U.S. National Debt Under Biden

By Michelle Lambright Black
Published on: 09/01/2023

As with the two presidents before him (and the many before those), the U.S. national debt has grown to a tremendous degree while President Biden has been in office. During his first two and half years as president, the national debt under Biden increased by over $4.8 trillion. To be exact, between January 20, 2021 and July 20, 2023, the total national debt under Biden rose from $27,751,896,236,415 to $32,592,226,328,901.[1]

During President Donald Trump’s four-year presidency, by comparison, the national debt of the United States rose by $8.18 trillion—a 40.43% increase. Meanwhile, the U.S. national debt increased by $8.3 trillion during President Barack Obama’s eight-year term in office.[2]

Key statistics

  • The national debt under Biden has risen from $27.8 trillion in January 2021 to $32.6 trillion in July 2023.
  • In the first two and a half years of President Biden’s time in the White House, the national debt has increased by $4.8 trillion.
  • The pause in federal student loan payments costs taxpayers more than $5 billion per month.
  • After President Biden signed into law legislation that suspended the debt limit, the national debt increased by $1 trillion in just five weeks.
  • The Federal Reserve has raised interest rates 10 times since President Biden has been in office in an effort to bring inflation under control.

How has the national debt changed during Biden’s presidency?

When you overspend your household budget, it can lead to financial challenges. In the same way, when the federal government spends more money than it collects from its taxpayers or earns in other ways, it incurs a budget deficit. As a result, the country must borrow money from others and later make payments to repay those loans with interest.

The national debt is the total sum representing how much outstanding debt the United States government owes to its creditors.[3]

Of course, debt isn’t a new challenge to our country. The United States began accruing debt before its first president, George Washington, swore the oath of office—thanks in large part to money borrowed to finance the Revolutionary War. By the time Washington left office in 1797, the national debt had grown to $82 million.[2]

Over the years, the national debt has continued to climb upward. And while a few presidents have managed to lower the national debt during their time in office, the majority have seen the overall amount the country owes increase under their watch. It can be fascinating to look back and examine U.S. debt by president and how different historical events and executive decisions have impacted America’s economy over time.

What was the national debt when Biden took office?

President Joe Biden took the oath of office on January 20, 2021. At that time, the United States owed $27.8 trillion in national debt to its creditors. By comparison, the national debt when President Donald Trump took office four years earlier was a little over $20.2 trillion.[1]

How much has been added to the national debt under Biden?

In January 2023, President Biden made an incorrect statement in an economic speech that his administration had cut the debt by $1.7 billion the last two years. Yet the national debt had actually increased during that time. (The last president to reduce the national debt was Calvin Coolidge whose presidency lasted from 1923-1929.) [4] [2] [5]

Fast forward to July 20, 2023 and the national debt under Biden has risen to $32.6 trillion. That figure represents an increase of more than $4.8 trillion in the national debt during the first two and a half years of President Biden’s time in the Oval Office.[1]

Change in U.S. national debt during Biden's presidency

Biden’s key decisions

As with the presidents that came before him, the choices that President Biden has made while occupying the Oval Office have had an impact on the national debt. Below are some of the key pieces of legislation that have increased the national debt during Biden’s presidency to date.

Student loan payment pause and attempted forgiveness

In an effort to ease the financial burdens that American households faced during the pandemic, President Trump paused payments and interest on most federal student loans beginning in March 2020. Upon winning the presidential election, President Biden opted to extend the payment pause on eligible federal student loans an additional six times.

According to the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, the pause costs taxpayers more than $5 billion every month. When the pause reaches the end of August 2023, the total cost to date will reach $195 billion.[6]

In November 2022, the Biden Administration also issued an executive order to forgive between $10,000 to $20,000 in federal student loans for eligible federal student loan borrowers (based on income and other factors)—an estimated $430 billion in student loan debt. However, the Supreme Court later struck down President Biden’s student debt relief plan in June 2023.[7]

If the executive order calling for student loan forgiveness had stood, it would have had a significant impact on the national debt. Yet even though the Supreme Court struck down the order, the pause on these loan payments and interest charges while the case was before the Court (and prior to that time) added to the national debt as well.

