FAQs About the Public Debt
Note: Following federal law, we (the Bureau of the Fiscal Service) account for and report on the public debt. We do not have decision-making authority for public policy about the budget or the debt.
You can see current and past budgets for the federal government at https://www.govinfo.gov/app/collection/budget.
On this page, we answer questions about the federal public debt (and related topics).
Visit our Fiscal Service web site for more information. Information about the "Budget of the United States" is available at the Government Printing Office web site.
The deficit is the fiscal year difference between what the United States Government (Government) takes in from taxes and other revenues, called receipts, and the amount of money the Government spends, called outlays. The items included in the deficit are considered either on-budget or off-budget.
When the outlays in a fiscal year are more than the receipts, we have a deficit. When the receipts in a fiscal year are more than the outlays, we have a surplus.
You can think of the total debt as accumulated deficits plus accumulated off-budget surpluses.
See the Monthly Treasury Statement of Receipts and Outlays of the United States Government (MTS).
The on-budget deficits require the U.S. Treasury to borrow money to raise cash needed to keep the Government operating. We borrow the money by selling securities like Treasury bills, notes, bonds, and savings bonds to the public.
The Treasury securities issued to the public and to the Government Trust Funds (Intragovernmental Holdings) then become part of the total debt.
For information about the deficit, visit the Fiscal Service website to view the Monthly Treasury Statement of Receipts and Outlays of the United States Government (MTS).
The Public Debt Outstanding represents the face amount or principal amount of Treasury marketable security and Treasury non-marketable securities currently outstanding.
The Public Debt Subject to Limit is the maximum amount of money the Government is allowed to borrow without receiving additional authority from Congress.
The Public Debt Subject to Limit is the Public Debt Outstanding adjusted for Unamortized Discount on Treasury Bills and Zero Coupon Treasury Bonds, Miscellaneous debt (very old debt), Debt held by the Federal Financing Bank and Guaranteed Debt.
Our current accounting system produces the Public Debt Outstanding amount daily.
Our system relies on reporting entities (for example, Federal Reserve Banks) to report a variety of Treasury security information at the end of the day. On the following business day, our accounting system processes this information and generates the Public Debt Outstanding for the previous day which is posted to our website by 3 PM.
Although we continually look for methods to improve our process, daily accounting is still the most effective, efficient, and accurate way to account for the debt.
See the daily accounting of the public debt.
Makeup of the Debt
The Monthly Statement of the Public Debt (MSPD) is available online in summary and full versions, and lists the types of Treasury Securities we have issued to finance the Debt, the related maturity dates, and the "Amount Outstanding" for each category as well as subtotals and an overall total.
Ownership of the Debt
The Treasury Bulletin, available at our Fiscal Service website categorizes ownership of U.S. Government securities by types of investors.
The Debt Held by the Public is all federal debt held by individuals, corporations, state or local governments, Federal Reserve Banks, foreign governments, and other entities outside the United States Government less Federal Financing Bank securities. Types of securities held by the public include, but are not limited to, Treasury Bills, Notes, Bonds, TIPS, United States Savings Bonds, and State and Local Government Series securities.
Intragovernmental Holdings are Government Account Series securities held by Government trust funds, revolving funds, and special funds; and Federal Financing Bank securities. A small amount of Treasury marketable securities are held by government accounts.
The Federal Financing Bank (FFB) is a government corporation, created by Congress in 1973 under the general supervision of the Secretary of the Treasury. The FFB was established to centralize and reduce the cost of federal borrowing as well as federally-assisted borrowing from the public. Obligations are issued to the public by the Federal Financing Bank (FFB) to finance its operations. Obligations are limited to $15 billion unless otherwise authorized by the Appropriations Acts.
Financing the Debt
The Public Debt Outstanding goes down when the total amount of Treasury securities that people cash in is more than the total amount of Treasury securities that people buy.
There are two ways for you to make a contribution to reduce the debt:
- At Pay.gov, you can contribute online by credit card, debit card, PayPal, checking account, or savings account.
- You can write a check payable to the Bureau of the Fiscal Service, and, in the memo section, notate that it's a gift to reduce the debt held by the public. Mail your check to:
Attn Dept G
Bureau of the Fiscal Service
P. O. Box 2188
Parkersburg, WV 26106-2188
The Civil Service Retirement And Disability Fund And Government Securities Investment Fund Related To The Debt Limit
The following frequently asked questions provide further information on the actions Treasury is taking to create additional headroom under the debt limit so that the U.S. government can continue funding obligations made by Congresses past and present.
Civil Service Retirement and Disability Fund (CSRDF)
The CSRDF provides defined benefits to retired and disabled Federal employees covered by the Civil Service Retirement System.
The CSRDF is invested in special-issue Treasury securities, which count against the debt limit. In 1986, Congress provided Treasury statutory authority to take certain actions in the event that the outstanding debt reaches the debt limit. Specifically, the statute authorizes the Secretary of the Treasury to determine that a "debt issuance suspension period" exists and, once he has done so, Treasury can (1) redeem certain existing investments in the CSRDF, and (2) suspend new investments by the CSRDF.
The statute governing the CSRDF gives Treasury authority to redeem existing Treasury securities held by the CSRDF in an amount up to the amount of civil service benefit payments authorized to be made from the CSRDF during the debt issuance suspension period.
Under the statute that governs the CSRDF, the term "debt issuance suspension period" means the period of time that the Treasury Secretary determines that Treasury securities cannot be issued without exceeding the debt limit. The determination of the length of the period is based on the facts as they exist at the time.
The statute authorizes Treasury to suspend the investment of new amounts by the CSRDF during a debt issuance suspension period. New receipts include contributions from Federal employees and agency employers, as well as the interest payments on securities held by the CSRDF and the proceeds of maturing securities.
By law, the CSRDF will be made whole once the debt limit is increased. Benefits for retired and disabled Federal employees will not be affected by this action and will continue to be paid. Once the United States has exhausted the extraordinary measures it has available to preserve lawful borrowing authority without exceeding the debt limit, however, the U.S. Government will be limited in its ability to make payments across the government.
Yes, in the past 20 years, Treasury used these extraordinary measures during previous debt limit impasses in 1996, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2006, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015.
Government Securities Investment Fund (G Fund)
The G Fund is a money market defined-contribution retirement fund for Federal employees.
The G Fund is invested in special-issue Treasury securities, which count against the debt limit. The entire balance matures daily and is ordinarily reinvested. In 1987, Congress granted Treasury the statutory authority to suspend reinvestment of all or part of the balance of the G Fund when the Secretary determines that the Fund cannot be fully invested without exceeding the debt limit.
By law, the G Fund will be made whole once the debt limit is increased. Federal retirees and employees will be unaffected by this action.
Yes, in the past 20 years, Treasury used this extraordinary measure during previous debt limit impasses in 1996, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2006, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015.
Note: The Bureau of the Fiscal Service maintains this FAQ. Keep in mind that these questions may not fit all situations and are only intended as a guideline.