October 9, 2013

5 facts about the national debt: What you should know

With the Republican-led House engaged in a stare-down with Senate Democrats and President Obama over raising the federal debt limit, it seems an opportune time to dig into the actual numbers describing the national debt, the debt limit and interest payments on the nation’s credit line:

Facts_1As of Sept. 30 the federal government’s total debt stood at $16.74 trillion, according to the Treasury Department’s monthly reckoning. Nearly all of it is subject to the statutory debt ceiling, which is currently set at a hair under $16.7 trillion; as a result, at the end of September there was just $25 million in unused debt capacity remaining.

Facts_2The debt is about equal to gross domestic product (GDP), which was $16.661 trillion in the second quarter. (The government’s first read on GDP for the third quarter, which ended Sept. 30, isn’t due till the end of this month, but it likely will be delayed because of the federal shutdown.) Debt as a share of GDP has risen steeply since the 2008 financial crisis:

debtGDPFacts_3Though U.S. government debt is perhaps the most widely held class of security in the world, as of the end of September 28.4% of the debt (about $4.76 trillion) was owed to another arm of the federal government itself. The single biggest creditor, in fact, are Social Security’s two trust funds, which together held $2.76 trillion in special non-traded Treasury securities (16.5% of the total debt). (Social Security revenues exceeded benefit payments for many years; the surplus was required by law to be invested in Treasuries.) Another big holder: the Federal Reserve system, which collectively held nearly $2.1 trillion worth of Treasuries (12.4% of the total debt) as of last week. (The Fed’s holdings are included in the “debt held by public” category.)

debt_interest2Facts_4In fiscal 2013, which ended Sept. 30, net interest payments on the debt totaled $222.75 billion, or 6.23% of all federal outlays. (The government paid out an estimated $420.6 billion in interest, but that included interest credited to Social Security and other government trust funds, as well as a relatively small amount of offsetting investment income.) By comparison, debt service was more than 15% of federal outlays in the mid-1990s; the share has fallen partly because lower rates have held down interest payments, but also because outlays have risen substantially: up 39.4% over the past decade.

debt_interest1Facts_5Largely due to the Federal Reserve’s aggressive efforts to keep interest rates low, the U.S. government is paying historically low rates on its debt. In fiscal 2013, according to the Treasury Department, the average interest rate on the public debt was 2.43%. Though you might think such low rates would dissuade investors from buying U.S. government debt, demand has until recently remained strong. But the ongoing debt crisis may be changing that, especially for short-term securities.

BONUS FACT: Though many people may believe that “China owns our debt,” as of July (the latest month available) China’s Treasury holdings amounted to about $1.28 trillion, or 7.6% of the total debt. China is, however, the United States’ largest overseas creditor, ahead of Japan, which holds more than $1.1 trillion in Treasuries.

This post was updated Oct. 11 at 6:15pm to clarify that the Federal Reserve system’s holdings are considered debt held by the public, not intragovernmental debt.

Category: 5 Facts

Topics: Government Spending and the Deficit

  1. Photo of Drew DeSilver

    is a Senior Writer at the Pew Research Center.

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106 Comments

  1. Monica H. Ginsberg3 weeks ago

    Is there any recommended reading for the “laymen” (such as myself) that would outline more clearly: the 1) meaning of the Natl Debt, and 2) it’s relation to the overall U.S. Economy & Job/ Growth rate?
    Thank you
    M.H. Ginsberg

    Reply
  2. hailey ann humlicek3 weeks ago

    what 2 costs do we face if we pay all are dept?

    Reply
  3. Lynne Newby- Roebuck4 months ago

    FYI for my Facebook friends…..

    Reply
  4. Lazaro4 months ago

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    Reply
  5. Charles Edward Weber6 months ago

    Dear Mr. DeSilver,
    It is imperative that we discontinue all subsidies, all gifts for no services rendered, all tribute to over seas governments, all research luxuries (such as distant space research and studying harmless creatures), and fraud in order to get rid of our dangerous national debt. This should go on until the debt is completely eliminated. Such a procedure should also eliminate the destruction of our monetary system via inflation. We could even arrange to have some mild deflation for awhile in order to make our pennies useful and prevent the necessity of increasing the minimum wage.. It would be very beneficial to foreigners also since they could safely continue to use our currency as the preferred medium of exchange. It would eventually lower our tax rate because we would not have to ante up money for interest payments. To make the above marvelous circumstances permanent this would have, we should create a constitutional amendment making deficit financing illegal.
    Sincerely, Charles Weber

    Reply
  6. Old Harris7 months ago

    Bush inherited a $5.7 trillion debt. First 6 years with Republican or bipartisan congress, he ran average annual deficits of $0.5 trillion. His last 2 years with Pelosi managing money and in spite of 11 vetoes, average deficit rose to $1 trillion. Next 2 years w/ Obama/Pelosi (and Obama’s promise to half the deficit) “O” averaged $1.7 trillion (over 3 times of Bush deficits).

    Reply
    1. Gerald Carter5 months ago

      Because that is Bush’s debt being added to Obama’s years. Wars, tax cuts, Medicare D, TARP, and the mother of all mothers of debt from the Great Depression/ recession. So don’t fool with the facts.

      Reply
      1. Anthony P.1 month ago

        Bush’s debt? Gerald it’s time to take your leftist blindfold off. The numbers as stated here are 100% correct. Obama has yet to meet a government program he didn’t like and has been inventing new ones at an astonishing and unprecedented rate as well as making new departments to spend more money, not to mention Obamacare which will take the government even further into debt until our politicians finally come to their senses and realize this massive amount of debt is unsustainable. Under Obama, the national debt has gone from $7 Trillion to $17.5 Trillion (and still rising at an astonishing rate)—that’s $10 Trillion added to the national debt, more than all the presidents who came before him COMBINED.
        For those who think the Fed can just keep printing money (and the Fed used to be independent of our government but has now become just another tool of this administration, like the IRS and the Justice Dept.), you’re sorely mistaken. Quantitative easing eventually leads to massive inflation which is one reason the Fed has slowly cut back and each time they have the markets have tumbled dramatically. As a matter of fact, each time the Fed even talks about cutting back on the free money the markets take a tumble because the underlying fundamentals of our economy are not very good and it’s the easy access to free money that’s been artificially propping up the markets and our economy.

        Reply
    2. Joe Edwards3 months ago

      Nice comment, except the debt and the deficit are two different things, the deficit is actually going down at a rapid pace thanks to Obama’s policies. Thanks for reminding us of that fact.

      Reply
      1. R Wop3 weeks ago

        Going down only in relation to his own deficits:

        FY 2015: $564 bln
        FY 2014: $483 bln
        FY 2013: $680 bln
        FY 2012: $1,087 bln
        FY 2011: $1,300 bln
        FY 2010: $1,294 bln
        FY 2009: $1,413 bln

        Bush:

        FY 2008: $458 bln
        FY 2007: $161 bln
        FY 2006: $248 bln
        FY 2005: $318 bln
        FY 2004: $412 bln
        FY 2003: $377 bln
        FY 2002: $157 bln
        FY 2001: -$128 bln

        Not that Bush is a prize of any kind, but the left and their stock responses sound like the right and their robotalk from the last regime. When I hear completely misleading and incorrect statements parroted by this many people I start becoming suspicious about their cult.
        The deficit represents new debt, having a deficit adds to the total debt. The talking point you rehash is disingenuous and a simple word game.
        All federal deficits of the last decade are a huge percentage of gdp historically (outside of WW1 and WW2), and continuing this trend will compound an already incurable ailment.

        Reply
  7. Erik9 months ago

    When the government wants to spend, it borrows from the Fed at interest. It’s mathematically impossible to pay off our debt under this system. The choices we have, in order of sensibility, are to let the Treasury print the money it needs, let the Treasury borrow money from the Fed at zero percent interest, default on some of our debts, or never-ending inflation of varying degrees. The Fed prefers an inflationary system and thinks they can control it, so that’s what we will have until they are proven wrong.

    Reply
    1. SteveD7 months ago

      While federal spending leads to the Deficit (the difference between spending and tax receipts), federal borrowing leads to the Debt (the total of outstanding T-securities). In this way, the federal debt would not necessarily be the total of federal deficits, except for an OBSOLETE LAW that requires it.

      By law, the U.S. Treasury must sell enough T-securities to equal the deficit – the difference between federal spending and federal tax receipts. This law is a relic of gold standard days, when the federal government did not have the unlimited ability to create money. Back then, dollars had to be matched by gold, and so were limited by gold supplies.

      But for this law, there would be no need for federal borrowing and there would be no federal debt. The government simply would spend by creating money, i.e. by crediting bank accounts.

      In summary, federal spending does not add to the much feared, often maligned federal debt. Instead, the federal debt is created by an obsolete law, which requires T-security creation to equal federal deficits. So debt-worriers, there is no need to cut federal spending. Merely change that needless law. No law; no debt.

      Reply
      1. donnymote4 months ago

        HI Steve, it sounds like you may have done your home work. I have never heard it explained this way, but it makes sense to me.

        Reply
      2. Phil4 months ago

        That would lead to massive inflation. Some of those “relics” protect the dollar. Without taxation and budgets, and endless money printing to no avail there would be massive inflation.

        Reply
      3. Rick V4 months ago

        According to your logic Steve D if we would just change this “obsolete law” we should then all be able to quit paying our Federal taxes and just let them print away! Sheer Nonsense.

        Reply
        1. Ian3 months ago

          this is why we have a congress to decide on a budget. Why would the leaders of a country want to demolish its own currency and credibility. The government still has the ability to just print more treasury bonds and take on more debt from the federal reserve. It doesnt because it doesnt want to destroy itself.

          Reply
      4. Rhonda3 months ago

        The federal government does not print the money, the FED does. Big difference

        Reply
      5. Matthew3 weeks ago

        Economics is about supply and demand and scarcity. Printing money is not the solution, as any slightly educated bloke can tell you. So no, you really haven’t done your homework- try reading Economics in One Lesson by Henry Hazlitt, it may clear some things up for you

        Reply
    2. W Elam7 months ago

      But why would the Fed have to be there to lend money to the Government if the Treasury were responsible for printing currency when needed. Whereas it is a private bank, loans from the Fed at 0% ain’t going to happen. The explicit legal duty of a for-profit-Corporation is to increase its profit; all else is secondary. We should abolish the Fed. A computer owned and operated by Congress is so much better; we could regulate it and the currency would be interest-free.

      I am starting to wake up to the fact that not one penny of my federal Income tax (20-30% of my income) goes towards services for the people- screw the Fed!

      “I Am Made As Hell And I Can’t Take It Anymore!”

      Having said that I believe i’ll take my $1.89 and buy a candy bar-

      Reply
      1. A Concerned Citizen of a Quietly Falling Nation3 months ago

        It is pretty obvious as to why our current situation is the way it is. We have a federal government that is borrowing money with interest as well as an institution (the Fed) that controls the money supply through private banks… Adding currency to a growing economy is absolutely necessary, else the money supply becomes too scarce and brings the economy to a halt, but when it is introduced initially through private loans with interest, it will ALWAYS lead to debt. It is impossible to pay back all loans and clear all accounts because of this interest that is accrued the second a new supply is loaned out by banks. This is a very pointed scheme devised by the economic and monetary powers that be that acts as a wealth vacuum, transferring from the workers and business men of America to the elites of the private banks. America needs to wake up to this and much more. A wool has steadily been pulled over our eyes for the last century. And the things that are being slipped by us are not just economical in aspect. I’d advise you to study the history of money, our politics, and social movements for great insight. Situations not unlike this have happened before.

        Reply
    3. Anthony P.1 month ago

      When the government wants to spend, it’s supposed to have the money budgeted to do so–it isn’t supposed to have to borrow it. That’s a ridiculous statement. Thats called deficit spending and is something the Democrats hammered Reagan for.

      Reply
  8. Brandi Nottingham9 months ago

    Lets all just be Christian’s and forgive each-other and move on. print out new bills and close out the debt, restart- over fresh. How flipping simple.

    Reply
    1. Bluey668 months ago

      Printing more money is the worst thing you can do. The US has already gone too far by doing this and dug a big hole for themselves….. Unfortunately America is on the verge of financial ruin, all due to their own fault……..
      If I was in America right now, I would pack up and leave…….

      Reply
      1. SteveD7 months ago

        Perhaps I can put a small dent in the Henny-Penny, sky-is-falling, phony hysteria, by providing a short, simple explanation of what causes very high or “hyper” inflations. And no, I’m not talking about a 10% inflation rate for a couple of months. I’m referring to really big inflations, like 50% annually or even monthly.

        All money is a form of debt. There is no money that is not debt. When you own a dollar, you own a debt of the United States government. That dollar bill in your wallet is a Federal Reserve Note. The words “bill” and “note” signify debt.

        The value of any debt is based, in part, on the value of its collateral. When you take out a mortgage, the bank evaluates the property and the full faith and credit of the mortgagee. Together, they comprise the collateral for the loan.

        The collateral for a debt/dollar also is “full faith and credit” — the full faith and credit of the U.S. federal government. This may sound nebulous to some, but it actually involves certain, specific and valuable guarantees, among which are:
        1. The government will accept U.S. currency in payment of debts to the government
        2. It unfailingly will pay all it’s dollar debts with U.S. dollars and will not default
        3. It will force all your domestic creditors to accept U.S. dollars, if you offer it, to satisfy your debt.
        4. It will not require domestic creditors to accept any other money
        5. It will take action to protect the value of the dollar.
        6. It will maintain a market for U.S. currency
        7. It will continue to use U.S. currency and will not change to another currency.
        8. All forms of U.S. currency will be reciprocal, that is five $1 bills always will equal one $5 bill and vice versa.

        If any of the elements of full faith and credit — items 1-7 — were to change, and the value of the federal government’s full faith and credit were to decline, the value of the debt/dollar would decline, i.e. we’d have inflation. If the full faith an credit declined enough, we’d have hyper-inflation.

        Every hyper-inflation in history has been caused, not by excessive “money printing,” as is widely and falsely believed, but rather by a change in the full faith and credit of the sovereign currency creator.

        Yes the value of a currency, as with all commodities, is affected by supply and demand, and increases in supply without compensating increases in demand, can cause some inflation. But hyper-inflation is a different animal altogether, and it never is caused by increases in the money supply. It always is caused by a change in full faith and credit.

        Hyperinflation is a political problem, not a “too-much-money” problem, that causes extreme inflations. In fact, ii was the inflations that CAUSED the “too-much-money” to be created and not the other way around.

        Whenever you hear of a nation experiencing hyper-inflation, remember that the problem was not caused by excessive spending, but by a reduction in that nation’s full faith and credit.

        Reply
      2. Kyle2 months ago

        If America Defaulted on it’s Debts that would
        cause World War 3 To happen.
        Cause their be a lot of madness every that’s
        the people stuff would be the Government stuff.
        And This would piss off the America people
        who don’t study laws to know the government put a
        lien on all of us like Chattle since 1933 to
        start a pure debt based economy.
        But hopefully we don’t elect idiots who don’t study laws.
        Cause people should know to keep this flawed debt based market going you need more debt.

        Reply
    2. SteveD7 months ago

      Brandi, you like most people do not understand what federal debt is. (Actually the writer of this article doesn’t either, so do not feel too bad.) You are conflating federal debt with private or personal debt. Government debt is a private asset. You and I do not owe government debt, we own it. Indeed, the only source of net dollar-denominated financial wealth is federal government debt. In terms of “sustainability” and risks of government insolvency, all this government debt (which includes cash (reserves),coins and securities) is created equal. There is no default risk on the debt. Government can always afford to buy anything for sale by crediting bank deposits, and government can always service its debt by crediting interest to bank accounts. For several years, there has been much fretting about Chinese holdings of Treasuries. President Obama even paid a visit to China in an orchestrated attempt to promote friendship so that the Chinese would continue to “lend” to us so that our government can continue to run a budget deficit. This is pure unadulterated nonsense. Our government spends by crediting bank accounts — it does not borrow back its own IOUs from the Chinese in order to spend. Rather, US trade deficits with China lead to dollar-denominated deposits credited to Chinese exporters that are traded with the Bank of China for RMB reserves. The Bank of China then trades dollar reserves for US Treasuries to earn interest. If we stop issuing Treasuries, they will hold low-interest-earning dollar reserves instead. No big deal.

      Reply
    3. JJ Camp5 months ago

      China is buying us Companies and paying for them with the devalued dollars we are sending them to pay our debt. Very Clever.

      Reply
  9. Brandi Nottingham9 months ago

    Why don’t we just make more money and start over?

    Reply
    1. EdwardF9 months ago

      There will be too much money in circulation.

      Reply
    2. Dina5 months ago

      You didn’t take economics, did you? Printing money causes hyperinflation. Inflation is a bad thing. Inflation means you will have less money to buy new shoes….you will have to buy from Payless or Walmart to be able to afford them.

      Reply
  10. Powderdog9 months ago

    >>As of Sept. 30 the federal government’s total debt stood at $16.74 trillion, according to the Treasury Department’s monthly reckoning. Nearly all of it is subject to the statutory debt ceiling, which is currently set at a hair under $16.7 trillion; as a result, at the end of September there was just $25 million in unused debt capacity remaining.<<
    I had trouble figuring out how there could be $25 million in unused debt capacity remaining when the debt is more than $.04 trillion over the limit of $16.7 trillion. I guess, if I understand it, that is because not all the debt is subject to the limitation. I think that is rather poorly stated. Or maybe I just don't get it.

    Reply
    1. SteveD7 months ago

      The Fed’s balance sheet with its nearly $4 trillion debt is excluded from the debt limit. So are cash holdings and coins, etc.

      Both political parties, but especially the Tea/Republicans, have told the gullible American public that the federal debt is too high. Right wingers have been screaming this for years.

      So what is their solution? Raise the debt ceiling, — if they get their way on other legislative issues, like the Affordable Care Act and reduced taxes on the rich.

      If someone truly believes the debt is too high, the last thing they would propose is a legislative barter that raises the debt.

      Can you imagine saying this to your wife: “Our debt is way too high. We are broke. But, I’ll go along with borrowing even more and going even deeper into debt, if you agree to buy the Porche I like rather than the Rolls Royce you like.”

      It’s nonsensical, for two reasons:

      1. If you believed federal debt were too high, your solutions would involve reducing the debt, not increasing it.

      2. The federal government is not like you and me. It is Monetarily Sovereign. It creates dollars at will. Debt is not a burden. What erroneously is called “debt,” is nothing more than the total of private deposits in T-security accounts at the Federal Reserve Bank.

      Do we dare ask the American people to think about this question: If the nation’s primary debt hawks are prepared to raise the federal “debt” as a political bargaining tool, how real is that debt?

      The answer: The federal, so-called, “debt” is not like any other debt. The “debt” is, in fact, bank deposits. The federal debt, being the total of T-security deposits at the Federal Reserve Bank, essentially is identical to deposits in bank savings accounts.

      How does the federal government “pay off” its debt? The same way a bank “pays off” its savings accounts. It transfers dollars from a depositor’s savings account to the depositor’s checking account.

      Period. Done.

      Reply
      1. Anthony P.1 month ago

        Your nose is growing Pinocchio. ‘Right Wingers’ as you try and label them do not believe in raising the national debt one single penny. It’s the Rhinos who are afraid of the labels leftists like yourself will put on them who continue to raise the ceiling. Any talk of holding the line on a debt ceiling increase leads to frantic TV appearances by all tho tied to this administration talking about how irresponsible the opposition party is and if they would just get out of the way the socialists can really fundamentally transform this country. Yep, that’s working out well isn’t it? To borrow an old line from President Reagan, “ask yourself, are you better off today than you were 4 years ago”? The leftists have been very successful over the last 8 years at twisting reality because they OWN the media, for the most part (save for FoxNews and talk radio) but that’s beginning to change as the American people are no longer falling for the bs people like you espouse.

        Reply
  11. Dan Pangburn9 months ago

    That makes the interest more than a billion dollars a DAY.

    Reply
  12. Charles Goin10 months ago

    I think I just found the way to cut the deficit and balance the budget drastically in the time it takes to have the president sign a law.

    You see last year $223 BILLION of the budget was INTEREST. We own ~42% of the debt, so we paid ourselves $100 Billion in interest.

    Since we had a larger Deficit, A $100 BILLION of the deficit that we borrowed went to pay the interest on the debt we owed to OURSELVES.

    Now since we did that, we will have to borrow money next year to pay the interest on the $100 Billion we borrowed to pay the interest to ourselves.

    ANYONE Else see a problem with this… ? Why is the GOP and Dems cutting VA benefits, etc.. etc.. when all we have to do is quit paying interest to ourselves, and forgive all the GOVERNMENT agencies of their debt.

    To me this looks like a shell game, and at best is taking money from your coat pocket, putting it in your pants pocket and calling it new money. Or better yet, this more resembles Check Kiting.. which is illegal..

    As for SSTF insolvency..how about we don’t worry about that. Because all we have to do is balance the budget to make that problem disappear.. how do we do that..? QUIT paying interest on top of interest on top of interest TO OURSELVES !!

    Reply
    1. Mac9 months ago

      Why? You have your numbers wrong for one thing. The Federal Reserve is not Ourselves.
      It is not part of Government. Granted, they think they Own the government.

      The only people that would lose in your scenario are the ones that have been putting money into their Social Security for their entire working lives. The Feds stole, ahem, that is, borrowed that money at an artificially low interest rate. Under your scenario, it would be an actual theft.

      It is taking money out of your pocket and my pocket and giving it to Congress critters and the people who have bought them.

      Reply
    2. SteveD7 months ago

      There is no debt (burden). Treasuries are dollars (reserves) with a maturity and a coupon (interest). To pay off the “debt”, the Fed debits securities accounts and credits reserve accounts. This was done to the tune of almost $62 trillion last year (FY 2013) and interest rates didn’t spike, the dollar didn’t collapse, there was no hyperinflation, in short, the world didn’t come to an end.

      Reply
  13. Neil Hampson11 months ago

    When will they ever learn. You cannot become debt free by borrowing.

    Reply
  14. Tavon Da ArtfulDodger11 months ago

    This is why folks are confused.. this is what America is. Thus its what the world is. Superpowers! Dumping U.S securities China would be making it rain with their own money.. pour out a bottle of J.walker while their at it. Japan gdp to dept ratio is 1:1.5 like 150% debt every yr and they bn like that awhile and still kicking. We need more revenue is all.. a new tax bill.. or atlease some revision and slow down defense.. why are we even discussing SS.. cut defense atlease take it back to 2006 levels.. war time levels with no war. savings and progress! Trade runs the world and the dollar is its currency.. low rates is will be here for awhile as long as we don’t make a fuss out of a bill.. how bout they fuss about an actual bill or law.. immigration will help the economy.. tax amendments for middle class and some bailout money for these subprime home loans the banks crapped on America..

    Reply
    1. Kyle2 months ago

      You can’t cut war spending cause
      they afraid the people would
      realize the money is heavy over valued.
      I kind of see this coming so I decided to
      start a farm and produce all my food and oil.
      Just live life with no job just have fun.
      Me researching laws they passed I learned
      the elite believe they enslaved the American people
      by making their money worthless.
      But I be like I just going to do what I want farm make oil mine gold and hike the mountains. Once people realize this stuff they say I don’t need all this fancy junk. and their all leave their jobs and do what they want to.

