Last Updated: November 30, 2020
Debt is like a knife.
And people with debt are running away from it.
Let’s see some national debt statistics that will possibly open your eyes:
National Debt Statistics (Editor’s Pick):
- The USA is the 10th country worldwide with the highest national debt to GDP.
- The national debt to GDP ratio after World War II was 121.7% – the highest ever.
- The national debt was increased by 186% while Ronald Reagan was in office.
- Obama increased the national debt by approximately $9 trillion during his term.
- The current debt to GDP ratio is 104% – the highest since the 1940s.
When it comes to national debt, it is all about balance. You need just the right amount – having too little debt means you aren’t boosting the economy. Having a lot of debt means distrust in the government’s ability to repay that debt.
But first things first. What is national debt exactly? The national debt is defined as the amount of money the government owes. This national debt directly affects the citizens, as it can have an effect on the country’s economy and standard of living. We figured that you, as a diligent citizen, might be interested in some national debt statistics.
Here’s what we prepared for you:
General US National Debt Statistics
The United States national debt statistics are a hot topic these days. Let’s check them out!
1. The current national debt of the USA is more than $22.6 trillion.
(Source: Treasury Direct)
As reported on September 30, 2019, the national US debt amounts to more than $22.6 trillion. During the same period in 2018, the national debt was reported to be $21.5 trillion. The year before it exceeded $20.2 trillion. A decade ago, in 2009, the national debt amounted to $11.9 trillion. We can notice a steady increase with the debt almost doubling in a decade’s time.
To understand how the amount of US debt increased so much, let’s take a look at the causes of national debt:
The main reason is budget deficit.
But what does that mean?
Basically, every time the government’s spending exceeds the budget limit, there’s a budget deficit. This budget deficit gets added to the national debt. Every program which is supposed to be funded by the budget can cause a deficit. For example, military spending, social security funding, healthcare, education, infrastructure, etc.
If the government uses the money to subsidize local companies, then this debt can actually be beneficial for citizens. Contracting firms means they use the money to hire and pay new employees which in turn causes an economic boost.
2. The USA in the 10th country worldwide with the highest national debt to GDP.
(Source: Trading Economics)
Looking at US debt as a percentage of GDP tells us that it is the 10th highest ratio worldwide. It represents approximately 106% of the GDP.
To put this into perspective, it’s important to note that the ideal debt to GDP ratio is considered to be no higher than 77%.
Some countries have an even greater debt to GDP ratio than the USA. Those include Japan, Greece, Lebanon, Italy, Cape Verde, and others.
3. The national debt per person exceeds $69,000.
We already mentioned that the national debt is close to $23 trillion. If we divide this number with the number of people living in the USA, we get that the debt per US citizen is close to $70,000. That also amounts to approximately $180,000 per household.
4. The national debt to GDP ratio after World War II was 121.7% – the highest ever.
The first record increase of the national debt to GDP ratio happened during the Great Depression. Then, the post World War II ratio broke the record. It still remains the highest debt to GDP ratio. Though if we look at the national debt timeline, the ratio steadily decreased. During the Great Recession, it peaked again in 2009.
5. The USA paid $523 billion in interest on the national debt in 2018.
According to data from the US Treasury, the average interest rate on the national debt in October 2019 was 2.4%. It was approximately the same in October 2018. So in 2018, the USA paid $523 billion just on interests. The number is even higher in 2019 – amounting to $574 billion.
6. The debt ceiling has been suspended six times since 2013.
The US government debt is directly correlated to the debt ceiling, as this determines how much the national debt can increase. Congress imposes the limit, depending on how much money the government needs to spend to pay out its legal obligations. So the debt ceiling cannot be increased to fund new projects, but rather to pay out existing obligations.
If the debt ceiling is not increased, then the government wouldn’t be able to things like finance social security, healthcare, military salaries, interest on the national debt, etc.
