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Who Owns the ‘Public’ Portion of the National Debt?

Tuesday March 24th, 2015   •   Posted by Craig Eyermann at 6:15pm PDT   •  

At the end of its 2014 fiscal year, the total public debt outstanding of the U.S. government stood at $17.860 trillion.

That amount, however, consists of two parts: “Debt Held by the Public” and “Intragovernmental Holdings”. The Intragovernmental Holdings portion of the debt is really made up of a number of trust funds that are operated by the U.S. government, which includes Social Security, and both civilian and military retirement pension funds.

Debt Held by the Public, however, is the kind of debt that anyone willing to loan money to the U.S. government can acquire through auctions operated by the U.S. Treasury, its TreasuryDirect website, or through the open market.

At the end of its 2014 fiscal year, the amount of the U.S. Government’s Debt Held by the Public stood at $12.785 trillion — about 71.2% of the nation’s Total Public Debt Outstanding. As for who owns it, about 52.5% is owned by U.S. individuals and institutions (banks, insurance companies, pension funds, etc.). The remaining 47.5% is owned to foreign entities:


Of those foreign entities, China is the largest single holder of U.S. government-issued debt, owning 11.1% of the publicly held portion of it. Meanwhile, Japan is the second-largest holder at 9.6%, while all the other foreign nations and entities in the world own just over a quarter of the publicly held portion of the U.S. government’s debt, or 26.8%.

That state of affairs hopefully helps explain why the U.S. Treasury set up special accommodations for China to loan the U.S. money, and also why the U.S. is now so apparently upset that a number of European nations have likewise sought their own special accommodations with the world’s second largest national economy. Not to mention President Obama’s unique deference to both Chinese and Japanese customs.

It’s simply not wise to irritate those upon whom one depends so much.

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March 2015