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The Forbes Guide to Credit Cards




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Prepaid Debit Cards

Prepaid debit cards are not credit cards and they don‘t help you build your credit history. But if you do not have a bank account or if you want more control over your spending you might choose to use one of these cards for convenience. That’s because prepaid cards generally can be used anywhere that accepts credit cards.

Prepaid cards operate similarly to checking account debit cards. But since a prepaid card doesn’t have a checking account to draw from, you must first load money onto it before you can use it. Prepaid debit cards are reloadable, so you can continue to use the same card again and again.

There are a variety of ways to load money onto a prepaid care. For example, they generally accept direct deposit of paychecks, tax refunds, and government assistance payments. Many cards offer account access online and through a smartphone app. They also offer text alerts for low balances or other account changes. Prepaid cards often come with extensive fees, so one must understand the card’s fees before selecting a prepaid card.

Credit Card Networks

American Express, Discover, MasterCard and Visa are the largest credit card networks in the U.S. The most widely used network is Visa. According to Statista, an online market research portal, Visa had 337 million credit cards in circulation in the U.S. in the fourth quarter of 2018. Visa is accepted at over 46 million merchant locations, used by nearly 16,000 financial institutions and in over 200 countries, MasterCard had 231 million credit cards in U.S. circulation at the end of 2018 and AMEX had 54 million.

The Pros and Cons of Using Credit Cards

The Pros:

  • Protection – Federal consumer protection laws provide that your personal liability for credit card fraud is a maximum of $50 if you report that your card is lost or stolen within two days of realizing it.  (Many credit card companies, however, offer $0 liability so long as you timely report the loss.) If you don’t report a card theft or loss within two days, your liability increases to $500. If you still have physical possession of your card and there are fraudulent charges made on it, you have $0 liability so long as you report the fraud within 60 days of the time your card statement showing the fraud is sent to you.
  • Convenience – Credit cards are easy to use because they are accepted by most merchants, they are handy for moments when you don’t have cash and if a card is lost or stolen, your potential liability is limited.
  • Rewards – Credit card issuers like to reward customers for their business or loyalty with discounts and prizes.

The Cons:

  • Easy to Accumulate More Debt – Spending past what you can afford and missing your payments equals more debt than you can handle and a poor credit score.
  • Convenience – The convenience of these cards encourages people to spend more and use it more frequently than if they only had cash or a debit card. A 2001 study by Drazen Prelec and Duncan Simester on willingness-to-pay illustrates that participants were more willing to pay for an item when they were told to use credit instead of cash. It’s good business for banks, but it can be bad for your net worth..
  • High Interest Rates and Fees – These can get you into more financial trouble when you fall on hard times.

Credit Cards and Your Credit Score

We can’t give you a guide on credit cards without discussing credit scores. Credit card issuers use credit scores, which are based on your ability to manage credit as reported in your credit bureau file, to evaluate your creditworthiness.

Between VantageScore, FICO scores and specialty credit scores for renting or employment, you have many different credit scores. The one most widely used by credit card companies is a FICO score, which ranges between 300 and 850. The lower the score, the more of a credit risk you seem to creditors. The higher the score, the more creditworthy you seem to creditors.

Your FICO score is based on five factors:

  • your payment history (35%)
  • the share of your credit lines you are using (30%)
  • the length of your credit history (15%)
  • the diversity of your credit (10%)
  • new credit accounts you have opened in the past 12 months

Once you’ve applied for a credit card, the issuer performs a hard pull on your credit report to evaluate your creditworthiness. They might look at how much of your available credit you are using, how long you’ve held credit and if you are good at paying off your balance (or at least keeping it low). They also might check how many credit accounts you’ve recently opened and what type of credit you have received. What a credit card company looks at depends on that company’s approval process.

The credit pull helps credit card companies decide how high an APR you are eligible for. High credit scorers (700 and above) could qualify for a lower interest rate compared to low scorers. Credit card users who prefer to carry a balance instead of paying their balance off every month should aim to get the lowest interest rate. That way, they’ll pay less interest.

Use your credit cards with your credit score in mind and allow it to work for you, not against you.

