Private Salaries That Are Really Public

So you’re a landlord looking to rent out your luxury apartment.  Or maybe you’re searching for wealthy investors to fund your business plan.  Or perhaps like me, you’re simply curious how much money people make.

So who are the high earners and what are their exact salaries?  You know from Sleuth For The Truth you can find out most government salaries.  But what about the private sector?  Tons of people work at private schools, universities, hospitals and major US companies.  Are these salaries up for grabs?

Good Reasons To Look For Salary Information
I know some of you are privacy lovers.  And no doubt, you think I’m a big meany for making this information public.  But there’s plenty of good reasons to want to know someone’s salary.  Here are just a few of them:

Negotiating Your Own Salary: If you know what the top people make, you know what to ask for.
Holding a Non-Profit Accountable:  Should I donate to them when the president gets paid 30% of all the funding?
Asset Verification During Divorce:  Are they hiding stock, a high salary or other financial interests they never disclosed to the judge?
Scouting Out Who Can Afford The Bill: Investors, estate planners and sellers of luxury goods waste their time and yours when they target the wrong people.
Pulling The Beard Off Santa:  Whether you’re a head hunter who’s been lied to, or a date who smells something fishy, it’s good to know when you’re being conned.

Now suppose you could find out this information with nothing but their name, their title and who they work for?  Say goodbye to asking their permission. That could be awkward.  And forget about a pesky credit check!  You wouldn’t need one.  You’d know it all without their knowledge, without their consent and without the hassle of explaining yourself to them.  But is this legal?  Is it even possible?

The three people you’re looking at all work in the private sector.  They all claim to make good money.   One says she’s a physician at Emory Hospital.  Another is the president of a private Christian school.  And the third says he’s the CFO at the Arris Group.  So you want to know:

  1. Are they telling the truth about their job title and where they work?
  2. How much money do they make?

Your trusty lawyer at Dewey, Cheatham and Howe says their salaries are completely private.  Since none of them work for the government, you won’t be able to confirm their salary without their consent for a credit check.  But is your lawyer right about this?  Wouldn’t it be neat if you could scope this out without getting their consent?  And to do it fast, easy and all for free?

Well, the good news is you can!  At least for two out of three of them.  The reason: SOME PRIVATE SALARIES ARE REALLY PUBLIC!!!  And this blog will show you how to find them.

What is a Private vs. Public Salary?
It’s critical to know the true definition of private vs. public.  When you do, you’ll be able to find salaries you never even thought to look for!

Most people think a salary is private because it’s personal to them. And some believe that since it’s personal, no one else should have the right to see it.  But let’s not get philosophical here. This blog is all about background checks.  And so regardless of what you personally think, we have to talk in realities.

Legally, a salary is private when no one is obligated to disclose it.  For example: a lawyer’s salary in a small law firm is private.  And likewise, so is the cashier’s at the family diner.  There is no legal requirement that these be published.

So unless someone blabs, (or it’s relevant in a lawsuit) you will never see these on the Internet.  But the good news is that people do blab!  And they blab all the time!  For exact salaries at various companies and in various positions, check out GlassDoor (click on the Salaries tab before you search).  On that note, you can also Google the company name and position along with “salary” or “salaries.”  Perhaps someone squealed and posted this juicy tidbit online.

Now let’s talk about honest to goodness public salaries.  If a private salary is one not required to be disclosed, a public salary is the opposite of that.  Yes, if your salary must be disclosed by either the government or an employer, then like it or not, it’s public.  We’re used to thinking that only the salaries of government workers are public.

But it goes way beyond that.  It also extends to publicly traded companies, non profits and foundations.  These too must disclose information on salaries.

Why you ask?   The answer is that these organizations have to be more transparent than others or they won’t receive certain financial benefits.  And that makes the salaries of their top earners very public!  Before we get to where to find these, here are some examples of  such.

Private Institutions That Must Publish Salaries
Did you know that many private schools, hospitals and private universities operate as non profits?  To receive tax deductions, most non profits must fill out an IRS 990 form.   But even exempt religious schools and churches may choose to voluntarily file a 990 for accountability reasons.

And guess what?  Part VII of this form requires they disclose salary information!  That’s right.  All filers must make public the “compensation of their officers, directors, trustees, key employees, highest compensated employees and independent contractors.”  This could be as few as 5 or more than 20. (Sometimes this info will be buried in a Schedule J near the end of the form).

So take Emory for example.  Emory is obviously a private university.  But the fact that they paid their general counsel $428,244 annually, is very public!  (see pp.16)  In fact, so is the salary of the Emory University President, the Dean and their top earning physicians.
For more, see the free links for Salaries: Foundations & Non Profits.

Publicly Traded Companies That Must Publish Top Salaries
Ever hear of companies that went public but then went back to being private again?  Well, there’s good reason for it.  When a company goes public, it’s now regulated by the Security Exchange Commission.  And this means more paper work and more public disclosures.  And guess what? They too have to disclose their top salaries. 

So with the three employees above, we can see as follows:
The salaries of the president of the Christian school may or many not be public.  In this case, it was.  (See Schedule J on p.39)  The Arris CFO is certainly public.  But the Emory physician’s salary is likely to be private.  That is unless she’s a top wage earner among their other doctors.

How To find Top Salaries in Public Companies
The great thing is there are two ways to find salaries:
1. Get a list of the top salaries within the organization, or
2. Search by the person’s last name, their company and the word compensation.

For how to search, click on this green link for David Potts CFO of Arris and then follow the instructions below:
1. Be sure to change the last name and your target company.  Then press enter on your keyboard.  At this point a list of documents will appear with your new key terms.
2. Scroll down your list for forms with salary information. Usually this is found in the 14DEF, 10K or 8K filings.  In this case the salary and stock benefits for David Potts were on the 14DEF.
4. Search by last name once you’re on the form.  (Sometimes these filings are over 60 pages long.)  Use Control F or Command F (for Macs), and keep hitting enter until you get to their salary info.  In this case his salary was found on page 45.  But you can see it also jumps to his shares of stock and other income!

Other Examples of Public Verses Private Salaries:


  • Emory University Gen. Counsel (Non profit, top wage earner)
  • Microsoft CEO (Publicly traded, top wage earner)
  • President of Atlanta Christian School (Non profit, top wage earner-could be public or private-exempt but may choose to file)
  • US Postal Clerk (Government)
  • Gynecologist: Northside Hospital (Non profit, public only if high wage earner among doctors)


  • Emory U. Janitor (Non profit but low wage earners not listed)
  • Troutman Sanders Partner (Private law firm)
  • Church Pastor (Exempt from filing Form 990)
  • President of Corporation Not Publicly Traded (Private unless voluntary disclosed)

So Where Can I Find This Information?
All this information can be found for free below!

See Salaries-Federal & State Employees, Non Profits & Officers of Public Companies (Exact $ Amounts)

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