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Frequently Asked Questions about the Public Debt

General Information

Where is the money spent that is borrowed from the public and who decides where it goes?

The Bureau of the Fiscal Service is responsible for accounting for and reporting the debt in accordance with statutory direction. The Bureau does not have any public policy decision-making authority. Visit our financial management web site for more information. Information about the "Budget of the United States" is available at the Government Printing Office web site.

What is the difference between the debt and the deficit?

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.

You can think of the total debt as accumulated deficits plus accumulated off-budget surpluses. 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 financial management web site to view the Monthly Treasury Statement of Receipts and Outlays of the United States Government (MTS).

What's the difference between the Public Debt Outstanding and the Public Debt Subject to Limit?

The Public Debt Outstanding represents the face amount or principal amount of marketable and 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. Furthermore, 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.

Why does the debt only change once a day? Why doesn't Treasury keep a rolling tab?

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.

Makeup of the Debt

Is there a report that lists the type of Treasury Securities that are issued to finance the debt, related maturity dates, and "Amount Outstanding?"

The Monthly Statement of the Public Debt (MSPD) is available online in summary and full versions, and lists the types of Treasury Securities issued to finance the Debt, the related maturity dates, and the "Amount Outstanding".

Ownership of the Debt

Who owns the debt?

The Treasury Bulletin, available at our financial management website categorizes ownership of U.S. Government securities by types of investors.

What is the Debt Held by the Public?

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.

What are Intragovernmental Holdings?

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 marketable securities are held by government accounts.

What is the Federal Financing Bank?

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

Why does the debt sometimes decrease?

The Public Debt Outstanding decreases when there are more redemptions of Treasury securities than there are issues.

How do you make a contribution to reduce the debt?

There are two ways for you to make a contribution to reduce the debt:

  • You can make a contribution online either by credit card, checking or savings account at Pay.gov
  • 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)

What is the Civil Service Retirement and Disability Fund?

The CSRDF provides defined benefits to retired and disabled Federal employees covered by the Civil Service Retirement System.

How does the debt ceiling affect the CSRDF?

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.

What are the investments in the CSRDF that Treasury can redeem?

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.

What is the length of 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.

What are the new investments in the CSRDF that Treasury can suspend?

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.

What impact will these actions have on Federal employees and their retirement benefits?

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.

Has Treasury ever redeemed existing investments and suspended new investments in the CSRDF before?

Yes, in the past 20 years, Treasury used these extraordinary measures during previous debt limit impasses in 1996, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2006, 2011, 2012, and 2013.

Government Securities Investment Fund (G Fund)

What is the Government Securities Investment Fund?

The G Fund is a money market defined-contribution retirement fund for Federal employees.

How does the debt ceiling affect the G Fund?

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.

What impact will this action have on federal employees and their retirement benefits?

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.

Has Treasury ever suspended reinvestment of all or part of the G Fund before?

Yes, in the past 20 years, Treasury used this extraordinary measure during previous debt limit impasses in 1996, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2006, 2011, 2012, and 2013.


Note: The Bureau of Fiscal Service's Office of Public Debt Accounting maintains this FAQ. Keep in mind that these questions may not fit all situations and are only intended as a guideline.