Credit Card Sign-up Bonuses

Banks, especially major ones, offer bonuses for switching to their services. Common sign-up bonuses include cash bonuses of up to  hundreds of dollars, if you spend a certain within the first several  months of opening a card. These case rewards can come as statement credits on your bill, or even checks. Credit cards that offer reward points also offer sign-up bonuses equal to thousands of points that can be redeemed for merchandise or trips.

Pay attention to the fine print. Some banks will use the bonus as a token of their appreciation for your business while others will make you jump through hoops. You could find a bank who will give you cash for simply opening a new account with them. Or, you might choose a credit card where you would have to spend a few hundred or even a few thousand dollars to qualify for the sign-up reward. The fine print will tell you what you have to do to qualify for the sign up bonus. It will also tell you whether you would qualify to participate in getting the bonus. Some issuers will clearly state in the section that you are not eligible for the bonus if you’ve already received one from them within the past one or two years.

There are a couple of other things to watch out for with sign up bonuses, including hidden fees that could diminish your bonus. Finally, be sure to compare other sign-up bonuses currently offered by the same bank for other cards (they may be even higher) and by other banks.

Credit Card Fees

Types of credit card fees:

  • Late payment fee: Credit card issuers charge you a fee for any payments deemed late.
  • Balance transfer fee: When you transfer your balance from one card to another, you may incur a fee on the card receiving the balance transfer.
  • Cash advance fee: You may find yourself in a situation where you need cash  and you don’t have your debit card on you. You can withdraw cash from your credit card for a percentage fee.
  • Foreign transaction fee: When you use your credit card outside of its country of origin, the issuer will charge you a fee to cover the costs associated with using a foreign bank or foreign currency. Some cards, particularly those that are travel-related, waive this fee.
  • Over-the-credit limit fee: This is much like the overdraft fee you see with checking accounts except it’s a charge the issuer adds to your bill for covering a transaction that went over the card’s credit limit.
  • Annual fee: This is an account maintenance fee that you would pay annually. Some accounts make you pay monthly. Many cards come without an annual fee.
  • Returned payment fee: When your credit card payment fails to go through because of insufficient funds, the card issuer will charge a fee.
  • Convenience fee: Some merchants will charge you a fee for using a credit card instead of cash.

Managing Credit Card Debt

People manage their credit card balances in two main ways and be described as either revolvers or transactors.

Revolvers leave a balance on their card and repay what they borrowed over time. They may make minimum payments, which carries interest and a bit of the principal, or chip away at the balance with a larger than minimum payment. Timely minimum payments keep you in good standing, but they also lengthen your time repaying the debt and cause you to pay more in interest. Because of this, we recommend revolvers aim for credit cards with low interest rates to save money.

Transactors are people who pay their balance off at the end of every month. These people might not worry about interest rates much since they avoid interest charges by paying off their balance in full each month. Instead, they should generally opt for credit cards that offer the highest rewards.

An interest rate, also known as the annual percentage rate (APR), is the yearly cost of the credit you are borrowing from a financial institution. A financial institution could be a traditional commercial bank, credit union or an investment bank with banking services. The APR is determined by your creditworthiness (i.e. credit score) and also by what you do with the credit card.

Some credit cards charge different APRs for different types of transactions. For example, the APR on purchases can be different than the APR on cash advance. A penalty APR can be even higher and apply when a cardholder violates the terms of the credit card agreement (e.g., missing a payment or going over the credit limit). If you slip into a penalty APR, you could go, for example, from paying an 18% APR on an outstanding balance to a 29% APR.

Grace Period

To avoid interest charges, you’ll need to be a transactor and pay your debt off every month by the due date. The time between the end of your billing cycle and due date is known as the grace period. Grace periods are at least 21 days and last up to the payment due date. By paying during the grace period, you avoid interest and only pay for the purchases.

When you fail to pay during that period, you incur interest and usually, a late payment fee. If you make a partial payment or a minimum payment instead of paying off your bill in full, you will also incur interest. What’s more, you’ll end up waiving your grace period for the next billing cycle until the bill is completely paid.

Balance Calculation Methods

Credit card companies have a few different ways of calculating interest. They can use either a daily periodic rate or a monthly periodic rate. The daily periodic rate takes the APR and divides it by 365 and then multiplies that number by the number of days in the billing cycle. Next, banks take that figure and multiply it by the outstanding balance. The monthly periodic rate is similar except it is the APR divided by 12 months.

