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National debt of the United States


The National debt of the United States is the amount owed by the federal government of the United States. The measure of the public debt is the value of the outstanding Treasury securities at a point of time that have been issued by the Treasury and other federal government agencies. The terms national deficit and national surplus usually refer to the federal government budget balance from year to year, not the cumulative total. A deficit year increases the debt because more money is spent than is received; a surplus year decreases the debt because more money is received than spent.

There are two components of gross national debt:

In general, government debt increases as a result of government spending, and decreases from tax or other receipts, both of which fluctuate during the course of a fiscal year. In practice, Treasury securities are not issued or redeemed on a day-by-day basis, and may also be issued or redeemed as part of the federal government's macroeconomic monetary management operations. The aggregate, gross amount that Treasury can borrow is limited by the United States debt ceiling.

Historically, the US public debt as a share of gross domestic product (GDP) has increased during wars and recessions, and subsequently declined. The ratio of debt to GDP may decrease as a result of a government surplus or due to growth of GDP and inflation. For example, debt held by the public as a share of GDP peaked just after World War II (113% of GDP in 1945), but then fell over the following 35 years. In recent decades, however, aging demographics and rising healthcare costs have led to concern about the long-term sustainability of the federal government's fiscal policies.

On November 7, 2016, debt held by the public was $14.3 trillion or about 76% of the previous 12 months of GDP.Intragovernmental holdings stood at $5.4 trillion, giving a combined total gross national debt of $19.8 trillion or about 106% of the previous 12 months of GDP. $6.2 trillion or approximately 45% of the debt held by the public was owned by foreign investors, the largest of which were China and Japan at about $1.25 trillion for China and $1.15 trillion for Japan as of May 2016.


