US Debt by President: By Dollar and Percentage (2023)

What's the best way to determine how much each president has contributed to our nation's $31 trillion in U.S. debt? The most popular ways to measure involve comparing the debt level from when a president enters office to the debt level when they leave. It's also good to compare the debt as a percentage of economic output, which takes into account the size of the economy at the time the administration accumulated the debt.

Drawback of Measuring Debt by President

Neither of the techniques mentioned above is a very accurate way to measure each president's impact on the national debt because the president doesn't have much control over the national debt during their first year in office.

For example, President Donald Trump took office in January 2017. He submitted his first budget in May. It covered the 2018 fiscal year, which didn't begin until October 1, 2017. Trump operated the first part of his term under President Barack Obama's budget for fiscal year 2017, which ended on Sept. 30, 2017.

While the time lag may make it seem confusing, Congress intentionally sets it up this way. An advantage of the federal fiscal year is that it gives the new president time to put together their budget during their first months in office.

The Best Way to Measure Debt by President

The best way to measure a president's debt is to add up their budget deficits and compare that total to the debt level when they took office. A president's budget reveals their administration's priorities.


Though they sound similar, deficit and debt are two different things. A deficit is a budget shortfall, whereas debt is the running total of all deficits and surpluses. Deficits add to the debt, while surpluses reduce it.

Top 5 Presidents Who Contributed to the Debt by Percentage

Franklin D. Roosevelt (1933-1945)

President Roosevelt added the largest percentage increase to the national debt. Although he only added $236 billion, this was an increase of about 1,048% from the $22.5 billion debt level left by President Herbert Hoover before him. The Great Depression and the New Deal contributed to FDR's yearly deficits, but the biggest cost was World War II—it added $186.3 billion to the debt between 1942 and 1945.

Woodrow Wilson (1913-1921)

President Wilson was the second-largest contributor to the debt, percentage-wise. He added about $21 billion, which was a 723% increase over the $2.9 billion debt of his predecessor. World War I contributed to the deficits that raised the national debt.

(Video) Percent Growth in National Debt by President

Ronald Reagan (1981-1989)

President Reagan increased the debt by $1.86 trillion, or by 186%. Reagan's supply-side economics didn't grow the economy enough to offset the lost revenue from its tax cuts. Reagan also increased the defense budget by 35%.

George W. Bush (2001-2009)

President Bush added $5.85 trillion to the national debt. That's a 101% increase, putting him in fourth. Bush launched the War on Terror in response to the 9/11 attacks, which led to multi-trillion-dollar spending on the War in Afghanistan and the War in Iraq. Bush also dealt with the 2001 recession and the 2008 financial crisis.

Barack Obama (2009-2017)

Under President Obama, the national debt grew the most in dollar terms ($8.6 trillion) and was fifth by percentage at 74%. Obama fought the Great Recession with an $831 billion economic stimulus package and added $858 billion through tax cuts. Even though the fiscal year 2009 budget was set by President Bush, Obama added to it with the Economic Stimulus Act in 2009.

US Debt Increase by President Per Fiscal Year

The U.S. Treasury Department has historical tables that report the annual U.S. debt for each fiscal year (FY) since 1790. We've compiled this data from that source to create the figures used below.

Joe Biden

On Oct. 1, 2021, at the end of fiscal year 2021, the national debt was $28.4 trillion. Between the end of fiscal year 2020 and the end of fiscal year 2021, the national debt grew $1.5 trillion, a 5.6% increase year over year. For fiscal year 2022, President Joe Biden's budget included a deficit of $1.84 trillion, and by August 2022, the national debt had grown to $30.8 trillion.

When Biden took office, the economy and household finances were still reeling from the pandemic, and Biden continued his predecessor’s policy of spending heavily to keep households afloat. In March 2021, Biden signed the American Rescue Plan, which showered taxpayers with pandemic relief cash in the form of stimulus checks and extra unemployment payments, and temporarily expanded child tax credits, plus other help. It all came with a cost to future budgets: The bill would add $1.9 trillion to the national debt by 2031, the Congressional Budget Office estimated.

The bipartisan infrastructure bill, signed by Biden in November 2021, which provided new funding for highways, railways, broadband Internet expansion and other projects, added to the debt too, with estimates on its 10-year impact ranging from $374 billion to $400 billion, depending on how it’s calculated.