Not being able to afford these financial obligations means that the US will default on its debt. This can have an impact on the economy. The government would have to cut spending, meaning there will be no funds for salaries or pensions.
This national deficit will have a negative effect on the standard of living. Suspending the debt ceiling means that the national debt will gradually increase until all necessary payments are made.
It’s what we call “the domino effect”.
7. The US has had a federal deficit since 1960 – with the exception of four years.
(Source: US Government Spending)
Since 1960, the US government has run on a national deficit. With the exception of four fiscal years, of course. This means that the money the federal government spent surpassed the money available in a given fiscal year. A surplus was recorded in the years 1998, 1999, 2000 and 2001.
Each increase of the national debt by year comes as a result of the budget deficit. A budget surplus leads to a decrease in national debt.
Who Owns the US National Debt?
It’s time to meet America’s largest creditors.
8. 74% of the national debt is owned by the public.
(Source: Just Facts)
Depending on who owns it, there are two types of national debt: intragovernmental and public. So, let’s do a little national debt breakdown. The majority of the debt is owned by foreign countries, investors, banks, individuals, federal reserves, mutual funds, state and local governments. That’s 74% of the total and represent the public debt.
9. $6 trillion of the national debt is intragovernmental.
The intragovernmental debt amounts to 26%. It is owned by federal agencies that have more money than they can spend. So, they buy US treasury bonds. The federal agencies and trust funds that own national debt are:
- The Social Security Trust Fund
- The Federal Disability Insurance Trust Fund
- The Office of Personnel Management Retirement
- The Military Retirement Fund
If we look at the US debt to the penny, then more than $17 trillion is owned by the public and close to $6 trillion is intragovernmental. That’s what the latest info from the US treasury shows.
10. Japan and China are the foreign countries that own the most US debt.
China used to be the foreign country that owned the highest amount of US federal debt. However, all that changed in June 2019, when Japan bought more than $20 billion US foreign debt. This now makes them the largest foreign debt holder.
The reason why a foreign country would buy US debt hides in the fact that the dollar is the most popular foreign reserve currency. Having international reserves in foreign currencies are beneficial to a country’s economy. It can stabilize the local currency as well as create trust for trading and investing possibilities.
Besides Japan and China, other major foreign holders of US treasury debt are the United Kingdom, Brazil, Ireland, Luxembourg and others.
National Debt Statistics By President
Did national debt pile up faster during certain presidents’ time in office?
Let’s find out.
11. During Roosevelt’s time in office, the national debt increased by 1,048%.
(Source: The Balance)
When president Franklin D. Roosevelt was in office, the national debt has increased the most compared to the year before. Though if we look at the national debt history, we can see that the national debt increases the most when the state is at war.
Franklin D. Roosevelt was in office from 1933 until 1945. He served as president during the Great Depression and World War II. Though he was the one responsible for the New Deal. Roosevelt instituted a series of programs for financial relief and opened jobs for a lot of people.
In the post World War II years, however, the national debt gradually decreased. The GDP to debt ratio was highest in 1946. If we look at the ratio of GDP to debt by year, we can see that the percentage lowered steadily and reached 31% in 1974.
12. Woodrow Wilson increased the national debt by 727%.
(Source: The Balance)
Much like Franklin D. Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson also had to deal with a world war while serving his presidential term. He was in office from 1913 until 1921. When he left office, the US had a national debt of almost $24 billion. Compared to the national debt today this doesn’t seem like much. However, before Woodrow Wilson became president, the US national debt only amounted to $2.3 billion.
13. The national debt was increased by 186% while Ronald Reagan was in office.
(Source: The Balance)
When Ronald Regan took office in 1981, he inherited a national debt of $997 billion. If we look at the US debt by year during his term, we can see that each year he increased the debt by 10 to 20%. In 1984 the US national debt was $1 trillion. When he left office in 1988, he left the government with a debt of $2.6 trillion. That’s more than double the debt he inherited.
