By the end of 2018, the federal government had $21.5 trillion in federal debt.
How did we end up with $21.5 trillion in federal debt? When the U.S. government has a deficit, most of the deficit spending is covered by the government taking on new debt. It is similar to a person using his or her credit card for a purchase (rather than cash, check, or a debit card) and not paying the full credit card balance each month. Over the years, if the federal government experiences more deficits than surpluses, the federal debt grows.
How much is $21.5 trillion in federal debt? If you take the U.S. population estimate in 2018 of 327.7 million people (U.S. Census Bureau), $21.5 trillion would be equivalent to more than $65,000 for every individual in the U.S.
In this visualization, one dot represents $1 billion.