Some of Biden’s actions cut the other way. In August 2022, Biden signed the Inflation Reduction Act, an anti-climate change bill that spent money on new green energy programs and tax credits as well as to make drugs cheaper for patients, and paid for it by raising taxes on corporations and the ultra-wealthy. The bill should reduce the national debt by $102 billion by 2031, the CBO estimated.

Biden followed up this bill with an executive action that forgave up to $10,000 of federal student loan debt per borrower, and $20,000 for those who received Pell Grants. He also proposed a new, cheaper income-driven student loan repayment program for future borrowers. However, he also announced that student loan interest and required payments, both of which had been frozen since the pandemic hit, would resume in January 2023.

In August 2022, the government did not have an official estimate for how these measures would impact the national debt. One piece of it—forgiving $10,000 of debt per student loan borrower—would cost $329.7 billion over 10 years, according to an estimate by the Wharton School of Business.

(Video) VERIFY: Is debt rising under President Biden? How does it compare to past presidents?

Donald Trump

At the end of fiscal year 2020, the debt was $26.9 trillion. Trump added $6.7 trillion to the debt between fiscal year 2017 and fiscal year 2020, a 33.1% increase, largely due to the effects of the coronavirus pandemic and 2020 recession.

In his FY 2021 budget, Trump's budget included a $966 billion deficit. However, the national debt actually grew by $1.5 trillion between October 1, 2020, and October 1, 2021.

  • FY 2021: $1.5 trillion
  • FY 2020: $4.2 trillion
  • FY 2019: $1.2 trillion
  • FY 2018: $1.3 trillion

Barack Obama

President Obama added about $8.6 trillion, about a 74% increase, to the national debt at the end of President Bush’s last budget in 2009.

  • FY 2017: $671 billion
  • FY 2016: $1.42 trillion
  • FY 2015: $326 billion
  • FY 2014: $1.09 trillion
  • FY 2013: $672 billion
  • FY 2012: $1.28 trillion
  • FY 2011: $1.23 trillion
  • FY 2010: $1.65 trillion
  • FY 2009: $253 billion (Congress passed the Economic Stimulus Act, which spent $253 billion)

George W. Bush

President Bush added $5.85 trillion to the national debt, a 101% increase from the $5.8 trillion debt at the end of Clinton's last budget for fiscal year 2001.

  • FY 2009: $1.63 trillion (this was Bush's deficit without the impact of the Economic Stimulus Act)
  • FY 2008: $1.02 trillion
  • FY 2007: $501 billion
  • FY 2006: $574 billion
  • FY 2005: $553 billion
  • FY 2004: $596 billion
  • FY 2003: $555 billion
  • FY 2002: $421 billion

Bill Clinton

President Clinton increased the national debt by almost $1.4 trillion, almost a 32% increase from the $4.4 trillion debt at the end of President H.W. Bush's last budget.

  • FY 2001: $133 billion
  • FY 2000: $18 billion
  • FY 1999: $130 billion
  • FY 1998: $113 billion
  • FY 1997: $189 billion
  • FY 1996: $251 billion
  • FY 1995: $281 billion
  • FY 1994: $281 billion

George H.W. Bush

President H.W. Bush added $1.55 trillion to the debt, a 54% increase from the $2.857 trillion debt at the end of Reagan's last budget.

  • FY 1993: $347 billion
  • FY 1992: $399 billion
  • FY 1991: $432 billion
  • FY 1990: $376 billion

Ronald Reagan

President Regan added $1.86 trillion to the national debt, a 186% increase from the $997.8 billion debt at the end of Carter's last budget.

(Video) The National Debt: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (HBO)

  • FY 1989: $255 billion
  • FY 1988: $252 billion
  • FY 1987: $225 billion
  • FY 1986: $302 billion
  • FY 1985: $251 billion
  • FY 1984: $195 billion
  • FY 1983: $235 billion
  • FY 1982: $145 billion

Jimmy Carter

President Carter added $299 billion to the debt, a 42.7% increase from the $698.8 billion debt at the end of Ford's last budget.

