Top 10 Countries That OWE The US Money: Economic Debts Revealed

Top 10 Countries That OWE The US Money|June 22, 2021, Buckingham Palace Coldstream Guards Band - Latest

✅ Quick Summary

Uncover the intriguing economic web that binds nations as we reveal the top 10 countries that owe the US money. From long-standing debts to complex financial interdependencies, join us on a journey through the entwined global economy.

  • Delve into the intricate dynamics of international borrowing and lending, shedding light on the economic ties that shape geopolitical relationships.
  • Discover the surprising contributors to the US Treasury as we unveil the economic debts owed by nations across the continents.
  • Get ready to explore the numbers, history, and impact of these financial obligations.
  • This compelling dive into the world of international finance will leave you with a newfound understanding of the intricate global economic landscape.
  • This isn’t just about numbers on a balance sheet; it’s about the narratives of nations intertwined in an intricate dance of fiscal responsibility.
  • Follow along as we unravel the economic debts revealed, offering insight into the complex financial relationships that shape the world as we know it.

SEE ALSO: Top 10 Countries in the World 2023

10 USA

Top 10 Countries That OWE The US Money|June 22, 2021, Buckingham Palace Coldstream Guards Band - Latest

July 4th fireworks, Jefferson Memorial
Fourth of July fireworks over the Jefferson Memorial. What would the Founding Fathers think of the massive U.S. public debt?
Creditor: American Public and State and Local Governments

Total U.S. owed: $6.2 trillion

Surprise! The US owes most to… itself. In December 2020, these domestic investors owned U.S. Treasury securities [U.S. Treasury Department]:

Mutual funds: $3.5 trillion
Banks and credit unions: $1.2 trillion
State and local: $342.8 billion
Private pensions: $804.7 billion
Insurers: $252.2 billion
State and local pension funds: $342.8 billion
US savings bonds: $141.1 billion

09 Japan

Top 10 Countries That OWE The US Money|June 22, 2021, Buckingham Palace Coldstream Guards Band - Latest

Japan girl
Tokyo girl smiles. Japan is America’s biggest creditor.
Creditor: Japan

Total U.S. owed: $1.2 trillion

How does America’s debt compare to other industrialized nations? Public debt to GDP is the best debt measurement. The U.S. borrowed more than it earned in 2020, with the national debt at 107.6% of GDP. In 2020, the COVID-19 epidemic devastated economies worldwide, while in 2019, it was 106.9 percent [source: Trading Economics].

A 107.6 percent debt-to-GDP ratio isn’t great, but it’s better than Japan’s 236 percent in 2017 [source: Commodity]. How can Japan sustain such a high debt-to-earnings ratio?

Japan’s massive debt is manageable. The Japanese economy remains strong. It has the third-largest GDP and 2.6 percent unemployment in March 2021. The country invests extensively in U.S. debt securities, the world’s safest investments.

Japanese residents own 90% of their country’s debt, whereas foreigners own 10%. Foreign investors control almost 40% of U.S. debt, which is riskier [source: Oh].

08 China

Top 10 Countries That OWE The US Money|June 22, 2021, Buckingham Palace Coldstream Guards Band - Latest

Dusk over Shanghai. China is the U.S.’s second-largest creditor, owing over $1 trillion.
Creditor: China

Total U.S. $1.1 trillion debt.

China is an economic behemoth with 1.4 billion people, the world’s second-largest economy, and rapid expansion [source: World Bank]. In 2011, China became the second-largest U.S. debtor. Is it harmful to the U.S. economy or national security when one of its greatest rivals holds over 4% of its debt [source: Investopedia]?

It resembles the Cold War arms competition between the US and USSR. Sure, either side could have fired its warheads and done severe damage to the other, but an act of aggression would have guaranteed harsh retribution.

