United States’ $16.7 trillion debt pile comes in two flavors: intra-governmental holdings, of which there is about $4.8 trillion, and debt held by the public, of which there is about $11.9 trillion.
Like the name implies, intra-governmental holdings are Treasury securities that are held by other federal agencies, such as the Social Security Trust Fund (which holds about $2.7 trillion), the Office of Personnel Management (which manages various federal retirement and pension funds, and holds about $1.12 trillion), and the Department of Health and Human Services (which manages the supplementary medical insurance trust fund, and holds about $69 billion). All told, federal agencies hold about 29 percent of U.S. debt.
The rest is split among “the public,” which includes everybody from the U.S. Federal Reserve (with $1.66 trillion) to private pension funds ($605.2 billion), and yes, foreign governments and investors. All told, foreigners own approximately $5.6 trillion in Treasury securities, or about 47 percent of the debt held by the public.
The top five foreign holders own about 57.5 percent of the total debt held by foreigners. Here’s a look at who they are: