U.S. debt by president: dollar and percentage 2024

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National debt, also known as federal debt or public debt, is the historical accumulation of the U.S. federal government’s financial obligations. The national debt increases when the federal government is in a budget deficit, meaning it plans to spend more than it’ll make over the year. The government borrows money to fill this deficit by selling securities to the public (debt held by the public) and to other arms of government (intragovernmental debt).

There are two types of securities. Marketable securities — U.S. Treasury bonds, for example — can be bought and sold on the secondary market. Nonmarketable securities, like U.S. savings bonds, cannot.

Presidents have a significant impact on both the national debt and the budget deficit because they propose the federal budget to Congress each year.

Key insights

During Barack Obama’s presidency, the U.S. national debt increased the most.

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As of April 2024, President Joe Biden has increased the national debt by $6.17 trillion throughout his presidency.

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The debt increased by $8.18 trillion during Donald Trump’s presidency, but experts say a large proportion of this was due to relief during the coronavirus pandemic.

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From 2014 to 2024, debt held by the public increased by 118%, while intragovernmental debt only increased by 42%.

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The U.S. is currently above its debt limit of $31.4 trillion, meaning that when the current suspension of the limit expires in 2025, Congress will need to either increase the limit or suspend it again.

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General U.S. debt and presidents statistics

During Barack Obama’s presidency, the U.S. total outstanding debt increased by almost $8.34 trillion, the biggest dollar increase of any president. In terms of percentage change, Abraham Lincoln’s term had the highest increase at 2,860%, increasing the U.S. debt from about $90.6 million in 1861 to $2.68 billion in 1865 when he was assassinated.

Because of inflation, it should come as no surprise that nine of the top 10 debt-increasing presidents in dollar amounts are also the 10 most recent presidents. Franklin Roosevelt, who made the ninth largest debt increase, is the only president in the top 10 who was inaugurated before 1970.

The largest numeric decrease in U.S. national debt occurred during Calvin Coolidge’s presidency. From his inauguration in 1923 to Herbert Hoover’s in 1929, the U.S. debt decreased by $5.42 billion. Andrew Jackson oversaw the largest percentage decrease, however, a cut of about 99.4%.

Debt growth by recent presidents

Debt growth under President Biden

As of April 5, 2024, the national debt has grown by about $6.17 trillion, or 21.7%, since Joe Biden was inaugurated in 2021, according to the U.S. Treasury Department. In his first year in control of the federal budget from September 2021 to September 2022, the debt grew by about $2.5 trillion. In his second year, it grew by $2.24 trillion. The national debt has grown by $1.43 trillion so far this year.

Debt growth under Donald Trump

From the beginning of Donald Trump’s presidency in 2017 to its end in 2021, the national debt increased by 40.43%, about $8.18 trillion, according to the U.S. Treasury Department. It rose the most from September 2019 to September 2020, when Trump spent $3.6 trillion on coronavirus pandemic relief.

Debt growth during presidencies from 1993 to 2017

Of all the U.S. presidents, Barack Obama increased the national debt the most. From September 2009 to September 2017, the debt grew by $8.34 trillion, almost 70%. But Obama also served for two terms — his per-term impact on the national debt is much lower: an average increase of $4.17 trillion.

George W. Bush, who also served two terms, increased the national debt by $6.1 trillion, about 105%, which comes out to an average of $3.05 trillion per term.

During Bill Clinton’s term from 1993 to 2001, the debt grew by $5.81 trillion.

U.S. debt breakdown

Since 2014, debt held by the public has increased at a much faster rate than intragovernmental debt. Debt held by the public increased by 118% from 2014 to 2024, while intragovernmental debt only increased by 42%. This is mainly due to increased spending during the coronavirus pandemic.

Because of interest, the national debt is also costly to maintain. In March 2024, the national debt’s interest cost $522 billion. Still, the interest rate hasn’t changed by much in the last 10 years — in 2014, the debt’s average interest rate was 2.4%, and in 2023, it was 2.97%.

In September 2023, the U.S. national debt reached 33.17 trillion dollars.

How is debt affected by the debt ceiling?

The debt ceiling, or debt limit, is the maximum amount of debt the government can legally have. When the total national debt hits this ceiling, the government can no longer sell new securities to pay its budget deficit. The government can then only spend its available cash or employ “extraordinary measures,” which are techniques that keep spending under the debt limit.

If the U.S. government can’t pay its bills, its citizens wouldn’t receive the Social Security or Medicare payments many rely on. Trust in U.S. Treasury debt would also suffer, which could lead to a recession.