  • FY 1981: $90.1 billion
  • FY 1980: $81.1 billion
  • FY 1979: $54.9 billion
  • FY 1978: $72.7 billion

Gerald Ford

President Ford added $223.7 billion to the debt.

  • FY 1977: $78.4 billion
  • FY 1976: $87.2 billion
  • FY 1975: $58.1 billion

Richard Nixon

President Nixon added $121.1 billion to the national debt, a 34% increase from the $353.7 billion debt at the end of President Johnson's last budget.

  • FY 1974: $16.9 billion
  • FY 1973: $30.8 billion
  • FY 1972: $29.1 billion
  • FY 1971: $27.2 billion
  • FY 1970: $17.1 billion

Lyndon B. Johnson

President Johnson added $41.8 billion to the national debt, just a small 13% increase from the $312 billion debt at the end of President Kennedy's time in office in 1964.

  • FY 1969: $6.1 billion
  • FY 1968: $21.3 billion
  • FY 1967: $6.3 billion
  • FY 1966: $2.6 billion
  • FY 1965: $5.5 billion

John F. Kennedy

President Kennedy added $22.6 billion to the national debt.

  • FY 1964: $5.8 billion
  • FY 1963: $7.6 billion
  • FY 1962: $9.2 billion

Dwight Eisenhower

President Eisenhower added $22.8 billion to the national debt.

  • FY 1961: $2.6 billion
  • FY 1960: $1.6 billion
  • FY 1959: $8.3 billion
  • FY 1958: $5.8 billion
  • FY 1957: $2.2 billion surplus
  • FY 1956: $1.6 billion surplus
  • FY 1955: $3.1 billion
  • FY 1954: $5.1 billion

Harry Truman

President Truman added $7.3 billion to the national debt.

  • FY 1953: $6.9 billion
  • FY 1952: $3.8 billion
  • FY 1951: $2.1 billion surplus
  • FY 1950: $4.5 billion
  • FY 1949: $478 million surplus
  • FY 1948: $6 billion surplus
  • FY 1947: $11 billion surplus
  • FY 1946: $10.7 billion

Franklin D. Roosevelt

President Roosevelt increased the national debt by $236 billion, a 1,048% increase from the $22.5 billion debt at the end of Hoover's last budget.

  • FY 1945: $57.7 billion
  • FY 1944: $64.3 billion
  • FY 1943: $64.2 billion
  • FY 1942: $23.5 billion
  • FY 1941: $6 billion
  • FY 1940: $2.5 billion
  • FY 1939: $3.2 billion
  • FY 1938: $740 million
  • FY 1937: $2.6 billion
  • FY 1936: $5 billion
  • FY 1935: $1.6 billion
  • FY 1934: $4.5 billion

Herbert Hoover

President Hoover added about $5.7 billion to the national debt.

(Video) National Debt by President

  • FY 1933: $3 billion
  • FY 1932: $2.8 billion
  • FY 1931: $616 million
  • FY 1930: $746 million surplus

Calvin Coolidge

President Coolidge reduced the national debt by about $5.3 billion.

  • FY 1929: $673 million surplus
  • FY 1928: $907 million surplus
  • FY 1927: $1.1 billion surplus
  • FY 1926: $873 million surplus
  • FY 1925: $734.6 million surplus
  • FY 1924: $1 billion surplus

Warren G. Harding

President Harding reduced the national debt by about $1.6 billion thanks to budget surpluses.

  • FY 1923: $614 million surplus
  • FY 1922: $1 billion surplus

Woodrow Wilson

President Wilson added about $21 billion to the national debt, a 723% increase from the $2.9 billion debt at the end of Taft's last budget for fiscal year 1913.

  • FY 1921: $1.9 billion surplus
  • FY 1920: $1.4 billion surplus
  • FY 1919: $12.8 billion
  • FY 1918: $9.8 billion
  • FY 1917: $2.1 billion
  • FY 1916: $551 million
  • FY 1915: $146 million
  • FY 1914: $0 (slight surplus)


All presidents from 1790 to 1913 added a total of $2.8 billion to the national debt.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Which president has put the United States the most in debt?

President Joe Biden is on track to add the most to the budget deficit, largely due to the costs associated with continuing to battle the coronavirus pandemic. In late 2021, Congress voted to raise the debt ceiling.

Why does the United States owe so much debt?