Differences in  calculation methods don’t stop at periodic rates. The rates are applied to the balance in various ways such as the adjusted balance, the average daily balance excluding new purchases, the two-cycle average daily balance including new purchases and the two-cycle average daily balance excluding new purchases. The least expensive are the adjusted balance and average daily balance (ADB) excluding new purchases. The most expensive are two-cycle ADB including new purchases  and the two-cycle ADB excluding purchases.

Adjusted Balance

Credit card issuers charge an interest (1/12 of the APR) on the remaining unpaid balance after payment is due.

Average Daily Balance

For the average daily balance, credit card issuers charge interest from the date of the purchase. If payment hasn’t been made by the due date then interest will accrue. The bank decides whether new purchases will be included or excluded from each billing cycle.

Here’s an example calculation

Daily balance with new purchases = Beginning balance – (payments + credits) + (purchases + fees)

ADB = Sum of Daily Balances / Number of Days in the Billing Cycle

Two-Cycle ADB

This method has fallen out-of-style, but it still exists. The two-cycle ADB adds a current billing cycle with the billing cycle before it to calculate your interest. According to the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau, both the current and previous balances are calculated the same. The balances (including or excluding new purchases, and subtracting payments along with credits) of each day are added together and then divided by the number of days in the billing cycle. As you would imagine, this balance calculation method is expensive for the cardholder..

Making the Minimum Payment

When you make the minimum payment on a credit card bill, you are paying a percentage of the principal and the interest that accrued for that billing cycle. Usually, the minimum payment is a percentage of your balance, plus any interest and fees.

Minimum Payment = % of the balance + any interest and any fees 

In your card member agreement you’ll find information about how you are charged an interest rate, what that interest rate is and what percentage of your balance will be your minimum payment. For example, my credit card agreement states that my minimum payment will be 1% of my balance plus the interest that accrues over my 26-day billing cycle. The interest doesn’t get applied until the end of the billing cycle.

Paying the minimum means you plan to carry a balance into the next billing cycle on your credit card. If you don’t pay the balance off in full by the next bill then your minimum payment will increase because you will have accrued more interest.

Making the minimum payment is one option in paying down your debt, but it takes longer and costs you more. The longer you wait to pay off a balance, the more you pay in interest (the fee the credit card issuer charges you for borrowing its money). To some cardholders, the minimum seems like a good idea since you’ll have more cash in your pocket, but there’s better ways to pay off your balance. It’s important to note that you should always—at least—pay the minimum to keep your payment history in good standing.

Low Interest Rate vs. Rewards

If you are searching for rewards cards, weigh the cost of the card against the rewards. As suggested before, revolvers should aim for cards with low interest rates. The rewards (points, miles, cashback) that are part of high interest cards may not outweigh the costs in fees and interest.

Credit Cards should be seen as tools and not as goals. Your goal should be to be as financially healthy as you possibly can. You can use credit cards to do that by choosing ones that will maintain or improve your credit file and score, enhance activities you already do such as travel, protect your cash and and are convenient.

-Asian Martin; Forbes Staff

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Cover Story

Mastercard: Diligent About Digital In Africa



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Mastercard knows only too well that technology can drive inclusive financial growth with simpler and more efficient ways to do business and life. And Raghu Malhotra, the man spearheading this trajectory in Africa, is also focused on social progress.

In many ways, Raghu Malhotra is like the brand he works for, leaving his footprints in different parts of the world, and in some cases, the most unlikely corners.

On a scorching summer’s day in June 2016, Malhotra traveled 100km east of Jordan’s capital city Amman, to a camp with white tents named Azraq built for the refugees of the Syrian Civil War.

In the desert terrain and hot, windy conditions, people had to queue for hours on end for plates of food handed out of visiting trucks. But some of them, displaced and homeless overnight, expressed their gratitude to Malhotra, President for Mastercard in the Middle East and Africa (MEA).

Mastercard, a technology company that engages in the global payments industry, had distributed e-cards, as part of a global collaboration with the World Food Programme, to the refugees that they could now use to purchase food and other supplies from local shops.

