What is the 'Federal Debt'

The Federal debt is the total amount of money that the United States federal government owes to creditors. The government's creditors include all individuals, businesses, governments and other organizations that own U.S. government debt securities. The federal debt exists as a result of federal government shortfalls, or deficit budgets in which the government's expenses exceed its revenues. The federal debt does not include any debts in the name of individuals, corporations and state or municipal governments.

BREAKING DOWN 'Federal Debt'

In recent years, the federal debt has grown to exorbitant amounts - as of April 2006, the total federal debt was estimated to be $8.4 trillion. Viewed as an absolute number, the federal debt seems quite enormous, representing more than 20% of total worldwide debt.

However, some economists point out that the federal debt is only about two-thirds the size of the U.S. GDP - a statistic that puts the U.S. well below the debt-to-GDP levels of other industrialized countries, such as Japan. Heated debate continues as to whether the federal debt is too large and should be paid down, or whether it is simply a necessary catalyst for continued economic growth.

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