Photo courtesy of Missy Schmidt via Flickr. Modified by Curiousmatic.

Who Owns America’s National Debt? The Answer Might Surprise You

The U.S. national debt has totaled more than $15 trillion since 2012, when it exceeded 100% of GDP. But who’s the debt owed to? Here’s a breakdown.

Since 2012, the growth trajectory of debt has remained about the same. See the most recent numbers here, courtesy of the St. Louis Federal Reserve.

A little less than 30 percent of the outstanding debt is owed by the government to itself, from the federal government to trustees such as the Social Security fund.  Numbers can be found here.

Who owns the national debt?

Green = private citizens.
Blue = the government or the Federal Reserve.
Red = foreign citizens or governments.

debtbreakdownchart

Data courtesy of the U.S. Treasury bulletin. Document: Ownership of Federal Securities [.doc]. Numbers from March 2013, the latest available.

Excluding loans owned by different government agencies, however, we’re left with $10.11 trillion in government debt, and the breakdown looks like this:

U.S. National Debt owed to non-government entities.

Green = private citizens.
Blue = the government or the Federal Reserve.
Red = foreign citizens or governments.

nongovernmentdebtchart

Data courtesy of the U.S. Treasury bulletin. Document: Ownership of Federal Securities [.doc]. Numbers from March 2013, the latest available.

In other words, 60% of the U.S. national debt that’s not owned by the federal government is owned by foreign governments.

And which countries hold the most?

Top 10 foreign owners of U.S. national debt.

Red = Asian countries.
Yellow = South American countries.
Green = Oil-producing countries (see footnote).
Blue = European countries.

top10foreigndebtholderschart

Data courtesy of the U.S. Treasury Resource Center.

* Includes Bahamas, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Netherlands Antilles and Panama.
** Includes Ecuador, Venezuela, Indonesia, Bahrain, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar,
Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Algeria, Gabon, Libya, and Nigeria.

In total, these five countries or groups hold $3.19 trillion of debt, which is 56% of the total foreign-owned debt and 19% of the total national debt. China, which holds the most debt, owns about 7.5% of the total national debt.

Interestingly, specific numbers for Saudi Arabia’s US debt holding have been kept secret by the US Treasury Department for over 40 years, according to Bloomberg. 

Updated

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Ole Skaar