      Reply
  15. Johnny12 months ago

    The referenced link talks about $16,661.0 billion — with a B, not $17 trillion, with a T. Did I miss something?

    Reply
    1. W Michael11 months ago

      Yes, you did. $16,661 billion (with a B) = $16.661 trillion (with a T)

      Reply
  16. jim1 year ago

    I am appalled by the total lack of understanding regarding the social security “trust funds”. do you really feel comfortable knowing the SSTF has $2.76T in US Treasuries? The security is only as good as the government’s ability to repay these notes. Put it another way, assume you had a $5,000,000 IRA. If this $5M were invested in a bunch of different securities – stocks, bonds – including Treasuries, you’d have a very enjoyable retirement. However, this IRA is invested in a $5,000,000 note to you, the beneficiary. thus, your retirement will only be as good as your ability to repay the note. IN OTHER WORDS, IT IS WORTHLESS AS A RETIREMENT ASSET, JUST LIKE THE “TRUST FUNDS”.

    Reply
    1. Tavon Da ArtfulDodger11 months ago

      They’re either gonna keep it in gold or paper.. and there’s not that much gold.. SS is that simple “Social” its for the well being of Society to be investing in our Society.. which by the way is Currency. IE: Treasury Notes aka Dollar Bills aka Gold and Silver.. If you can find 2 trillion worth of Gold.. ill be your huckleberry! Our Treasury Notes are the most secure.. and Govts and their respected Society are forever in the business game.. democracy if ever there were a title!

      Reply
    2. JJ Camp5 months ago

      instead of using the surplus Social Security revenue to buy such bonds in the open market, the government chose to spend the money and issue IOUs to replace the spent money.*** These IOUs are non-marketable and could not be sold to anyone, even for a penny on the dollar. The government has the legal authority to declare these IOUs null and void. The surplus that was specifically earmarked 1983 by President Regan for the retirement of the baby boomers.”future Presidents knew and took the money regardless.

      Reply
  17. Tom Kelley1 year ago

    There should be an official, nationally televised “State of the Social Security Retirement Trust Fund” every year.

    Reply
  18. Bebe Gunn1 year ago

    i’m just here for facts for a school paper so thank you for commenting more facts

    Reply
  19. nutso fasst1 year ago

    The national debt has been increasing at an ever greater rate since 1957.

    The debt is now more than 6 times yearly tax revenue, while spending is 1.25 times.

    If you were earning $50,000 per year, your expenses were $62,500, and you owed $300,000 to creditors, would you–could you–continue to borrow?

    Reply
    1. Rlc9 months ago

      If you were 240 years old and the wealthiest person on earth and everyone thinks you’ll live forever the answer is probably yes

      Reply
  20. Curiositykilledacat1 year ago

    “China’s Treasury holdings amounted to ..7.6% of the total debt.” So WHO holds the other 92.4% of the U.S. national debt???? Just curious….

    Reply
    1. Inkyu11 months ago

      Well contrast to what people believe out of the 17 trillion dollar debt, we only owe 5 trillion to foreign countries, the rest are to the American public, which in the Hamiltonian Capitalist System, really doesn’t matter. So personally I feel that this debt is over hyped, as long as in the next 4 years our Congress can cut down on some spending and pay back our foreign debts… However, that is the problem.

      Reply
  21. Innocent1 year ago

    Okay, so here is my ‘issue’ I suppose. We are to be happy because we have more debt at a lower interest rate? So I should be okay that at a debt of $17 Trillion I am only going to pay 2.5% interest on it? So, and perhaps this is me being foolish in my thought process, what happens when the interest rate goes up to say 5%? My ‘interest’ to service the debt goes from $425 Billion ( which btw is closer to 11% rather than the aforementioned 6.23% in outlays – I know you ‘discounted’ the amount paid to Social security… why would you do that ) up to $850 Billion or so… Which would mean it is 23+% of Government outlays today.

    Now I know the Federal Reserve has been, shall we say, manipulating the marketplace. The trouble in Europe has helped as well. What happens when people are no longer content with the paltry 2% rate we offer now?

    I mean maybe I simply cannot see an exit to forever 2% T-bills…

    Reply
  22. Tom Charles1 year ago

    I’m amazed at some of the comments here….as if this gargantuan debt is immaterial to our nation’s health. The interest on $17 Trillion may only be 2.4%…but what happens when the credit rating slips and the Treasury is now paying3.5 or 4.0%. I remember the days of Jimmy Carter, when we paid much higher rates, and it was devastating to the financial markets and the moral of this country. U.S. debt should be no higher than 60% of GDP…our debt is now over 100% of GDP! Shameful! And to minimize it’s existence is arrogant and irresponsible! At our current rate of 1.8% GDP growth, our economy is shrinking compared to the debt. Kiddies….better learn to speak Greek and ‘Detroit-ese’…this administration with its out of control entitlements and baseless takeover of healthcare is using the speed lane to get to Crash N’ Burnville!

    Reply
    1. TJ Krest10 months ago

      Oh please Tom, tell me about “this administration with its out of control entitlements and baseless takeover of healthcare” is so Crash N’ Burnville! Coporate profits have risen 62.7% since President Obama took office.
      This administration had nothing to do with SS nor Medicare. As for the ‘baseless takeover of healthcare”, Tom, something had to be done. Nixon wanted to do it. Mitt did it in Massachusetts. There was no “baseless takeover”! And please don’t tell me that SS is a none funded government handout. I paid for it as well as you. Back in the 70’s (I think) the SS funds, which were supposed to be separate from all other government monies, were commingled with the Fed budget. That was a bad deal.
      Look back at the debt to GNP ratio after WWII. Because of the boom in economic growth, that was all paid back. Don’t panic. America is a strong nation and a brilliant light to the rest of the world. This is all just ‘stuff”. This too shall pass.