Fiscal year Total debt
Total debt
as % of GDP
Public debt Public debt
as % of GDP
GDP
($ billions)
1910  2.65/- 8.1% 2.65 8.1% est. 32.8
1920 25.95/- 29.2% 25.95 29.2% est. 88.6
1927 18.51/- 19.2% 18.51 19.2% est. 96.5
1930 16.19/- 16.6% 16.19 16.6% est. 97.4
1940 42.97/50.70 43.8–51.6% 42.77 43.6% -/98.2
1950 257.3/256.9 92.0% 219.0 78.4% 279.0
1960 286.3/290.5 53.6–54.2% 236.8 44.3% 535.1
1970 370.9/380.9 35.4–36.4% 283.2 27.0% 1,049
1980 907.7/909.0 32.4–32.6% 711.9 25.5% 2,796
1990 3,233/3,206 54.2–54.6% 2,400 40.8% 5,915
2000 a15,659 a55.8% a3,450 33.9% 10,150
2001 a25,792 a54.8% a3,350 31.6% 10,550
2002 a36,213 a57.1% a3,550 32.7% 10,900
2003 a6,783 a 59.9% a3,900 34.6% 11,350
2004 a7,379 a 61.0% a4,300 35.6% 12,100
2005 a47,918 a 61.4% a4,600 35.7% 12,900
2006 a58,493 a 62.1% a4,850 35.4% 13,700
2007 a68,993 a 62.8% a5,050 35.3% 14,300
2008 a710,011 a 67.9% a5,800 39.4% 14,750
2009 a811,898 a 82.5% a7,550 52.4% 14,400
2010 a913,551 a 91.6% a9,000 61.0% 14,800
2011 a1014,781 a 96.1% a10,150 65.8% 15,400
2012 a1116,059 a100.2% a11,250 70.3% 16,050
2013 a1216,732 a101.3% a12,000 72.6% 16,500
2014 a1317,810 a103.4% a12,800 74.2% 17,200
2015 a1418,138 a101.3/101.8% a13,100 73.3% 17,900
2016 (Oct. '15 –
Jul. '16 only)
~19,428 ~106.1% ~13,998 ~76.5%
Fiscal
Year
Historical
debt outstanding,
$billions, US
Interest paid
$billions, US
Interest rate
2014 17,824 430.8 2.42%
2013 16,738 415.7 2.48%
2012 16,066 359.8 2.24%
2011 14,790 454.4 3.07%
2010 13,562 414.0 3.05%
2009 11,910 383.1 3.22%
2008 10,025 451.2 4.50%
2007 9,008 430.0 4.77%
2006 8,507 405.9 4.77%
2005 7,933 352.4 4.44%
2004 7,379 321.6 4.36%
2003 6,783 318.1 4.69%
2002 6,228 332.5 5.34%
2001 5,807 359.5 6.19%
2000 5,674 362.0 6.38%
1999 5,656 353.5 6.25%
1998 5,526 363.8 6.58%
1997 5,413 355.8 6.57%
1996 5,225 344.0 6.58%
1995 4,974 332.4 6.68%
1994 4,693 296.3 6.31%
1993 4,411 292.5 6.63%
1992 4,065 292.4 7.19%
1991 3,665 286.0 7.80%
Leading foreign holders of US Treasury securities as of November 2016
Country Billions of dollars (est.) Ratio of owned US debt
to 2015 GDP (est.)
Percent change since
November 2015
 Japan 1,108.6 23% − 3%
 China 1,049.3 5% −17%
 Ireland 275.2 89% +12%
 Cayman Islands 260.6 n/a +10%
 Brazil 258.3 15% + 1%
  Switzerland 229.5 35% + 1%
 Luxembourg 221.0 362% +15%
 United Kingdom 211.9 8% + 4%
 Hong Kong 185.5 59% − 6%
 Taiwan 183.1 35% + 3%
 India 118.7 5% + 3%
 Belgium 113.5 24% −21%
 Saudi Arabia 100.1 16% −13%
Others 1,628.9 n/a + 1%
Grand total 5,944.3 n/a − 3%
Gross debt as percentage of GDP
Entity 2007 2010 2011
United States 62% 92% 102%
European Union 59% 80% 83%
Austria 62% 78% 72%
France 64% 82% 86%
Germany 65% 82% 81%
Sweden 40% 39% 38%
Finland 35% 48% 49%
Greece 104% 123% 165%
Romania 13% 31% 33%
Bulgaria 17% 16% 16%
Czech Republic 28% 38% 41%
Italy 112% 119% 120%
Netherlands 52% 77% 65%
Poland 51% 55% 56%
Spain 42% 68% 68%
United Kingdom 47% 80% 86%
Japan 167% 197% 204%
Russia 9% 12% 10%
Asia 1 37% 40% 41%
South America and Mexico 2 41% 37% 35%
Recent additions to U.S. public debt
Fiscal year (begins
Oct. 1 of year prior
to stated year)
GDP
$Billions
New debt
for
fiscal year
$Billions
New debt
as
% of GDP
Total debt
$Billions
Total debt
as % of GDP
(Debt to GDP
ratio)
1994 $7,200 $281–292 3.9–4.1% ~$4,650 64.6–65.2%
1995 7,600 277–281 3.7% ~4,950 64.8–65.6%
1996 8,000 251–260 3.1–3.3% ~5,200 65.0–65.4%
1997 8,500 188 2.2% ~5,400 63.2–63.8%
1998 8,950 109–113 1.2–1.3% ~5,500 61.2–61.8%
1999 9,500 127–130 1.3–1.4% 5,656 59.3%
2000 10,150 18 0.2% 5,674 55.8%
2001 $10,550 $  133 1.3% $ 5,792 54.8%
2002 10,900 421 3.9% 6,213 57.1%
2003 11,350 570 5.0% 6,783 59.9%
2004 12,100 596 4.9% 7,379 61.0%
2005 12,900 539 4.2% 7,918 61.4%
2006 13,700 575 4.2% 8,493 62.1%
2007 14,300 500 3.5% 8,993 62.8%
2008 14,750 1,018 6.9% 10,011 67.9%
2009 $14,400 $1,887 13.1% $11,898 82.5%
2010 14,800 1,653 11.2% 13,551 91.6%
2011 15,400 1,230 8.0% 14,781 96.1%
2012 16,050 1,278 8.0% 16,059 100.2%
2013 16,500 673 4.1% 16,732 101.3%
2014 17,200 1,078 6.3% 17,810 103.4%
2015 17,900 328 1.8% 18,138 101.3%
2016 (Oct. '15 –
Jul. '16 only)
~1,290 ~7.0% ~19,428 ~106.1%

