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US National Debt by Year Since 1900

EzumeImages / Getty Images/iStockphoto

EzumeImages / Getty Images/iStockphoto

The national debt stands at $27.27 trillion as of Nov. 20, 2020. This enormous bill didn’t come from nowhere, and it’s safe to say that the U.S. will likely continue to have debt due to the coronavirus in the foreseeable future. So, how worried should Americans be about the national debt? There’s not a lot of agreement across the political spectrum on the answer to that question.

However, understanding why the U.S. borrows money and how different historical events shaped that process is important to any informed citizen, especially with a new president entering into 2021. Knowing how much the federal government borrowed to deal with various issues and events throughout the last century can help you gauge whether each politician’s plans to address the national debt are feasible.

For example, you can note how 1933 saw a marked increase in debt as the new Roosevelt administration broke with the fiscal orthodoxy of the time by employing large deficits to combat the Great Depression. Each recession has correlated with a spike in borrowing, with tax revenues dropping when the needs of the American people were at their highest. All told, tracking the progress of the national debt is a valuable way to understand the U.S. government’s relationship to its people.

Using data from TreasuryDirect and the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ consumer price index inflation calculator, GOBankingRates analyzed the total U.S. national debt from 1900 to present in five-year increments and adjusted the outstanding debt for inflation to provide context in today’s dollars. Looking over the resulting data can help put the national debt into perspective.

Last updated: Nov. 23, 2020

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©Library of Congress

1900-1904

  • Outstanding debt in 1900: $2.14 billion
    • Debt adjusted for inflation: $65.37 billion
  • Outstanding debt in 1904: $2.26 billion
    • Debt adjusted for inflation: $65.37 billion

Change in debt between 1900-1904: 5.95%
Change in debt adjusted for inflation: -$4.55 million

Editorial note: The increase in national debt from 1900-1904 was outpaced by inflation, so the value of the dollar decreased faster than the rate at which the national debt grew.

Pictured: U.S. Treasury Building in 1900

©Wikimedia Commons

1905-1909

  • Outstanding debt in 1905: $2.27 billion
    • Debt adjusted for inflation: $66.42 billion
  • Outstanding debt in 1909: $2.64 billion
    • Debt adjusted for inflation: $74.54 billion

Change in debt between 1905-1909: 16.04%
Change in debt adjusted for inflation: $8.12 billion

Pictured: $20 U.S. gold certificate from 1905

©Wikimedia Commons Public Domain

1910-1914

  • Outstanding debt in 1910: $2.65 billion
    • Debt adjusted for inflation: $71.75 billion
  • Outstanding debt in 1914: $2.91 billion
    • Debt adjusted for inflation: $74.84 billion

Change in debt between 1910-1914: 9.80%
Change in debt adjusted for inflation: $3.09 billion

Pictured: William Howard Taft, who was president from 1910-1913

©Library of Congress

1915-1919

  • Outstanding debt in 1915: $3.06 billion
    • Debt adjusted for inflation: $77.81 billion
  • Outstanding debt in 1919: $27.39 billion
    • Debt adjusted for inflation: $406.87 billion

Change in debt between 1915-1919: 795.68%
Change in debt adjusted for inflation: $329.06 billion

Related: How the National Debt Hits Your Wallet Every Day

Pictured: U.S. Treasury Building in 1915

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1920-1924

  • Outstanding debt in 1920: $25.95 billion
    • Debt adjusted for inflation: $333.46 billion
  • Outstanding debt in 1924: $21.25 billion
    • Debt adjusted for inflation: $319.35 billion

Change in debt between 1920-1924: -18.12%
Change in debt adjusted for inflation: -$14.10 billion

Pictured: $5 U.S. silver certificate from 1923

©Wikimedia Commons Public Domain

1925-1929

  • Outstanding debt in 1925: $20.52 billion
    • Debt adjusted for inflation: $301.26 billion
  • Outstanding debt in 1929: $16.93 billion
    • Debt adjusted for inflation: $254.44 billion

Change in debt between 1925-1929: -17.47%
Change in debt adjusted for inflation: -$46.83 billion

Pictured: Calvin Coolidge, who was president from 1925-1929

©Library of Congress

1930-1934

  • Outstanding debt in 1930: $16.19 billion
    • Debt adjusted for inflation: $249.05 billion
  • Outstanding debt in 1934: $27.05 billion
    • Debt adjusted for inflation: $518.80 billion

