Ways the United States Can Get Out of Debt

Eliminating the U.S. government's debt is a Herculean task that could take decades. In addition to obvious steps, such as hiking taxes and slashing spending, the government could take a number of other approaches, some of them unorthodox and even controversial. Below are some of these options.

Key Takeaways

  • There are a number of methods to reduce the U.S. national debt that go beyond raising taxes and cutting discretionary spending.
  • One of the most controversial is to open the nation's borders to more immigration, kick-starting entrepreneurship and consumption.
  • Raising the Social Security retirement age is a frequently suggested option.
  • A national sales tax, such as seen in Canada and Japan, could also help.

Open the Borders

This is highly controversial considering the growing opposition to illegal and even legal immigration. However, immigrants start businesses at twice the rate of native-born U.S. citizens. So it has been argued that opening the borders to willing workers and would-be entrepreneurs from all over the world would accelerate the creation of businesses that pay the taxes that are desperately needed to reduce the national debt.

A faster-growing population fueled by immigration could also create more demand for everything from housing to cars to dishwashers. This could result in a stronger economy that can help pay down the debt.

Importantly, more individual wage earners would help finance Social Security and other safety-net programs for decades to come.

Raise the Retirement Age

Making the full amount of Social Security retirement benefits available to Americans in their 70s instead of their 60s could help reduce the national debt. It could increase the amount that people pay into Social Security and reduce the time that they rely on payments from the program.

The original Social Security retirement age was 65. Due to advances in health care and a focus on healthier lifestyles, people are able to work and live much longer than when the Social Security program was founded in the 1930s. In 1983, Congress raised the retirement age for the first time. As a result, those born in 1960 or later must wait until age 67 to collect their full benefits. Some have argued it should be raised again to 70 or even higher.

Implement a National Sales Tax

Lots of other countries have found ways to reduce their debt, and some of their methods could help the U.S. Canada, for example, has a 5% national sales tax on most goods and services—a consumption levy that some economists prefer to higher taxes on income or investments since those discourage work and saving.

Heavily indebted Japan is another country that turned to a sales tax. It recently raised its national sales tax to 10%. The International Monetary Fund urged the Japanese government to double it to 20%.

Revamp the Tax Code

There has been a lot of talk over the years about fully revamping the U.S. tax code. In 2011, a group of six Democratic and Republican senators who were dubbed "the gang of six" looked at options during a standoff over the U.S. debt ceiling.

They came close to reaching an agreement on a deficit-reduction plan that would have saved $3.7 trillion over 10 years. This included slashing discretionary spending as well as reforming the tax code to eliminate loopholes. But negotiations broke down and no broad action was taken.

How Much Is the National Debt?

According to the U.S. Treasury, the national debt is $31.46 trillion.

What Is the National Debt?

It's the amount of money that the U.S. government has borrowed (plus interest on those borrowings) to cover the outstanding costs it has incurred and which tax revenues aren't enough to pay off. The government borrows money to pay obligations by issuing Treasury bonds, notes, bills, and other marketable securities.

Why Is the U.S. Debt So High?

Essentially, because the government repeatedly spends more money than it receives in tax revenue. Many point to tax cuts passed by Congress as the major culprit for decreasing this income. Others point to out-of-control, politically-driven spending as the reason.

The Bottom Line

In any year, when the U.S. government spends more money than it takes in, a deficit results. The government then borrows to pay for outstanding costs. Those borrowings and the associated interest owed represent the U.S. debt.

Coming up with solutions to reduce that debt is challenging because the options are rarely popular. Of course, just as with an individual or family, cutting spending and increasing revenue are smart first steps. Beyond that, the government considers things like new taxes, a higher retirement age, removing loopholes from the tax code, and more to reduce annual deficits and the national debt.

Article Sources
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  1. FiscalData.Treasury.gov. "What is the national debt?"

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