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U.S. Debt Ceiling: What Is It and What Could Happen?

Amidst many things happening worldwide, such as rising interest rates, high inflation, war in Ukraine, and rising tension between China and Taiwan, we have heard about the U.S. hitting its debt ceiling!

Debt level in USD (million) over the years

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What is the U.S. debt ceiling?

The U.S. debt ceiling is a legislative limit on the national debt the U.S. Treasury can incur. It was created in 1917 and has been raised 88 times since then. The debt ceiling is currently set at $31.4 trillion.

As of May 2023, the U.S. national debt is $31.46 trillion. The U.S. government owes this total amount of money to its creditors. As the U.S. has been spending more than its revenue, the national debt has been increasing for many years and is now at a record high (again).

There are a number of reasons why the U.S. has a debt ceiling. One reason is that it helps to control the government's spending.

What happens if the U.S. defaults on its debt?

If the U.S. defaults on its debt, it would mean that the government could not borrow any more money or pay all of its bills. This would have a devastating impact on the U.S. economy and could lead to a recession.

Here are some of the consequences of a U.S. debt default:

  • The U.S. government would be unable to pay its bills, which could lead to a serious financial crisis

  • The value of the U.S. dollar would likely decline

  • The stock market would likely be severely impacted

  • The world would likely enter a serious recession

A U.S. debt default would be a major disaster for the U.S. economy and the rest of the world. It is important to do everything possible to avoid a default, including raising the debt ceiling. Current talks are ongoing between U.S. President Biden and the Republicans, trying to settle a deal.

The debt ceiling is a complex issue with no easy solutions. However, it is important to understand the risks of default and the importance of raising the debt ceiling.

A consolation is that the U.S. has never defaulted on its debt. Congress eventually raised the debt ceiling each time, and the U.S. avoided default. Since 1917, the debt ceiling has been raised 88 times.


The increase in the national debt remains a serious problem. It is a burden on the economy, and it could lead to a serious financial crisis. The U.S. government needs to take steps to reduce the national debt. They could either raise taxes or cut spending. The U.S. government needs to balance raising taxes and cutting spending to reduce the national debt without harming the economy.

The lesson perhaps we can all learn from this episode is learning to spend below or within our means. And perhaps also learn to avoid taking bad debts.

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