At the United States Treasury Department website, while you are twiddling your thumbs, you can follow their “debt to the penny” web page. This site includes a facility for tracking the debt on a daily basis. Today, the latest total reported is $19,924,218,517,074.52 – just shy of $20 trillion.
We have an office pool going on the date when this puppy ticks off at $20 trillion. Right now, the median guess is early March.
The “debt to the penny” site sparks consideration of a few issues, including a reminder to beware of false precision in finance, economics, and accounting. At Truth in Accounting, we peg the “true” national debt at about $100 trillion, because we believe the federal government does not count real debts in the liabilities it reports on its balance sheet. And these debts are not included in Treasury securities, either.
Another worthy research area underlying this website deals with its title “The Debt to the Penny and Who Holds It.” It isn’t easy to get a firm answer to the second part of the title, as well. See this article, for example.
The “Debt to the Penny and Who Holds It” website actually makes no effort to identify specifically who owns Treasury securities. It simply divides them into two groups – “Debt Held by the Public” and “Intragovernmental Holdings.” The latter group includes “trust funds” like those for Social Security, but those securities are special, nonmarketable debt that functionally serve as a way to divert individual FICA taxes to spending for general government purposes. The “Debt Held by the Public” (e.g. debt not held by the U.S. Government) includes the massive holdings of the Federal Reserve Banks, a curious thing to include in “Debt Held by the Public.”