China selling its debt instruments might raise interest rates and devalue the currency, hurting the U.S. The Chinese would likewise self-destruct. Chinese cash reserves are over half invested in U.S. debt [source: Davidson]. It’s China’s best investment. U.S. investment returns help China’s economy. Poisoning the dollar would sink the yuan [source: Capaccio].

07 UK

Top 10 Countries That OWE The US Mone June 22 2021 Buckingham Palace Coldstream Guards Band Latest 15

yellow flowers, Buckingham Palace
London’s Buckingham Palace has yellow flowers on April 17, 2021.
Stuart Wilson/Getty Images
Creditor: UK

Total U.S. owed: $431.8 billion

U.S. debt ownership is booming in the U.K. It held $443 billion in 2021, a nine-year high [source: Sebastian]. The future is unknown. The UK. is the world’s sixth largest economy, with a $2.8 trillion GDP in 2019. The U.K. formally left the EU, dubbed Brexit.

The U.K. has left the EU’s free trade pact. Many British companies relocated to EU countries after this. Scotland, which opposed Brexit, may also secede. autonomous EU membership. The U.K. and EU reached a trade agreement in 2021, but its economic future remains uncertain, causing a national economic slowdown [source: Amadeo].

06 Ireland

Top 10 Countries That OWE The US Money|June 22, 2021, Buckingham Palace Coldstream Guards Band - Latest

Ireland, pub
Dublin pubgoers drink in the afternoon.
Creditor: Ireland

Total U.S. $307 billion debt.

Ireland isn’t one of the biggest U.S. debt holders. Ireland is famous for leprechauns and Guinness beer. However, many U.S. multinational businesses like Alphabet/Google relocate there due to the country’s low corporation tax rates and other systems that permitted Irish companies to reallocate revenues to tax havens like Bermuda and pay zero corporate tax. Change is coming.

In June 2021, the G7 adopted a minimum worldwide business tax of 15%, which Ireland strongly opposed. Foreign profits taxation is evolving in other countries also. [Sources: Sebastian, Subramanian].

05 Luxembourg

Top 10 Countries That OWE The US Money|June 22, 2021, Buckingham Palace Coldstream Guards Band - Latest

Luxembourg, a tiny, attractive country, buys a lot of U.S. debt, but custodial bias may skew this position.
Creditor: Luxembourg

Total U.S. $291 billion debt

Luxembourg, a banker nation with the fourth-highest GDP per capita in the world ($114,685 in 2019), invests in other nations’ inexpensive debt. Luxembourg’s economy is uncertain. The tiny nation owes $4 trillion to foreign creditors and $291 billion to the U.S. The World Bank ranks tiny Luxembourg seventh in total foreign debt [sources: The World Bank, The World Bank].

Luxembourg and Belgium are tax havens for rich international investors. Like Belgium, international investors acquire U.S. debt through Luxembourg accounts. Since U.S. Luxembourg’s debt ownership data may be exaggerated because the Treasury doesn’t discriminate between Luxembourgish and international debt.

04 Switzerland

Top 10 Countries That OWE The US Money|June 22, 2021, Buckingham Palace Coldstream Guards Band - Latest

Switzerland handles the most financial assets despite its modest size.
Creditor: Switzerland

Total U.S. owed: $261 billion

Switzerland has always been a tax shelter for wealthy investors. Swiss banks had $2.7 trillion in assets in 2019, whereas U.S. banks had $24 trillion. Switzerland has $337,500 per capita, whereas the U.S. has $75,949 [sources: Statista]. The Swiss have high employment, a long life expectancy, and are among the happiest countries [OECD]. Swiss banks, or Swiss buyers of U.S. debt, are also reputable investors. Treasury securities.

Its tax-haven label is also inaccurate. Switzerland’s financial privacy laws were relaxed under U.S. and EU pressure, making it harder to hide money [source: Goetz].