14. George Walker Bush added approximately $5 trillion dollars to the national debt.
(Source: The Balance)
George W. Bush serves as president from 2001 until 2008. He inherited approximately $5.6 trillion in national debt. After the 9/11 attacks, he launched the War on Terror. This meant that he had to finance the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which naturally caused a national deficit.
Besides financing the wars, he also had to deal with two recessions. He lowered the taxes in 2001, in order to boost economic growth and fight this recession. Bush also signed the Economic Stimulus Act of 2008 to lower taxes yet again and fight the Great depression.
15. Obama increased the national debt by approximately $9 trillion during his term.
When Barack Obama took office on January 20th, 2009, the US government debt was $10.6 trillion dollars. At the end of the fiscal year 2016, the outstanding debt was $19.9 trillion.
During his presidential term, he had to fight the Great Recession of 2008, as well as finance the War on Terror. He signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. This meant spending around $800 billion on boosting the economy.
Obama isn’t the president with the highest percentage increase to the debt. However, the national debt chart displaying the increase in dollar amount shows that during his time the highest amount of dollars was added to the US national debt.
16. Trump added $3 trillion to the national debt since taking office in 2017.
One year later, in February 2019, the debt outstanding amounted to $22,1 trillion. The latest report from The Bureau of the Fiscal Service reports that the total debt outstanding is $23 trillion.
President Trump has also suspended the debt limit until July 21, 2021. This means that the government will be to borrow and spend as much money as it needs. After that date, the debt limit would be raised depending on how much was borrowed.
National Debt Statistics By Decade
Now, let’s see how US debt has changed in time.
17. The national debt increased from $907 billion to $2.85 trillion in the 1980s.
We already mentioned the increase of the US federal debt percentage-wise during Ronald Reagan’s presidency. However, during this decade there was also a high increase in the dollar amount.
During his term, Reagan lowered the taxes and yet increased military spending. The defense budget was increased by 43% which caused high budget deficits.
18. The US national debt amounted to $5.7 billion in 1999.
At the start of the decade, the national debt was approximately $3 trillion dollars. If we look at the US debt to the penny using official data from the Treasury, we can see that the decade ended with $5.7 trillion of national debt.
President Bill Clinton signed the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1993. It’s aim was to decrease budget deficit as well as the national debt. It is sometimes referred to as the Deficit Reduction Act, as this act decreased the debt to GDP ratio. It was the first time since the 1960s that the federal government had a budget surplus in 1998 due to this act.
19. The national debt increased by around $8 trillion from 2000 to 2010.
The USA started the millennium with $5.7 trillion in debt. On the last day of 2009 the US government debt amounted to approximately $13 trillion. The debt decrease trend didn’t continue for a few reasons. The biggest one being the 9/11 attacks and the subsequent War on Terror. They led to increased military spending. The second reason were the tax cuts implemented by George W. Bush.
And let’s not forget the impact the Great Recession had on the budget deficit!
20. The current debt to GDP ratio is 104% – the highest since the 1940s.
(Source: Macro Trends)
Close to the end of the year 2010, the national debt was approximately $13.5 trillion. The latest numbers show that it amounts to $22.6 trillion. While there were previous decades where the dollar amount was doubled, the difference now is that the debt to GDP ratio is also high. The US debt as a percentage of GDP is now 104%.
To put this into perspective, it is the same percentage as in 1947, during the Cold War and post World War II. In 2010 the debt to GDP ratio was around 90%. It slowly increased during the decade. This is attributed to the corporate tax cuts in 2017 as well as increased budget spending.
How Much Is the US in Debt?
In terms of federal debt, the dollar amount isn’t a good indicator of the national debt. The debt to GDP ratio is more important in national debt statistics. This ratio compares the debt to gross domestic product. If the percentage is higher it means that the country might default on the debt due to inability to keep up with financial obligations. If the ratio is lower, it means that the country has enough revenue to pay out the debt along with the accrued interest. Though a high debt to GDP ratio is not always a bad thing – it is sometimes due to rapid economic growth.