      Reply
      1. Rlc9 months ago

        Now there it is. That’s what the debt fatalists fail to see. The biggest factor affecting debt is economic growth. The factors associated with increased interest rates will also bring increased revenues and lower expenditures (unemployment benefits, Medicaid,etc.).

        While the recovery has been slow it has been steady and that is a good thing.

        Reply
    2. SteveD7 months ago

      USA=Monetarily Sovereign
      Greece=Monetarily NON-sovereign.

      Debt/GDP is an apples to oranges comparison. It’s meaningless to a currency sovereign.

      Reply
  23. Wijaya Loter1 year ago

    300 Million People . . . . .

    Together Money . .

    TM . . TM . . .

    Every 1 People . . US. .100.000. .

    Become . . .

    US. . . 30 Trillion . . .Dollar . . .

    Reply
  24. Natalie Attired1 year ago

    I’m a college graduate and I follow what’s going on with our government. I read this carefully, but I must say, I had trouble understanding it. What point was the article trying to make? I can’t say I came away with more knowledge than I started with.

    Reply
  25. Kevin Byrne1 year ago

    Plenty of misinformation here. There is no debt crisis. The so-called national debt is the total amount of investment in US Treasuries. It is nothing like personal debt! It is true China owns about 8% of our Treasuries, and that money can never leave the US. They can only roll it over into new Treasuries, or buy American products. They invest it here for safety; we do not finance our govt by borrowing it from.

    Reply
    1. Fracuss1 year ago

      Please site examples of misinformation in the article>

      Reply
    2. JC10 months ago

      That is the only correct comment posted on this entire article. Astounding how few people understand how government debt and spending and taxation works.

      Reply
      1. Ed Service10 months ago

        Maybe everyone should be required to read and understand ” The 7 Deadly Innocent Frauds” By Warren Mosler! It certainly looks to me like hardly anyone actually understands how the economy and money works in their own country! moslereconomics.com/2009/12/10/7…

        Reply
      2. Rlc9 months ago

        If this were Facebook I would give this a big LIKE!!!

        Reply
  26. Greg Mueller1 year ago

    It took this country 200 years to amass one trillion dollars worth of debt and in 8 years President Reagan doubled our debt through deficit spending. His chief of staff Dick Cheney shrugged off deficit spending as ” NO BIG DEAL!” Both parties are responsible for our financial problems, they just have different priorities for the over spending. Social Security is a stand alone program between you and your employer and is not a bargaining chip. Take the cap off and increase the premium 1/4% to 6.45% and SS problems are solved for the foreseeable future or until the politicians need bail money, again.

    Reply
  27. nick1 year ago

    why is there still a ceiling on how much you pay into the social security fund? Regular income taxes don’t hit a ceiling.

    Someone making $1M per year pays the same into social security as someone that made $30M or $50M.

    This is also a part of why SS doesn’t have enough money.

    Reply
    1. kickk1 year ago

      Will the rich get any money out of SS?

      Reply
    2. nutso fasst1 year ago

      Because (a) there is a corresponding cap on benefits, and (b) the benefits are already progressive–relatively higher for lower income people.

      Are you ignorant of the fact that SS was supposed to be an insurance policy, not a pension?

      (The biggest payers tend to live longer. Eliminate the cap on both and we’d really be in trouble.)

      Reply
  28. Jack Smith1 year ago

    I hope Social Security is getting more in interest payments than the paltry percentage paid at the Fed. Otherwise, is Social Security managing money in the interest of the clients– the Americans who paid into the system? I guess a similar question would be “is SS getting what an insurance company is getting? Otherwise, are politicians manipulating the market and making SS a loser in this deal?

    Reply
  29. Werner Weeks1 year ago

    Anyone who doesn’t know how to balance their own checkbook should never be entrusted with balancing the nations’ checkbook. If I lived on credit commencerate with what the Federal Government is doing, I’d be in jail long ago.
    Elected representatives, when they realize that they can campaign using public money to hand out FREE STUFF to the electorate, appeal to the basest of humanities morals to make their voter base into dependent slaves. When free enterprize is displaced by free stuff, PERSONAL FREEDOM goes out the window.

    WAKE UP, people.

    Reply
    1. Fracuss1 year ago

      You really don’t get it, do you Weiner?
      The government is not an individual or a household, and those does not function like one financially.
      Do yourself a favor, and Google this issue, and get better informed.

      Reply
      1. baramamamama1 year ago

        Oh Frucass,

        when will you learn? the guys name was Werner not Weiner. Names matter.

        Reply
        1. Joyce Clemons9 months ago

          Personal ridicule ( this time with an extra twist to imply a comparison with a disgraced name) is the currency of the arrogant when they adore the sound of their own voice and lack the skill to make a cogent argument without relying on ad hominem attacks. I see no problem with a citizen questioning the manner in which national finances are handled. Mr. Weeks cares enough to voice his legitimate concern. Frankly, I feel that the US government is processing financial resources like a calf with the scours. Mr. Fracuss apparently isn’t interested in remedies. Viruses, bacteria and parasites need to be addressed. Pretty naive to suppose there are none in the system. If Mr. Fracuss thinks his approach to understanding matters can be edifying, he wouldn’t need to resort to insults. His behavior would get him thrown out of a college lecture hall. Fortunately he gets to take another try at it before he is dismissed.

          Reply
    2. Ego Eimi1 year ago

      I’m British and just an observer. But… Our SS has been around since WWII, and it’s steadily grown and grown and grown. It skews politics because so many rely on various handouts (including those who pay taxes) that no one dare talk about replacing it or cutting it. It’s the elephant in the room.
      We have generations who won’t or can’t afford to work because SS pays more than a normal job. What started off as a well meaning compassionate response to poverty has become a monster that’s out of control.