03 Brazil

Top 10 Countries That OWE The US Money|June 22, 2021, Buckingham Palace Coldstream Guards Band - Latest

Sao Paulo
Sao Paulo’s downtown. Brazil’s economy ranks ninth worldwide.
Creditor: Brazil

Total U.S. $255.3 billion debt.

Brazil is the World Bank’s ninth-largest economy. Chinese funding supported its rapid rise starting in 2010. China struck profitable trade arrangements with Brazil to buy enormous volumes of iron ore and crude oil that year [source: Pomfret]. Chinese companies export natural resources and build massive factories, farms, and manufacturing units in Brazil.

The Brazilian economy slowed after growing 7.5 percent in 2010 when the rest of the globe was still recovering from the recession. Due to China’s cooling economy, its growth rate rose from -3.6 percent in 2015 to 1.1 percent in 2019 [source: Macrotrends].

02 Belgium

Top 10 Countries That OWE The US Money|June 22, 2021, Buckingham Palace Coldstream Guards Band - Latest

Floral carpet, Grande Palace, Belgium
Belgian Grande-Place floral carpet. Belgium is a financial center despite its tiny size.
Creditor: Belgium

Total U.S. owed: $234.8 billion

Belgium, right? Really? This little European nation between France, Germany, and the Netherlands ranks 25th in the world in GDP, behind Poland and Iran [source: Statistics Times]. Why is Belgium a top 10 U.S. debt buyer?

Belgium is Europe’s most active international banking center. In 2011, the Belgian government began revealing account information to promote tax transparency [source: Hyslop].

“Custodial bias” also exists. Belgium is a favored tax shelter for buying U.S. debt. Investors in France, Germany, China, and Japan do that. But the U.S. Treasury tracks U.S. debt purchases by geography, not nationality [source: U.S. Treasury]. Thus, Belgians’ debt ownership is unclear.

01 Taiwan

Top 10 Countries That OWE The US Money|June 22, 2021, Buckingham Palace Coldstream Guards Band - Latest

Taiwan street signage is jumbled. Taiwan invests in U.S. assets to protect its trade-based economy.
Ingram Publishing/Thinkstock
Creditor: Taiwan

Total U.S. $234 billion debt.

This little island nation exports mostly to Europe, the U.S., and China. Taiwan’s economy thrives when the global economy does [source: Shapiro]. Taiwanese investors hedged their bets with U.S. debt.

Taiwan has a constitution and a democratically elected president. The Communist Party overthrew the Nationalist Party and established the People’s Republic of China (PRC) after World War II. Nationalist leaders and sympathizers moved to Taiwan, officially the Republic of China [source: Bloomberg]. Two Chinas existed. Incredibly, there still are!

Taiwan and mainland China claimed to be “one China,” putting the U.S. in a diplomatic bind. In 1979, America recognized PRC as “real” China and cut ties with Taiwan [source: Maizland]. It sells Taiwan all its arms for $129 million [source: Frohlich]. Taiwanese investment also boosted mainland growth [source: CIA World Fact Book].

China has threatened to force Taiwan’s return, tensioning tensions [source: Maizland]. The U.S. response to a war between the two is unknown.

Some Frequently Asked Questions about Countries That OWE The US Money

Does the US owe China money?

The United States pays interest on approximately $850 billion in debt held by the People’s Republic of China. China, however, is currently in default on its sovereign debt held by American bondholders.


Why do Americans, businesses, and municipal governments keep lending to the US? Isn’t investing in a $28 trillion debt enterprise risky? Government investments aren’t risky. The U.S. is losing thousands of dollars per second to pay interest on its debts, yet it wants to avoid defaulting. U.S. debt could dry up as America’s credit rating drops. How would the U.S. government function without its foreign credit card? Let’s hope not.

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Zainab Hashmi

I'm Zainab Hashmi, and I'm the Head Editor of I'm uncovering the world's wonders and presenting you with the most interesting top ten lists in many categories. I've been as a guest on various national radio and television networks.

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