Continued decreases in the amount of taxes paid by corporations and the wealthiest Americans have resulted in less money coming in. At the same time, spending on pandemic relief and the military continues to increase.

(Video) Rep. Khanna slams GOP demanding spending cuts in exchange for raising debt limit ceiling


Who owns the highest percentage of US debt? ›

The public holds over $24.53 trillion of the national debt, as of January 2023.1 Foreign governments hold a large portion of the public debt, while the rest is owned by U.S. banks and investors, the Federal Reserve, state and local governments, mutual funds, pensions funds, insurance companies, and holders of savings ...

What President made the US in debt? ›

Truman led to the largest increase in public debt. Public debt rose over 100% of GDP to pay for the mobilization before and during the war.

What percentage of US debt is owned by US citizens? ›

As of November 2022, federal debt held by the public was $31 trillion. Debt held by the public was estimated at 96.19% of GDP, and approximately 33% of this public debt was owned by foreigners. The United States has the largest external debt in the world.

How much debt did Reagan put the US in? ›

Debt and government expenditures

During Reagan's presidency, the federal debt held by the public nearly tripled in nominal terms, from $738 billion to $2.1 trillion. This led to the U.S. moving from the world's largest international creditor to the world's largest debtor nation.

Who is buying all the U.S. debt? ›

As of Jan. 2021, China owns $1.095 trillion of the total $28 trillion U.S. national debt.

How much is China in debt? ›

The national debt of China was forecast to continuously increase between 2022 and 2027 by in total 10,996.4 billion U.S. dollars (+83.69 percent).
China: National debt from 2017 to 2027 (in billion U.S. dollars)
CharacteristicNational debt in billion U.S. dollars
8 more rows
Dec 2, 2022

Who is the US government most in debt to? ›

  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. ...
  2. China. China gets a lot of attention for holding a big chunk of the U.S. government's debt. ...
  3. The United Kingdom. ...
  4. Ireland. ...
  5. Luxembourg.

Are 80% of Americans in debt? ›

Just how many Americans are in debt? According to financial experts, the percentage of Americans in debt is around 80%. 8 in 10 Americans have some form of consumer debt, and the average debt in America is $38,000 not including mortgage debt.

Who owns the most US dollars? ›

CharacteristicSecurities in billion U.S. dollars
China, Mainland970
United Kingdom634.6
9 more rows
Oct 17, 2022

Which country has highest debt? ›

The U.S. has a problem with its debt, which has exceeded $31 trillion in 2022. This is compared to a GDP of $25.66 trillion, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis.

When was the US national debt the highest? ›

The U.S. debt to GDP ratio surpassed 100% in 2013 when both debt and GDP were approximately 16.7 trillion.

Can the U.S. government ever pay off its debt? ›

Can the U.S. Pay Off its Debt? As budget deficits are one of the factors that contribute to the national debt, the U.S. can take measures to pay off its debt through budget surpluses. The last time that the U.S. held a budget surplus was in 2001.

Why can't the U.S. make money to pay off debt? ›

Unless there is an increase in economic activity commensurate with the amount of money that is created, printing money to pay off the debt would make inflation worse. This would be, as the saying goes, "too much money chasing too few goods."

Why the U.S. will always be in debt? ›

The debt limit is a cap on the total amount of money that the federal government is authorized to borrow to fulfill its financial obligations. Because the United States runs budget deficits — meaning it spends more than it brings in through taxes and other revenue — it must borrow huge sums of money to pay its bills.

Which country is debt free? ›

These are called debt-free countries.
Countries with the Lowest National Debt.
S.NoCountriesDebt to GDP ratio
4.Democratic Republic of Congo15.2%
4 more rows

How much is Russia in debt? ›

The national debt is estimated to amount to 366.43 billion U.S. dollars in 2027.
Russia: National debt from 2017 to 2027 (in billion U.S. dollars)
CharacteristicNational debt in billion U.S. dollars
10 more rows
Dec 2, 2022

Is there any country not in debt? ›

Not always. There is only one “debt-free” country as per the IMF database.
Which Countries Have The Lowest National Debt?
RankCountryDebt-to-GDP Ratio
1Macao SAR0%
2Hong Kong SAR0.3%
4Brunei Darussalam3.2%
6 more rows

What is the average American's credit card balance? ›

Based on location, the average credit card debt in America ranges from $4,285 to $6,617. Gen Z has the lowest average credit card debt while Gen X has the highest.