The current debt limit is $31.4 trillion, and national debt is about $34.6 trillion, meaning the government is above the debt limit. The government has surpassed the debt limit 78 times since 1960. To avoid catastrophe, Congress votes to either raise the limit, as it did in 2021, or suspend the limit, as it did in 2023. The suspension is in effect until 2025, then Congress will have to decide on further action.

Presidential approval ratings statistics

In Gallup’s most recent poll in March of 2024, 40% of Americans approved of Biden’s job performance, while 55% expressed disapproval.

Out of the last 12 presidents (excluding Franklin D. Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy), Bill Clinton had the highest job approval rating as he left office in 2001, according to the American Presidency Project. Two-thirds of Americans approved of Clinton, and 29% disapproved of him. Ronald Reagan was a close second with a 63% approval and 29% disapproval rating.

Richard Nixon, on the other hand, had the worst job approval of these presidents — 66% disapproved of his presidency, while only 24% approved. At 62%, Donald Trump had the second highest disapproval rating among the listed former presidents.

U.S. debt projections

In February of 2024, the Government Accountability Office projected that by 2028, debt held by the public will increase to 106% of the U.S. gross domestic product (GDP), the highest proportion of the GDP ever. By 2025, the debt is projected to make up 200% of the GDP.

The last year the federal government had a budget surplus was in 2001, meaning it has been borrowing each year since then to make up its budget deficit. This, combined with higher Medicare and Social Security costs and the rising price of maintaining the debt, means debt will pile on at an increasing rate unless Congress develops a thorough financial strategy to remedy the situation.

FAQ

What’s the current national debt?

As of April 9, 2024, the total national debt is $34,581,009,999,544.53.

What’s the difference between a debt ceiling and a government shutdown?

Besides their involvement with budgets and Congress, the two situations are completely different. Government shutdowns happen when Congress doesn’t approve annual federal funding legislation by October 1 — the beginning of a new fiscal year — or the date previous legislation expires. Debt ceilings, on the other hand, limit the amount of money the federal government can borrow to pay its bills. The effects of these shutdowns are far less severe than the effects of the U.S. defaulting on its payments, which can happen if the debt reaches its ceiling and Congress fails to increase or temporarily suspend the limit.

What other countries hold the most U.S. public debt?

In 2022, about one-third of the public debt was held by foreign investors, according to the Peter G. Peterson Foundation. Japan, China and the United Kingdom were the biggest foreign holders of American debt.


References

  1. “Historical Debt Outstanding.” Fiscal Data. Evaluated April 13, 2024.Link Here
  2. “Debt to the Penny.” Fiscal Data. Evaluated April 13, 2024.Link Here
  3. “How Much Did President Trump Add to the Debt?” U.S. Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. Evaluated April 13, 2024.Link Here
  4. “Public Debt of the United States from 1990 to 2023.” Statista. Evaluated April 13, 2024.Link Here
  5. “What is the National Debt?” Fiscal Data. Evaluated April 13, 2024.Link Here
  6. “Debt Limit.” U.S. Department of the Treasury. Evaluated April 13, 2024.Link Here
  7. Peters, G. "Final Presidential Job Approval Ratings." The American Presidency Project. Evaluated April 13, 2024.Link Here
  8. Brenan, M. “Biden's Job Rating Steady at 40%; Middle East Approval at 27%.” Gallup. Evaluated April 13, 2024.Link Here
  9. “America's Fiscal Future.” The U.S. Government Accountability Office. Evaluated April 13, 2024.Link Here
  10. “The Federal Government Has Borrowed Trillions, But Who Owns All That Debt?” Peter G. Peterson Foundation. Evaluated April 13, 2024.Link Here
  11. Treasury Direct. "About Treasury Marketable Securities." U.S. Department of Treasury. Evaluated April 13, 2024.Link Here
  12. Treasury Direct. "FAQs About Treasury Marketable Securities." U.S. Department of Treasury. Evaluated April 13, 2024.Link Here
  13. Congressional Research Service. “The Executive Budget Process Timeline: In Brief.” U.S. Congress. Evaluated April 13, 2024.Link Here
  14. Congressional Research Service. “The Debt Limit.” U.S. Congress. Evaluated April 13, 2024.Link Here
  15. “Federal Debt and the Statutory Limit, May 2023.” Congressional Budget Office. Evaluated April 13, 2024.Link Here
  16. Congressional Research Service. "Debt Limit Policy Questions: What Are the Potential Economic Effects of a Binding Federal Debt Limit?" U.S. Congress. Evaluated April 13, 2024.Link Here
  17. “What is the National Deficit?” Fiscal Data. Evaluated April 13, 2024.Link Here
  18. Congressional Research Service. “Shutdown of the Federal Government: Causes, Processes, and Effects.” U.S. Congress. Evaluated April 13, 2024.Link Here

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