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Breakdown of the Federal Government's Debt

What does the U.S. government's debt look like? Similar to people with a credit card, mortgage, or car loan, the federal debt consists of different parts. See some of the characteristics of the federal debt and how they have changed over time.

How much does it cost to maintain the federal debt?

While federal debt has increased from $10 trillion in 2008 to $21.5 trillion in 2018, interest expense has risen at a much slower rate, from $451 billion in 2008 to $522 billion in 2018. Interest expense is what the government pays to investors who loan money to the government. How much the government pays in interest depends on:
  • the total federal debt; and
  • the interest rate investors charge when they loan money to the federal government.
Although the total federal debt of the U.S. has increased every year over the past ten years, interest expense has remained fairly stable.

How have interest rates on the federal debt changed?

Similarly, even though federal debt has more than doubled since 2008, the average interest rate on federal debt has decreased from 4.2% in 2008 to 2.4% in 2018. Interest rates have steadily fallen over the past ten years. Low interest rates are the reason for the interest expense the federal government pays on its debt remaining stable, even as the federal debt has increased.

Is there more information about who owns the debt?

The largest segment of federal debt holders is made up of domestic investors. Domestic investors hold $7 trillion in federal debt. Foreign investors other than those in China and Japan hold another $4 trillion in federal debt. The Social Security trust funds have $2.9 trillion of federal debt and the Federal Reserve holds another $2.3 trillion. Chinese and Japanese investors hold $1.2 trillion and $1 trillion respectively. At the end of 2018, 44% of federal debt was owned by investors from the United States, including the Federal Reserve. The various trust funds operated by the United States government, like the Social Security and Medicare trust fund accounts, held another 27% of federal debt. Foreign investors owned the remaining 29% of federal debt. For a complete list of foreign investors, visit the Treasury International Capital (TIC) System.

How does the federal debt of the United States compare to other countries?

When you are done here, see how the U.S. federal debt compares to other countries.


This analysis was conducted using the Monthly Statement of the Public Debt (MSPD) as the data source for federal debt of the United States. The Monthly Treasury Statement (MTS) for interest expense. Average interest rates on federal debt come from Holders of United States Treasury securities were identified using three sources: MSPD which contains detailed information on trust funds that own Treasury securities, the Treasury International Capital (TIC) System which identifies foreign holders of U.S. federal debt, and the System Open Market Account (SOMA) Holdings of Domestic Securities which reports Federal Reserve holdings of Treasury securities.