during its peak.

    The empire’s wealth came from both its technological innovations and extreme skill at tax collection, which Edwards says was hundreds of years ahead of European governments. The professor also noted the Song Dynasty’s government was highly centralized, meaning the emperor held enormous control over the economy.

  • 2. Augustus Caesar

    Augustus Caesar
    Hoberman Collection—UIG via Getty Images Augustus Caesar

    Lived: 63 BC–14 AD

    Country: Rome

    Wealth: $4.6 trillion

    Not only was Augustus Caesar in charge of an empire that accounted for 25% to 30% of the world’s economic output, but according to Stanford history professor Ian Morris, Augustus at one point held personal wealth equivalent to one-fifth of his empire’s economy. That fortune would be the equivalent of about $4.6 trillion in 2014. “For a while,” Morris adds, Augustus “personally owned all of Egypt.” That’s hard to top.

  • 1. Mansa Musa

    Mansa Musa
    Abraham Cresques—Getty Images/The Bridgeman Art Library Mansa Musa

    Year: 1280–1337

    Country: Mali

    Wealth: Richer than anyone could describe

    Mansa Musa, the king of Timbuktu, is often referred to as the wealthiest person in history. According to Ferrum College history professor Richard Smith, Musa’s west African kingdom was likely the largest producer of gold in the world—at a time which gold was in especially high demand.

    Just how rich was Musa? There’s really no way to put an accurate number on his wealth. Records are scarce, if non-existent, and contemporary sources describe the king’s riches in terms that are impossible for the time.

    Some tales of his famous pilgrimage to Mecca—during which Musa’s spending was so lavish that it caused a currency crisis in Egypt—mention dozens of camels each carrying hundreds of pounds of gold. (Smith says one year of Malian gold production probably generated about a ton.) Others said Musa’s army consisted of 200,000 men, including 40,000 archers—troop numbers even modern superpowers would have a difficult time bringing to the field.

    But to get caught up in the king’s exact wealth is to miss the point. As Rudolph Ware, an associate professor of history at the University of Michigan, explains, Musa’s riches were so immense that people struggled to describe them.

    “This is the richest guy anyone has ever seen, that’s the point,” says Ware. “They’re trying to find words to explain that. There are pictures of him holding a scepter of gold on a throne of gold holding a cup of gold with a golden crown on his head. Imagine as much gold as you think a human being could possess and double it, that’s what all the accounts are trying to communicate.”

    When no one can even comprehend your wealth, that means you’re pretty darned rich.

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