Change in debt between 1930-1934: 67.15%
Change in debt adjusted for inflation: $269.75 billion

Pictured: Pageant in front of the U.S. Treasury Building in 1930

©Wikimedia Commons

1935-1939

  • Outstanding debt in 1935: $28.70 billion
    • Debt adjusted for inflation: $538.35 billion
  • Outstanding debt in 1939: $40.44 billion
    • Debt adjusted for inflation: $747.62 billion

Change in debt between 1935-1939: 40.90%
Change in debt adjusted for inflation: $209.27 billion

Learn: Almost Every State Is In Debt Thanks to COVID-19 — What Now?

Pictured: $1 U.S. silver certificate from 1935

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©Library of Congress

1940-1944

  • Outstanding debt in 1940: $42.97 billion
    • Debt adjusted for inflation: $788.68 billion
  • Outstanding debt in 1944: $201.00 billion
    • Debt adjusted for inflation: $2.93 trillion

Change in debt between 1940-1944: 367.80%
Change in debt adjusted for inflation: $2.15 trillion

Pictured: U.S. Treasury Building in 1941

©Library of Congress

1945-1949

  • Outstanding debt in 1945: $258.68 billion
    • Debt adjusted for inflation: $3.69 trillion
  • Outstanding debt in 1949: $252.77 billion
    • Debt adjusted for inflation: $2.73 trillion

Change in debt between 1945-1949: -2.29%
Change in debt adjusted for inflation: -$963.81 billion

Pictured: Harry S. Truman, who was president from 1945-1949

©Wikimedia Commons

1950-1954

  • Outstanding debt in 1950: $257.36 billion
    • Debt adjusted for inflation: $2.74 trillion
  • Outstanding debt in 1954: $271.26 billion
    • Debt adjusted for inflation: $2.59 trillion

Change in debt between 1950-1954: 5.40%
Change in debt adjusted for inflation: -$152.83 billion

Editorial note: The increase in national debt from 1950-1954 was outpaced by inflation, so the value of the dollar decreased faster than the rate at which the national debt grew.

Pictured: $10 U.S. silver certificate from 1953

©Wikimedia Commons

1955-1959

  • Outstanding debt in 1955: $274.37 billion
    • Debt adjusted for inflation: $2.63 trillion
  • Outstanding debt in 1959: $284.71 billion
    • Debt adjusted for inflation: $2.51 trillion

Change in debt between 1955-1959: 3.77%
Change in debt adjusted for inflation: -$116.70 billion

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Editorial note: The increase in national debt from 1955-1959 was outpaced by inflation, so the value of the dollar decreased faster than the rate at which the national debt grew.

Pictured: $1 U.S. silver certificate from 1957

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1960-1964

  • Outstanding debt in 1960: $286.33 billion
    • Debt adjusted for inflation: $2.49 trillion
  • Outstanding debt in 1964: $311.71 billion
    • Debt adjusted for inflation: $2.58 trillion

Change in debt between 1960-1964: 8.86%
Change in debt adjusted for inflation: $98.14 billion

Pictured: John F. Kennedy, who was president from 1961-1963

©Library of Congress

1965-1969

  • Outstanding debt in 1965: $317.27 billion
    • Debt adjusted for inflation: $2.59 trillion
  • Outstanding debt in 1969: $353.72 billion
    • Debt adjusted for inflation: $2.48 trillion

Change in debt between 1965-1969: 11.49%
Change in debt adjusted for inflation: -$111.54 billion

Editorial note: The increase in national debt from 1965-1969 was outpaced by inflation, so the value of the dollar decreased faster than the rate at which the national debt grew.

Pictured: Lyndon B. Johnson, who was president from 1965-1969

©Wikimedia Commons

1970-1974

  • Outstanding debt in 1970: $370.92 billion
    • Debt adjusted for inflation: $2.46 trillion
  • Outstanding debt in 1974: $475.06 billion
    • Debt adjusted for inflation: $2.48 trillion

Change in debt between 1970-1974: 28.08%
Change in debt adjusted for inflation: $19.62 billion

Picture: Gas ration stamps being printed by the U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing as a result of the 1973 oil crisis