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 “I spoke to the people myself and saw what their lives were… Even those who were doctors with their families and were displaced… They said to me ‘you have restored dignity to our lives; you have no idea how demeaning it is to queue up to be given food’… We actually digitized how that subsidy for food was given. Some of these things go beyond economics,” says Malhotra. 

Beyond economics.

That very simply sums up Malhotra’s mandate for Africa as well.

The New York-headquartered Mastercard, ranked No. 43 on Forbes’ list of the World’s Most Valuable Brands, with a market cap of $247 billion, which connects consumers, financial institutions, merchants, governments and business, is fostering key partnerships across the African continent to help drive inclusive economic growth.

The idea, Malhotra says, “is to get our global skill-set to operate in its most efficient form in every local economy, at the same time, we must do good, and it must be sustainable.”

He calls Africa the next bastion of growth for various industries.

“As a company, we have stated we are going to get 500 million new consumers globally. And Africa plays a big part of that whole story… We want to be an integral part of various economies here,” says the man responsible for driving Mastercard’s global strategy across 69 markets.

Raghu Malhotra President for Mastercard in the Middle East and Africa. Picture: Motlabana Monnakgotla

“It probably took us over 20 years to get the first 50 million new consumers, in my part of the world, which is the Middle East and Africa (MEA). It took us probably five years to get the next 50 million, and last year alone, we put over 50 million consumers [in the formal economy] in MEA. That is part of our whole African story, so this is just not rhetoric; we are actually building our business on that basis.”

Home to four of the world’s top five fastest-growing economies, Africa has the fastest urbanization rate in the world, the youngest population, and a rapidly expanding middle class predicted to increase business and consumer spending.

It’s a continent of opportunity for global players like Mastercard with an eye on the potential of a booming consumer base and small and medium entrepreneurs, most of whom are still not a part of the formal economy. A large proportion of Africa is still unbanked. There is enough business opportunity in offering people digital tools so they can lead respectable financial lives.

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But it is in knowing that financial inclusion is not just about technology, but more about solving bigger problems, as the World Bank says in its overview for Africa: “Achieving higher inclusive growth and reaping the benefits of a demographic dividend will require going beyond a business as usual approach to development for Africa. Going forward, it is imperative that the region undertakes the following four actions, concurrently: invest more and better in its people; leapfrog into the 21st century digital and high-tech economy; harness private finance and know-how to fill the infrastructure gap; and build resilience to fragility and conflict and climate change.”

And in order to enable financial access, Mastercard has a balanced strategy in place, with the right partnerships for inclusive growth on the continent, Malhotra tells FORBES AFRICA.

“Every emerging market has different segments of people and you need to get the right product for the right segment. What we do is a balanced growth strategy across the continent based on timing, opportunity etc… Of course, because the bottom of the pyramid is much bigger, I think what we need is to adapt things differently; that is where the inclusive growth story comes from. That is where the opportunity is, but there is a second part to it…” And that, he summarizes, is advancing sustainable growth, doing good and bringing more transparency and efficiency.

The new pragmatic dispensation of governments in Africa towards ideas, technology and innovation has surely helped open up the stage to newer segment-driven products, especially as Africa already has such global laurels as Safaricom’s mobile money transfer and micro-financing service M-Pesa that took financial access to a whole new level. Also, sub-Saharan Africa remains one of the fastest-growing mobile markets in the world.

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Malhotra says he finds African governments consistent in how they are rolling out their digital vision, and in trying to collaborate towards creating better ecosystems for their economies, though each is unique with its own dossier of problems.

“When I speak to various governments around Africa, I see a commonality of what their needs are and I also see a commonality in how they are trying to respond. So I think a lot of them realize running cash economies is a very inefficient way of doing things… Also, the consumer base is much more open to new technology because there is no bedded infrastructure or legacy infrastructure. I think where governments need to start thinking a bit more is how much do they want to do completely on their own.”

Part of this transformation on the path to financial progress is alleviating the burden of cash. Cash still accounts for most consumer payments in Africa. Mastercard, which started out as synonymous with credit cards, continues its efforts to convert consumers from cash to electronic transactions, and move beyond plastic.