American Rescue Plan

In an effort to further alleviate pressure from the COVID-19 pandemic, President Biden signed the American Rescue Plan Act in March 2021. The emergency legislative package provided $1.9 trillion worth of federal aid to Americans in a variety of ways, including (but not limited to) the following.[8]

  • $1,400 stimulus checks (per person) provided to eligible households
  • National vaccination programs
  • Support for small businesses
  • Financial assistance for distressed farmers

The Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal

In November 2021, Congress passed and President Biden signed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. The $1.2 trillion legislative package provided funding for a wide variety of projects that aimed to improve both transportation and communication for the American public.[9]

The law provided billions of dollars to rebuild bridges, roads, railways, and expand access to clean drinking water throughout the country. Lawmakers earmarked additional funds to improve public transit and upgrade the nation’s ports and airports. There were also funds available in the deal to provide more American households with access to high-speed internet and address climate and environmental issues.

Inflation Reduction Act

Another piece of legislation that impacted the national debt since President Biden has been in office was the Inflation Reduction Act, signed into law in August 2022. The federal law is full of new spending and tax breaks aimed at lowering health care costs and encouraging businesses to invest in clean energy.

Reports state that the Congressional Budget Office estimated that provisions in the law would cost taxpayers around $391 billion between 2022 and 2031. However, a report by Goldman Sachs forecasts that the actual cost of the energy and climate incentives in the legislation could add up to a much higher $1.2 trillion.[10] [11]

Suspension of the debt ceiling

In June 2023, President Biden signed into law a bill that lifted the federal government’s previous $31.4 trillion debt ceiling. The debt ceiling, or debt limit, represented the maximum amount of money the federal government was authorized by Congress to borrow to meet its financial obligations. These obligations include payment of government and military salaries, Social Security and Medicare benefits, payment of tax refunds, payment of interest on the national debt, etc.

Congress has acted many times in the past (78 to be exact) to raise the debt limit when required. Yet there have also been instances where suspensions have been placed with regard to the debt limit instead of setting a specific limit on the dollar amount the federal government could spend. Most recently, between 2013 and 2019, Congress opted to suspend the debt ceiling for several set periods of time. And it wasn’t until October 2021 that another specific spending limit was put in place.[12] [13]

Since President Biden signed the law suspending the debt ceiling until 2024, in just a five-week period, the U.S. national debt increased by $1 trillion.[1]

Events that have affected national debt during Biden’s administration

You can’t examine the legislative and policy decisions of the Biden Administration without also taking a look at the events happening in the country at the time. After all, these circumstances played important roles in the behind-the-scenes choices of President Biden and other lawmakers.

COVID-19 pandemic

The country had been fighting the COVID-19 pandemic for nearly a year (10 months to be exact) when President Joe Biden took office in January 2021. As a result, many Americans were still reeling from devastating financial and economic consequences brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The unemployment rate, which had spiked to around 15% in April 2020, was coming back down. However, at 6.3% in January 2021, unemployment numbers were still notably higher than they had been prior to the pandemic as an estimated 10.1 million Americans remained without jobs and in desperate need of financial relief.[14]

Inflation crisis

American households faced another crisis during Biden’s presidency—rampant inflation. Prices soared on a wide variety of consumer goods and services. People were paying higher costs for basic necessities like groceries, gas, utilities, personal care products, and more. Health care services were higher as well, as were the costs of childcare, purchasing new and used vehicles, rent, or buying a home.

Inflation reached its peak point in June 2022 with a 9.1% increase compared to the previous year—the largest spike in prices the country had experienced in 40 years. In an effort to bring prices back under control, the Federal Reserve has hiked interest rates 10 times since President Biden has been in office.[15] [16]

These interest rate hikes also had a huge impact on the financial lives of millions of Americans, especially those who were carrying credit card debt and people who needed to secure financing (e.g., home loans, car loans, personal loans, etc.). After all, when interest rates increase, borrowing money and revolving outstanding credit card debt typically becomes more expensive.

Rising prices indirectly affected the national debt in two main ways.

  • When interest rates rise in response to inflation, annual government deficits increase in response. This drives up federal debt compared to times when interest rates are lower.
  • Congress passed legislation (the Inflation Reduction Act, mentioned above) in part to offset the negative financial impacts of inflation on American households. The added cost of the provisions in this new law added (and will continue to add) to the national debt.

Biden’s effect on the trade deficit

When the United States imports more goods than exports during a set period of time, a trade deficit occurs. And while proper management of the trade deficit and the impact it has on the U.S. economy is important, it’s also helpful to understand that the trade deficit doesn’t have the same effect on the national debt as the budget deficit.