      Reply
  30. Steven Haynes1 year ago

    What’s interesting to me is that the debt owned by Social Security is “special non-traded Treasury securities”. What is Social Security supposed to do with that? If the revenues are less than the benefits paid out, where is Social Security supposed to get the cash? If the Chinese or Japanese want their money, they can just sell their Bonds. But not Social Security! And with the Baby Boomer generation retiring, there will be more in benefits paid out than taxes paid in, Oops!

    Reply
    1. Eric Y1 year ago

      I strongly doubt that if Chinese and Japanese (as well as other major debt holders of the U.S national debt) do so (to sell a large portion of the U.S bonds they own), it will be a disaster for the U.S economy and will cause a much more serious economical crisis. It is more likely to me that since they have no better options but buying the U.S debts for their export superiority against the U.S (to spend the dollars they earned selling their products), they are as much as the U.S citizens the victims of the system. The national interests of the P.R.C and Japan would be more likely supporting the U.S government in order to keep the value of the U.S treasuries they currently own, rather than cashing them out and destroying all the potential benefits in both political and economical goals of all the involving parties in the future. The U.S national debt are still the strongest and most beneficial way of dollar investment worldwide, in other words, if Chinese or Japanese had thrown that much money into the Euro debts, they would be doomed long time ago and wouldn’t get a penny back.

      Reply
  31. Jeff Dranreb1 year ago

    1.) I hate Debt. 2.) When you owe more than you own, I believe the word is BankRupt.
    3.) My mother spent money like it was going out of style; she died broke, bitter and rejected by most of her family. Now lets transpose mother with country. 4.) I want my grandchildren to enjoy what I have enjoyed; I worked for everything I own, and they will inherit it all plus the governments debt.
    It is both parties fault. I am a Libertarian so I feel upset by the GOP and the current spendthrifts. However, I enjoyed those things that the debt furnished. Currently I am enjoying 4 pensions which I earned, and I am not a rich man. I live within my means. So should the government of the United States. Note to BHO; you are not a King, Or GOD, You work for the citizens of the USA, no more spending please. It is not just Bush’s Fault.

    Reply
    1. Stu Pudasso10 months ago

      JD Last thing first- President Obama CAN NOT spend money on his own. Congress authorizes the payments and he HAS to spend the money.
      Don’t owe more than you have? Never had a mortgage huh?

      Reply
      1. Joyce Clemons9 months ago

        A mortgage is secured debt. Assuming the GDP represents “the homestead”, Is it okay with you if we assume, that as the debt begins to eclipse the GDP, we feel pretty chafed?

        Reply
        1. Joyce Clemons9 months ago

          Having said that much, you are correct to say that the President cannot legally spend money not appropriated by Congress. He can, however, say a lot more than he does about restraint, both to Congress and to us. That would be, at least, a good example. I’m not hearing that message; really, are you?

          Reply
  32. Mike Vee1 year ago

    The debt of the US is only controversial because of the ideology of the Republican party as it is today. Our debt to Social Security Trust Fund is more than the US owes to China and Japan…that debt is because Social Security is working and has more than 2 trillion dollars due it (paid by taxpayers) to the US Treasury, not because of anything else. TARP was paid to banks and financial investment firms and they were owed not one dime US and it was billions. How stupid can the representatives in Congress be? It is not complex unless you do not like safety nets for US citizens who “paid” for it over the years?! Get off the ideological wagon….and vote for programs that actually help US citizens! Not other countries, not questionable wars, not arms manufacturers, not the very rich 1%… but help the people who work in the US, and sacrifice their children in wars of the military industrial complex and congress…as President/General Eisenhower warned us!

    Reply
    1. Mike Colarusso1 year ago

      wait are you saying that money collected from taxpayers pay checks (fica) is used to buy treasury bonds and these same taxpayer then owe themselves the money back with interest? if so, why loan money to yourself that will cost you more to pay yourself back. i must be missing something here.

      Reply
      1. authorjim1 year ago

        Thank you, Mike, for putting it so plainly. We need a wagon load of this kind of truth to counteract all rosy paint that is put on the situation by federal government and its sympathizers.

        Reply
  33. Phineas Phinque1 year ago

    I wouldn’t give the Federal Reserve too much credit for the current low interest rates, which are now below the inflation rate. In other words, smart investors are willing to pay us to lend us money! Bond investors are not naive people like many stock buyers. They are foreign national banks, large mutual funds, and rich guys who didn’t get that way by being stupid about their money. If they think that there is the slightest chance of not being paid back, they will demand interest rates that cover that risk. Until the Tea Party crazies started their campaign of total obstruction, US debt was considered the safest investment in the world. The next few days will tell whether that continues or interest rates go to historic highs.

    Reply
  34. Michael Bednarz1 year ago

    Put this graph in context to Americans in this way…..
    Congress (with the responsibility over spending and revenue) is the loan officer reviewing a Credit Application for a Vehicle purchase (Congress has the Constiutional authority and responsibility for approving the loan and debt and it’s outcomes as loan officer). The applicant assumes and DEMANDS an approval because 6 years ago when they bought their last car they got the loan, though at the time when the loan officer reviewed that application they had a 60% debt to income ratio, and earned more money than they do now. Now they have a debt to income ratio of 105%, spending more than their declining income every month/year with an ever increasing trend of the same for the future term of the loan. What basis does the loan officer have to base repayment on and an approval for the loan without any action or willingness by the applicant to reign in or reduce their spending, expenses, or circumstance in expectation of getting the loan?

    Reply
    1. Landis Marks10 months ago

      More like buying a house. You make $50,000 a year and you qualify to buy a $500,000 house. You owe ten times your annual salary but you can afford the payments and you get to live in the house.

      Reply
      1. Joyce Clemons9 months ago

        On what planet can the $50K earner really afford even a $325k loan on a $500 k house? The monthly payment on that would be 70% of take home pay before insurance. Please, when do we leave for that planet.

        Reply
    2. V. Lamb7 months ago

      “Rein” in, not “Reign” in.