©Wikimedia Commons

1975-1979

  • Outstanding debt in 1975: $533.19 billion
    • Debt adjusted for inflation: $2.55 trillion
  • Outstanding debt in 1979: $826.52 billion
    • Debt adjusted for inflation: $2.93 trillion

Change in debt between 1975-1979: 55.01%
Change in debt adjusted for inflation: $378.78 billion

Pictured: Specially stamped bicentennial $2 bill from 1976

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1980-1984

  • Outstanding debt in 1980: $907.70 billion
    • Debt adjusted for inflation: $2.83 trillion
  • Outstanding debt in 1984: $1.57 trillion
    • Debt adjusted for inflation: $3.89 trillion

Change in debt between 1980-1984: 73.21%
Change in debt adjusted for inflation: $1.06 trillion

Pictured: U.S. Treasury Building in 1980

Kathy Willens/AP/REX / Shutterstock.com

1985-1989

  • Outstanding debt in 1985: $1.82 trillion
    • Debt adjusted for inflation: $4.35 trillion
  • Outstanding debt in 1989: $2.86 trillion
    • Debt adjusted for inflation: $5.92 trillion

Change in debt between 1985-1989: 56.73%
Change in debt adjusted for inflation: $1.57 trillion

Pictured: Senior citizens in a retirement home watching the 1987 stock market crash

Greg Mathieson/REX / Shutterstock.com

1990-1994

  • Outstanding debt in 1990: $3.23 trillion
    • Debt adjusted for inflation: $6.36 trillion
  • Outstanding debt in 1994: $4.69 trillion
    • Debt adjusted for inflation: $8.14 trillion

Change in debt between 1990-1994: 45.14%
Change in debt adjusted for inflation: $1.78 trillion

Pictured: George H.W. Bush, who was president from 1990-1993

©Wikimedia Commons

1995-1999

  • Outstanding debt in 1995: $4.97 trillion
    • Debt adjusted for inflation: $8.39 trillion
  • Outstanding debt in 1999: $5.66 trillion
    • Debt adjusted for inflation: $8.72 trillion

Change in debt between 1995-1999: 13.72%
Change in debt adjusted for inflation: $337.54 billion

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Pictured: $20 bill from 1995

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2000-2004

  • Outstanding debt in 2000: $5.67 trillion
    • Debt adjusted for inflation: $8.47 trillion
  • Outstanding debt in 2004: $7.38 trillion
    • Debt adjusted for inflation: $10.04 trillion

Change in debt between 2000-2004: 30.05%
Change in debt adjusted for inflation: $1.57 trillion

Pictured: Traders looking at New York Stock Exchange boards in 2000

Krista Kennell / Shutterstock.com

2005-2009

  • Outstanding debt in 2005: $7.93 trillion
    • Debt adjusted for inflation: $10.44 trillion
  • Outstanding debt in 2009: $11.91 trillion
    • Debt adjusted for inflation: $14.27 trillion

Change in debt between 2005-2009: 50.14%
Change in debt adjusted for inflation: $3.83 trillion

Pictured: Barack Obama, who was inaugurated as the 44th U.S. president in 2009

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2010-2014

  • Outstanding debt in 2010: $13.56 trillion
    • Debt adjusted for inflation: $15.98 trillion
  • Outstanding debt in 2014: $17.82 trillion
    • Debt adjusted for inflation: $19.35 trillion

Change in debt between 2010-2014: 31.43%
Change in debt adjusted for inflation: $3.37 trillion

Pictured: Occupy Wall Street protests in 2011

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2015-2019

  • Outstanding debt in 2015: $18.15 trillion
    • Debt adjusted for inflation: $19.68 trillion
  • Outstanding debt in 2019: $22.72 trillion
    • Debt adjusted for inflation: $22.84 trillion

Change in debt between 2015-2019: 25.17%
Change in debt adjusted for inflation: $3.16 trillion

Pictured: Current U.S. Treasury Building

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Methodology: GOBankingRates used TreasuryDirect’s “Historical Debt Outstanding – Annual” data series and the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ consumer price index inflation calculator to find the United States’ national debt by year since 1900 in the following ways: (1) outstanding debt in dollars, (2) percentage change in national debt over a five-year period and (3) outstanding debt in 2020 dollars. All data used to conduct this study was compiled and verified on Jan. 20, 2020. Debt figures from 1975-1985 are rounded to the nearest million. Five-year percentage increases were calculated using change in total debt without accounting for inflation.