As a reminder, a budget deficit is the difference between the money the federal government brings in and the cash the government spends which adds to the overall national debt. The Congressional Budget Office fiscal outlook in January 2023 projected that the federal budget deficit in 2023 would be $1.4 trillion under the Biden Administration.[17]

The trade deficit, which occurs when the United States has more imports than exports, has reached the following levels under President Biden.[18]

  • 2021: $840.5 Billion
  • 2022: 945.3 Billion

In 2020, the U.S. international trade deficit, also known as the trade gap, under President Trump was $678.7 billion according to the U.S. Department of Commerce.[19]


  1. Treasury.gov. “Debt to the Penny.” https://fiscaldata.treasury.gov/datasets/debt-to-the-penny/debt-to-the-penny
  2. Treasury.gov. “Historical Debt Outstanding.”
  3. Treasury.gov. “What is the national debt?” https://fiscaldata.treasury.gov/americas-finance-guide/national-debt/
  4. CNN.com. “Fact check: Biden’s latest false statistical claims.”
  5. NYTimes.com. “U.S. on Track to Add $19 Trillion in New Debt Over 10 Years.”
  6. CRFB.org. “Student Loan Pause Could Cost $275 Billion.” https://www.crfb.org/blogs/student-loan-pause-could-cost-275-billion
  7. CNBC.com. “Supreme Court strikes down Biden’s student loan forgiveness plan.” https://www.cnbc.com/2023/06/30/supreme-court-biden-student-loan-forgiveness-plan.html
  8. Whitehouse.gov. “President Biden Announces American Rescue Plan.” https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/legislation/2021/01/20/president-biden-announces-american-rescue-plan/
  9. NCSL.org. “Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act: Implementation and Key Resources.” https://www.ncsl.org/state-federal/infrastructure-investment-and-jobs-act-implementation-and-key-resources#:~:text=President%20Joe%20Biden%20signed%20the,15%2C%202021
  10. WSJ.com. “The Real Cost of the Inflation Reduction Act Subsidies: $1.2 Trillion.” https://www.wsj.com/articles/inflation-reduction-act-subsidies-cost-goldman-sachs-report-5623cd29#:~:text=The%20Real%20Cost%20of%20the%20Inflation%20Reduction%20Act%20Subsidies%3A%20%241.2%20Trillion,-Goldman%20Sachs%20says
  11. Goldmansachs.com. “The US is poised for an energy revolution.” https://www.goldmansachs.com/intelligence/pages/the-us-is-poised-for-an-energy-revolution.html
  12. Treasury.gov. “Debt Limit.” https://home.treasury.gov/policy-issues/financial-markets-financial-institutions-and-fiscal-service/debt-limit
  13. CRSReports.Congress.gov. “Debt Limit Suspensions.” https://crsreports.congress.gov/product/pdf/IN/IN11829
  14. BLS.gov. “The Employment Situation—January 2021.” https://www.bls.gov/news.release/archives/empsit_02052021.pdf
  15. BLS.gov. “Consumer prices up 9.1 percent over the year ended June 2022, largest increase in 40 years.” https://www.bls.gov/opub/ted/2022/consumer-prices-up-9-1-percent-over-the-year-ended-june-2022-largest-increase-in-40-years.htm
  16. CNBC.com. “Another interest rate hike is likely coming from the Federal Reserve. Here are 5 ways it could affect you.” https://www.cnbc.com/2023/07/21/will-another-fed-rate-hike-help-or-hurt-how-you-may-be-affected.html#:~:text=turn%20to%20cryptocurrencies-,Since%20March%202022%2C%20the%20central%20bank%20has%20hiked%20its%20benchmark,finances%20in%20the%20last%20year
  17. CBO.gov. “The Budget and Economic Outlook: 2023 to 2033.” https://www.cbo.gov/publication/58946#:~:text=The%20deficit%20is%20projected%20to,in%20interest%20rates%20during%202022
  18. BEA.gov. “2022 Trade Gap is $945.3 Billion.” https://www.bea.gov/news/blog/2023-03-08/2022-trade-gap-9453-billion#:~:text=The%20U.S.%20international%20trade%20deficit,%240.5%20billion%20to%20%24245.7%20billion
  19. BEA.gov. “2020 Trade Gap is $678.7 Billion.” https://www.bea.gov/news/blog/2021-02-05/2020-trade-gap-6787-billion#:~:text=The%20deficit%20increased%20from%20%24576.9,from%202.7%20percent%20in%202019

About the author

Michelle Lambright Black is a nationally recognized credit expert with two decades of experience. She is the founder of CreditWriter.com, an online credit education resource and community that helps busy moms learn how to build good credit and a strong financial plan that they can leverage to their advantage. Michelle's work has been published thousands of times by FICO, Experian, Forbes, Bankrate, MarketWatch, Parents, U.S. News & World Report, and many other outlets. You can connect with Michelle on Twitter (@MichelleLBlack) and Instagram (@CreditWriter).

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Written on September 1, 2023
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