How much debt does the average 65 year old have? ›

The Average Debt for Those 65-74

Householders in this age group who have debt carry an average debt of $105,250. Among those in this age group who have a primary residence debt, average mortgage debt is $152,890.

How much debt does the average American have without a mortgage? ›

The average new account balance for unsecured personal loans, or loans taken without collateral such as for a car or home, is $7,978, according to November 2022 data from TransUnion. Americans with a personal loan have an average balance of $11,131, up from $10,987 in 2021.

What is the entire U.S. worth? ›

United States - Federal Government; Net Worth (IMA), Level was -20997153.00000 Mil. of $ in July of 2022, according to the United States Federal Reserve.

What country is the U.S. dollar worth most? ›

10 Countries Where the U.S. Dollar Goes the Furthest
  1. Portugal. smallredgirl/Adobe. ...
  2. Tunisia. Kira/Adobe. ...
  3. Spain. gatsi/Adobe. ...
  4. Peru. Pakhnyushchyy/Adobe. ...
  5. Bangladesh. giusparta/Adobe. ...
  6. South Africa. Thomas/Adobe. ...
  7. Vietnam. Hanoi Photography/Adobe. ...
  8. Mexico. JoseLuis/Adobe.
Nov 20, 2022

Is China in a debt crisis? ›

Excessive debt is one of the greatest challenges facing the Chinese economy. In September 2021, non-financial liabilities stood at 264.8 percent of GDP (Caixin, November 3, 2021).

What countries owe the United States? ›

Debts and Debtors of the US Government
Country NameValue of Holdings (Billions of $)
All Other (Place this on the United States itself)482.5
Mainland China1,058.4
31 more rows

Where does us borrow money from? ›

So, how does the US borrow money? Treasury bonds are how the US - and all governments for that matter - borrow hard cash: they issue government securities, which other countries and institutions buy.

Who owns most of the world's debt? ›

World Debt by Country
RankCountryDebt to GDP
#1United States104.3%
#3China, People's Republic of50.6%
11 more rows
Nov 14, 2019

When was America's last debt free? ›

As a result, the U.S. actually did become debt free, for the first and only time, at the beginning of 1835 and stayed that way until 1837. It remains the only time that a major country was without debt.

When did us pay off all debt? ›

1837: Andrew Jackson

This resulted in a huge government surplus of funds. (In 1835, the $17.9 million budget surplus was greater than the total government expenses for that year.) By January of 1835, for the first and only time, all of the government's interest-bearing debt was paid off.

How much debt can the US handle? ›

What is the debt limit? The debt limit is a ceiling imposed by Congress on the amount of debt that the U.S. Federal government can have outstanding. This limit has been set at $28.4 trillion since August 1st, 2021.

Who owns most of the debt in the world? ›

Global Debt by Country: The Top 10 Most Indebted Nations
RankCountryDebt-to-GDP (2021)
6 more rows
Feb 1, 2022

Who owns over 70% of the U.S. debt? ›

Around 70 percent of U.S. debt is held by domestic financial actors and institutions in the United States.

Can the US pay off its debt? ›

Can the U.S. Pay Off its Debt? As budget deficits are one of the factors that contribute to the national debt, the U.S. can take measures to pay off its debt through budget surpluses. The last time that the U.S. held a budget surplus was in 2001.

What country is #1 in debt? ›

Japan, with its population of 127,185,332, has the highest national debt in the world at 234.18% of its GDP, followed by Greece at 181.78%.

Does China have more debt than the US? ›

While this number may seem large, the total amount of U.S Treasuries outstanding is more than 30 trillion dollars. And, China isn't even the largest foreign holder of American debt.

How can the US get out of debt? ›

Raising taxes and cutting spending are two of the most popular solutions for reducing debt, but politicians may be hesitant to do both. Diverting spending from the military to other sectors may boost job growth, which could spur consumer spending and help the economy.

Why is the US in so much debt? ›

Tax cuts, stimulus programs, increased government spending, and decreased tax revenue caused by widespread unemployment generally account for sharp rises in the national debt.


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