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Business Intelligence For Dummies





Sorry, Ph.D.s! Dean Stoecker’s analytics software, Alteryx, can turn almost anyone into a data scientist. And it’s turned him into a billionaire

Sun Tzu meets software in mid-August at downtown Denver’s Crawford Hotel. The floors are terrazzo. The chandeliers are accented with gold. And Dean Stoecker, the CEO of data-science firm Alteryx, has summoned his executives for the annual strategy session he calls Bing Fa, after the Mandarin title of The Art of War. “Sun Tzu was all about how you conserve resources,” says Stoecker, 62. “How do you win a war without going into battle?”

Stoecker knows something about conserving resources. He cofounded Alteryx in 1997, when the data-science industry scarcely existed, and spent a decade growing the firm to a measly $10 million in annual revenue. “We had to wait for the market to catch up,” he says. As he waited, he kept the business lean, hiring slowly and forgoing outside investment until 2011. Then, as “big data” began eating the world, he raised $163 million before taking Alteryx public in 2017. The stock is up nearly 900% since, and Stoecker is worth an estimated $1.2 billion. 

“People ask me, ‘Did you ever think it would get this big?’” he says. “And I say, ‘Yeah, I just never thought it would take this long.’ ”

Alteryx makes data science easy. Its simple, click-and-drop design lets anyone, from recent grads to emeritus chairmen, turn raw numbers into charts and graphics. It goes far beyond Excel. Plug in some numbers, select the desired operation—say data cleansing or linear regression—and presto. 

There are applications in every industry. Coca-Cola uses Alteryx to help restaurants predict how much soda to order. Airlines use it to hedge the price of jet fuel. Banks use it to model derivatives. Data analysis “is the one skill that every human being has to have if they’re going to survive in this next generation,” says Stoecker. “More so than balancing a checkbook.”

Libby Duane Adams, cofounder and chief customer officer of Alteryx.ETHAN PINES

Alteryx’s numbers support that forecast. The company, based in Irvine, California, generated $28 million in profit on $254 million in revenue in 2018, and Stoecker expects to hit $1 billion in annual sales by 2022. 

Stoecker grew up the son of a tinkerer. His father built liquid nitrogen tanks for NASA before quitting his job to sell “pre-cut” vacation homes in Colorado. He made them himself. “It was literally just him nine months of the year, and he would cut wood for 50 buildings,” Stoecker recalls. As a teenager he joined his father, and by the time he arrived at the University of Colorado Boulder to study economics, he was able to pay his own way.

After graduating in 1979, Stoecker earned his M.B.A. from Pepperdine, then took a sales job in 1990 at Donnelley Marketing Information Services, a data company in Connecticut. There he met Libby Duane Adams, who worked in the firm’s Stamford office. Seven years later, the pair founded a data company of their own, which they cumbersomely named Spatial Re-Engineering Consultants. (A third cofounder, Ned Harding, joined around the same time; Stoecker, who came up with the idea, took the lion’s share of the equity.)  

SRC’s first customer, a junk mail company in Orange County, paid $125,000 to better target its coupons. “We were building big-data analytic cloud solutions back in 1998,” says Stoecker, when many businesses were barely online and terms like “cloud computing” were years away. 

SRC was profitable from the outset. “We didn’t spend ahead of revenue. We didn’t hire ahead of revenue,” says Adams, sitting in a remodeled 1962 Volkswagen bus at Alteryx headquarters, theoretically a symbol of the company’s journey. “We never calculated burn rates. That was a big topic in the whole dot-com era. We were not running the business like a dot-com.” 

In 2006, as part of a pivot away from one-off consulting gigs, SRC released software to let customers do the number-crunching themselves. They named the software Alteryx, a nerdy joke for changing two variables simultaneously: “Alter Y, X.” Stoecker made Alteryx the company name, too, in 2010. 

The market was still small. To grow revenue, “we just kept raising the price of our platform,” Stoecker says. In the beginning, Alteryx sold its subscription-based software for $7,500 per user; by 2013 it was charging $55,000. The next year, as Stoecker felt demand growing, he slashed prices to $4,000. Volume made up for the lower rate. Today Alteryx has 5,300 customers. “We immediately went from averaging eight, nine or ten [new clients] a quarter to north of 250,” he says.

Although data mining and data analytics is a long-established field, encompassing a slew of startups as well as giants like Oracle and IBM, “we see almost no direct competition,” Stoecker insists.