  • Debt held by the public, such as Treasury securities held by investors outside the federal government, including those held by individuals, corporations, the Federal Reserve System and foreign, state and local governments.
  • Debt held by government accounts or intragovernmental debt, such as non-marketable Treasury securities held in accounts administered by the federal government that are owed to program beneficiaries, such as the Social Security Trust Fund. Debt held by government accounts represents the cumulative surpluses, including interest earnings, of these accounts that have been invested in Treasury securities.
  • A growing portion of savings would go towards purchases of government debt, rather than investments in productive capital goods such as factories and computers, leading to lower output and incomes than would otherwise occur;
  • If higher marginal tax rates were used to pay rising interest costs, savings would be reduced and work would be discouraged;
  • Rising interest costs would force reductions in government programs;
  • Restrictions to the ability of policymakers to use fiscal policy to respond to economic challenges; and
  • An increased risk of a sudden fiscal crisis, in which investors demand higher interest rates.
  • For every dollar of debt held by the public, there is a government obligation (generally marketable Treasury securities) counted as an asset by investors. Future generations benefit to the extent these assets are passed on to them.
  • As of 2010, approximately 72% of the financial assets were held by the wealthiest 5% of the population. This presents a wealth and income distribution question, as only a fraction of the people in future generations will receive principal or interest from investments related to the debt incurred today.
  • To the extent the U.S. debt is owed to foreign investors (approximately half the "debt held by the public" during 2012), principal and interest are not directly received by U.S. heirs.
  • Higher debt levels imply higher interest payments, which create costs for future taxpayers (e.g., higher taxes, lower government benefits, higher inflation, or increased risk of fiscal crisis).
  • To the extent the borrowed funds are invested today to improve the long-term productivity of the economy and its workers, such as via useful infrastructure projects or education, future generations may benefit.
  • For every dollar of intragovernmental debt, there is an obligation to specific program recipients, generally non-marketable securities such as those held in the Social Security Trust Fund. Adjustments that reduce future deficits in these programs may also apply costs to future generations, via higher taxes or lower program spending.
  • U.S. official gold reserves as of 31 July 2014 total 261.5 million troy ounces with a book value of approximately $11.04 billion.
  • Foreign exchange reserves $140 billion as of September 2014.
    United States balance of trade (1980–2014), with negative numbers denoting a trade deficit
  • The national debt equates to $59,143 per person U.S. population, or $159,759 per member of the U.S. working taxpayers, as of March 2016.
  • In 2008, $242 billion was spent on interest payments servicing the debt, out of a total tax revenue of $2.5 trillion, or 9.6%. Including non-cash interest accrued primarily for Social Security, interest was $454 billion or 18% of tax revenue.
  • Total U.S. household debt, including mortgage loan and consumer debt, was $11.4 trillion in 2005. By comparison, total U.S. household assets, including real estate, equipment, and financial instruments such as mutual funds, was $62.5 trillion in 2005.
  • Total U.S Consumer Credit Card revolving credit was $931.0 billion in April 2009.
  • The U.S. balance of trade deficit in goods and services was $725.8 billion in 2005.
  • According to the U.S. Department of Treasury Preliminary 2014 Annual Report on U.S. Holdings of Foreign Securities, the United States valued its foreign treasury securities portfolio at $2.7 trillion. The largest debtors are Canada, the United Kingdom, Cayman Islands, and Australia, whom account for $1.2 trillion of sovereign debt owed to residents of the U.S.
  • The entire public debt in 1998 was attributable to the cost of research, development, and deployment of U.S. nuclear weapons and nuclear weapons-related programs during the Cold War.
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