US dollar bills
Debt per US family is worryingly stacking up to $1m.Reuters

If you log on to www.USDebtClock.org, you'll notice a "clock" that keeps ticking in an attempt to constantly update and track the US national debt.

According to the so-called US Debt Clock, America's headline debt currently stands near $20 trn (£15.54trn).

The clock is an independent entity that painstakingly provides American taxpayers with relevant data pertaining to the national debt.

It uses algorithms that calculate the approximate rate of change in the amount of outstanding debt between the daily updates posted by the US Department of Treasury.

The same amount is updated daily on the Treasury Direct website of the Treasury's Bureau of the Public Debt in the 'Debt to the Penny' section.

Categories of US national debt

The Bureau of Public Debt calculates the US national debt figures after taking into account daily reports from all the major reporting entities, including the Federal Reserve Bank.

This debt, the Federal Reserve Bank calculates, is the debt owed by the Federal Government.

Essentially, the debt is divided into two broad categories: 'Debt Held by the Public' and the 'Intragovernmental Holdings'.

Before we go any further, it is important to define what each of these terms mean, as outlined below:

Types of US debt

Every US taxpayer is liable for $165,884 in national debt

The questions that now arise are:

1. Whether it's $20trn or more, where did the colossal national debt come from?

2. How much are US taxpayers on the hook for these trillions of dollars in debt?

I have actually touched upon the answer to the first question in some of my previous IB Times UK columns. Additionally, I also thoroughly answer this question in my latest book on the US debt debacle. However, just in case you have not read my previous columns or book, here's a hint: Do the terms Federal Reserve, bank debt, and derivatives ring a bell?

Now, let's take a look at the second question. According to the US Debt Clock, each taxpayer stateside is liable for $165,884 in national debt! It's not us, it's the counters on the debt clock that say this.

Total US debt per family Is $813,977 and rising

We are now aware of the fact that when it comes to measuring consolidated debt for the US, we basically have two different measures. One of them is the national debt, which is an accumulation of the debt held by the public and the Intragovernmental Holdings attributed to the US government.

The second measure is the total debt. Now if you take a look at the debt clock, you'd find that the total debt is considerably higher than the national debt.

US Debt Clock
Generic screen shot of US debt clockFile shot: www.usdebtclock.org

In fact, the total debt is currently over $67trn dollars! This is because the amount of total debt includes national debt with the addition of the amounts owed by everyone in the US including the Federal, state, and local governments, households, financial institutions (mainly banks) and businesses in the US.

According to the debt clock, the total debt per citizen as of 11 August, 2017 is $207,924. In addition, the total debt per family using the same date as a cut-off point is $813,977 and rising. At this rate, we will soon be crossing over the $1m dollar mark for the total debt per American family.

This persistent debt problem has lasted several US administrations. That's a scary prospect for the US economy and indeed the global economy.


Iris Mack, PhD, EMBA, is a distinguished US academic who currently lectures on energy derivatives, trading and risk management for Fitch Learning and Tulane University, Louisiana, United States. She is a former MIT professor and derivatives quant/trader who has worked in financial institutions in the US, Europe and Asia. She has also previously worked for Nasa, Boeing and AT&T Bell Laboratories.

Over the years, Iris has authored several books including: Energy Trading and Risk Management: A Practical Approach to Hedging; Trading and Portfolio Diversification; A Wall Street Bailout for Main Street: This Bulletproof Trade Will Help You Get Paid , Mama says, "Money Doesn't Grow on Trees!" and US Debt: $800,000+ per Family? Trillions? Quadrillions?