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5 Countries That Own the Most U.S. Debt

Foreign ownership of U.S. debt through Treasury holdings

The U.S. government incurs debt when it issues Treasury securities to fund the deficit between the amount of money that it receives in taxes and other revenues versus the amount of money that it spends on defense, welfare programs, the interest it pays on its current debt, and more. As of June 23, 2022, the government's total debt was $30.4 trillion.

Key Takeaways

  • The Bureau of the Fiscal Service classifies national debt in two ways: intragovernmental debt and debt held by the public. 
  • Over three-quarters of the total national debt is public debt, which includes Treasury holdings by foreign countries.
  • Japan is the largest foreign holder of public U.S. government debt, owning $1.3 trillion in debt as of May 2022.
  • China ranks second in total U.S. debt owned by foreign countries, with the U.K., Ireland, and Luxembourg, rounding out the top five.
  • The total national debt was $30.4 trillion as of June 23, 2022.

Types of Debt

U.S. debt is categorized as intragovernmental debt and public debt. Intragovernmental debt is debt held within the U.S. by federal agencies and entities. It makes up about a fifth of the total outstanding U.S. debt. This debt includes money owed to Social Security, military retirement funds, Medicare, and other retirement funds.

The remainder is public debt. Foreign governments hold a large portion of the public debt, while the rest is owned by U.S. banks and individual investors, the Federal Reserve, state and local governments, mutual funds, pensions funds, insurance companies, and holders of savings bonds.


As of June 23, 2022, $23.8 trillion of the national debt was public debt.

The Debt Ceiling


Congress sets a ceiling on the debt that can be raised periodically. On Dec. 16, 2021, the debt ceiling was raised by $2.5 trillion to $31.4 trillion. This is the largest dollar amount increase of the national debt.

Which Countries Hold the Most U.S. Debt?

1. Japan

Japan held $1.3 trillion in Treasury securities as of May 2022, beating out China as the largest foreign holder of U.S. debt. The low and negative yield market in Japan makes holding U.S. debt attractive. Japan holds 16.8% of foreign-owned U.S. debt.

2. China

China gets a lot of attention for holding a big chunk of the U.S. government's debt. Given that its economy had expanded rapidly in the last decades, perhaps this shouldn't come as a surprise. China takes the second spot behind Japan among foreign holders of U.S. debt with $1 trillion in Treasury holdings as of May 2022.

While Chinese-owned debt is frequently drummed up as a political talking point, there's nothing particularly sinister about an export-oriented economy investing in Treasury securities. In fact, Treasuries are a logical investment for a country with high foreign currency reserves. China currently holds almost 13.79% of U.S. foreign debt.

3. The United Kingdom

British investors increased their holdings of U.S. debt to $647.4 billion as of May 2022. This increased from $612 billion the month before. The U.K.'s investment in U.S. debt may be linked to growing economic uncertainty in the U.K. It's still recovering from the effects of the coronavirus pandemic as well as the loss of many trading relationships due to Brexit. British entities hold 8.36% of the total foreign debt.

By far, the largest owner of U.S. debt is actually the U.S. government, which holds Treasury securities in various government accounts and pension funds.

4. Ireland

It might seem odd that Ireland is the fourth-largest holder of U.S. debt, particularly when comparing its smaller economy to other European nations, such as Germany; however, a big reason for Ireland's rank is the fact that many U.S. multinational companies, such as Alphabet/Google and European branches of technology and pharmaceutical firms, set up shop there for more favorable taxes on foreign returns.

These companies then invest their excess cash in various low-risk investments, including Treasury debt. As of May 2022, Ireland held $334.3 billion in U.S. debt, which is 4.31% of total foreign debt.

5. Luxembourg

Luxembourg is the fifth-largest holder of U.S. debt among foreign countries while having one of the highest GDP per capita—$116,356 as of 2020. This ranking may be due to Luxembourg's status as a tax haven, where wealthy investors park their funds in local holding companies. Much of this wealth is then invested in various securities, including Treasuries.

As of May 2022, Luxembourg held $325.6 billion in U.S. Treasuries, equal to 4.20% of total foreign holdings.

Who Owns the U.S. Debt Besides Foreign Governments?

Other holders of U.S. national debt include U.S. banks and investors, state and local governments, mutual funds, pension funds, insurance companies, and investors in savings bonds. Various agencies and entities within the U.S. government also own debt (known as intragovernmental debt).

What Is the Current National Debt?

As of June 23, 2022, the total U.S. national debt was $30.4 trillion, after crossing the $30 trillion mark for the first time in February. At the end of 2019, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the national debt was $23 trillion. One year later, it had risen to $27.7 trillion. Since then, it has increased by more than $2 trillion.

Why Is the National Debt So High?

It's high because the U.S. continues to spend more than it receives in revenue. Therefore, it must issue more debt to cover the difference. The national debt is an accumulation of federal budget deficits. Every spending program and tax cut adds to the debt unless paid for by new appropriations.

Why Is the U.S. in Debt to China?

The U.S. doesn't restrict who may buy its securities. China invests in U.S. debt because of the positive effect these low-risk, stable investments can have on its economy. By investing in dollar-denominated securities, the value of the dollar increases relative to the value of China's currency, the yuan. This, in turn, makes Chinese goods cheaper and more attractive than U.S. goods to buyers. That increases sales and strengthens the economy.

Article Sources
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  1. U.S. Department of the Treasury, Fiscal Data. "Debt to the Penny."

  2. TreasuryDirect. "Intragovernmental Holdings and Debt Held by the Public."

  3. Congressional Research Service. "Foreign Holdings of Federal Debt, Updated May 25, 2022," Page 2.

  4. TreasuryDirect. "Frequently Asked Questions about the Public Debt."

  5. House Committee on the Budget. "The Debt Ceiling: An Explainer."

  6. U.S. Congress. "S.J.Res.33 - A Joint Resolution Relating to Increasing the Debt Limit."

  7. U.S. Department of Treasury. "Major Foreign Holders of Treasury Securities."

  8. IDA Ireland. "Technology."

  9. The World Bank. "GDP per capita (current US$) – Luxembourg."

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