“It’s a pretty wide-open field,” says Marshall Senk, a senior research analyst at Compass Point Research & Trading. “The choice is you buy a suite from Alteryx or you go buy 15 different products and try to figure out how to get them to work together.”

Inside Alteryx’s offices, Stoecker pauses in front of a time line depicting his first 22 years in business. “The good stuff hasn’t even occurred yet,” he says. “I’m going to need a way bigger wall.”

Cover Photograph by Ethan Pines for Forbes.

-Noah Kirsch; Forbes

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The Highest-Paid Actors 2019: Dwayne Johnson, Bradley Cooper And Chris Hemsworth





A bankable leading man is still one of Hollywood’s surest bets, even if your name isn’t Leonardo DiCaprio. While the lucrative twenty-twenty deal ($20 million upfront and 20% of gross profit) doled out to the likes of Harrison Ford and Tom Cruise may be more or less gone, Hollywood still has its big-money brands, those actors who can promise an audience so big that they command not only an eight-figure salary to show up on set but also a decent chunk of a film’s nebulous “pool”—or the money left over after some but not all of the bills are paid. 

Dwayne Johnson, also known as the Rock, tops the Forbes list of the world’s ten highest-paid actors, collecting $89.4 million between June 1, 2018, and June 1, 2019.

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“It has to be audience first. What does the audience want, and what is the best scenario that we can create that will send them home happy?” Johnson told Forbes in 2018.

It seems he makes the audience happy. Johnson has landed a pay formula as close to the famed twenty-twenty deal of yore as any star can get these days. He’ll collect an upfront salary of up to $23.5 million—his highest quote yet—for the forthcoming Jumanji: The Next Level.

He also commands up to 15% of the pool from high-grossing franchise movies, including Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, which had a worldwide box office of $962.1 million. And he is paid $700,000 per episode for HBO’s Ballers and seven figures in royalties for his line of clothing, shoes and headphones with Under Armour.

READ MORE | ‘Black Panther’: All The Box Office Records It Broke (And Almost Broke) In Its $235M Debut

While Johnson’s deal is the biggest in the business right now, he’s not the only one with a lucrative deal. Robert Downey Jr. gets $20 million upfront and nearly 8% of the pool for his role as Iron Man, and that amounted to about $55 million for his work in Avengers: Endgame, which grossed $2.796 billion at the box office. 

That gross was so big that it secured spots on this year’s top-earner list for Chris Hemsworth, Bradley Cooper and Paul Rudd, in addition to Downey; together, they earned $284 million, with most of that coming from the franchise. 

“Celebrities such as Downey and (Scarlett) Johansson currently have extreme leverage to demand enormous compensation packages from studios investing hundreds of millions of dollars in making tent-pole films, such as The Avengers series,” entertainment lawyer David Chidekel of Early Sullivan Wright Gizer & McRae told Forbes. 

READ MORE | Worldwide Box Office, The Best It’s Ever Been

Cooper is the rare actor who can thank a bet on himself for his 2019 ranking. The actor earned only about 10% of his $57 million payday for voicing Rocket Raccoon in Avengers. 

Seventy percent came from A Star Is Born, the smaller musical drama that he directed, produced, cowrote and starred in with Lady Gaga. The movie was a passion project for Cooper, and he forfeited any upfront salary to go into the film and Gaga’s salary. It paid off—the movie, which had a production budget of only $36 million, grossed $435 million worldwide, leaving Cooper with an estimated $40 million. 

The full list is below. Earnings estimates are based on data from Nielsen, ComScore, Box Office Mojo and IMDB, as well as interviews with industry insiders. All figures are pretax; fees for agents, managers and lawyers (generally 10%, 15% and 5%, respectively) are not deducted.

The World’s Highest-Paid Actors Of 2019

10. Will Smith

Earnings: $35 million

9. Paul Rudd

Earnings: $41 million

8. Chris Evans

Earnings: $43.5 million

6. Adam Sandler (tie)

Earnings: $57 million

6. Bradley Cooper (tie)

Earnings: $57 million

5. Jackie Chan

Earnings: $58 million

4. Akshay Kumar

Earnings: $65 million

3. Robert Downey Jr.

Earnings: $66 million

2. Chris Hemsworth

Earnings: $76.4 million

1. Dwayne Johnson

-Madeline Berg; Forbes

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