      Reply
  35. Bob Talbott1 year ago

    Well done. Thanks

    Reply
  36. Vic Volpe1 year ago

    When the finance industry and investors want to do calculations and need to determine a risk-free investment return, what statistic do they use?…Federal Government bonds, notes, and treasuries. Why? Because there has never been a U.S. default in our history, and we have never failed to pay our debts, and we have the power to print our own money, and the U.S. debt that is held by foreigners is held in U.S. dollars (and not a foreign currency like Euros, Yen, Chinese Yuan, etc – which is what happened to Argentina years ago when they had a huge foreign debt held not in the Argentine currency but in foreign currency like U.S. $ or the German DM.).

    Reply
  37. Ken Moellman1 year ago

    The Federal Reserve is not an arm of the government, as you infer in point 3 while talking about how “government is the largest holder of our debt”. Having “Federal” in ones name does not make them a government entity. The Federal Reserve is a private company, just like Federal Express is a private company.

    Also, as Harry MacKenzie noted, there’s far more in “unfunded liabilities” than actual on-the-books debt.

    Reply
    1. Dan Foreman1 year ago

      Federal Express, really?
      The Federal Reserve derives its authority from the Congress of the United States, Federal Express not so much.
      The Federal Reserve is subject to Congressional oversight, IRS possibly.
      Congress can alter its responsibilities, USPS might try.
      The chairman requires Senate confirmation, Federal Express, really?

      Reply
      1. concerned1 year ago

        Yes, really. Its a completely private corporation. If you can name one of the owners (and it is a jointly owned company), you will win the smartest blogger of the year award. Hint: its not the US Treasury.

        Reply
        1. John Smith10 months ago

          From the Federal Reserve’s own website:

          “The Federal Reserve System fulfills its public mission as an independent entity within government. It is not “owned” by anyone and is not a private, profit-making institution.”

          federalreserve.gov/faqs/about_14…

          Took me like 10 seconds to find by Google “Who owns the federal reserve”. It’s the 1st search result.

          Reply
  38. Tommie Wells1 year ago

    Looks like it was all lower in the GWB years except the interest and I expect BO has managed to spin that or it would be up, too. But, we all know all the problems are Bush’s fault!

    Reply
    1. ODavid1 year ago

      Bush tryed to get the house controled by Nasty nancyp to fix the housing issue, 21 times Bush requested reform, peelowsee refused! It’s the Demoncraps fault, barny frank lied to everyone about one month before the bottom dropped out. Get informed!

      Reply
      1. Phineas Phinque1 year ago

        Bush came into office with a $200 billion budget surplus. He started two unfunded wars, and pushed through the unfunded Medicare part D–a boondogle that enriched drug companies and insurance companies far more than seniors. He left office with a trillion dollar deficit.

        The Democrats NEVER declined to pass a debt ceiling during the 8 years that Bush was in office. You can look it up.

        Reply
        1. Joe Birle1 year ago

          Bush was no angel when it came to debt, but BO has the checkbook in his hand, and there’s no credit card (your grandchildren) he doesn’t like. Like the traitor Barney Frank, Obama will kill your heirs.

          Reply
        2. amy1 year ago

          I’m sure that the democrats have never failed to raise the debt ceiling…that’s what they do. Spend spend spend. Seems they all do, but at some point this will stop. Either someone will say that enough is enough, or more likely this country will be bankrupt. No social security, no medicare, no medicaid, no welfare, no food stamps. At that point, I hope that America remembers how to work, as maybe we can rebuild. These programs seem very nice…but at some point we need to quit going into debt to do it. Maybe these people should just go to work…like we used to…make America great again…

          Reply
        3. kickk1 year ago

          What surplus? The national debt went up every year during Clinton. Look it up.

          Reply
        4. Mike Cano10 months ago

          When George W. Bush was reelected for the second time after rallying the Taliban and being beaten up so badly in the press with unfounded accusations of voting fraud dangling chad silliness, extended an olive branch to Democrat Senator Kennedys legislation having Medicare pay for Senior citizens medicine, so they would not have to eat cat food (remember that campaign commercial) because they bought their medicine, under protest from most Republicans because it would cost obscene amounts of money increasing the National Debt. on top of the war that was started by the terrorists not the President and to appease the Democrats after the signing was again beat up wrongfully by the press for being a big spender along with finger pointing from the DNC, so no Mr. know it all you are quite wrong. By the way every president of this great country is and should be spoken of and treated with respect.

          Reply
        5. j7 months ago

          Go to usdebtclock.org. bush maintained that surplus

          Reply
      2. Stu Pudasso10 months ago

        Jerry Brown (then CA AG) tried to prosecute mortgage fraud, Bush administration stopped him. Appealed and had approval from 48 state AG’s, John Ashcroft, USAG, turned him down citing a very old law that gave feds oversight. US never persued fraud, so it is ALL Bush’s fault.
        PS. When a farm worker who makes $18,000 a year qualifies for a $700,000 mortgage we knowthere was fraud. Who do you think masterminded this fraud; the faem worker or the banker.
        PPS Read “The Big Short” by Michael Lewis

        Reply
    2. Michael Bednarz1 year ago

      I trust you are being facetious?

      Reply
    3. kegaket112 months ago

      Your thoughts – was the surplus Bush inherited a credit to Newt Gingrich/Contract With America? I have heard this. Also, was the financial crisis started by Clinton/Reno’s threat to jail bankers if they didn’t find a way to extend mortgages to low income people? I am told this resulted in a preponderance of balloon mortgages (interest only payments for 5/10 years then principle payments added to the monthly payment when the mortgage holder supposedly was going to earning more those 5/10 years later). And that these mortgages were fine for 5/10 years (interest only period), but exploded during Bush years (principle payments kicked in).

      Reply
  39. Harry MacKenzie1 year ago

    You are leaving out the unfunded future social liabilities. If properly counted, the total obligations are in the hundreds of trillions of dollars

    Reply
  40. Nath Jones1 year ago

    Thanks for that point of clarity on China’s interest.

    Reply