Our Terms of Service and Privacy Policy have changed.

By continuing to use this site, you are agreeing to the new Privacy Policy and Terms of Service.

Debt crosses $14 trillion mark

By Jeanne Sahadi, senior writer


NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- The amount of U.S. debt subject to the country's legal maximum has topped $14 trillion for the first time.

On Wednesday, the amount of debt subject to the cap hit $14.001 trillion at the close of trade, according to the daily Treasury statement released on Thursday.

That means the country is less than $300 billion away from the $14.294 trillion debt ceiling, which is a cap on how much the federal government can legally borrow.

The debt ceiling has become a focal point of the debate over spending and debt. Even though congressional leaders say the cap will be raised, Republicans are vowing to use the issue as leverage to force spending cuts.

The Treasury Department estimates that borrowing could reach the cap sometime between March 31 and May 16, according to a letter Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner sent to Congress earlier this month.

While Treasury has certain measures it can take to postpone a breach from occurring, Geithner said they would only last "several weeks."

He urged lawmakers to act soon to raise the ceiling, warning that failure to do so would be disastrous for the economy and for Americans.

Although the debt ceiling has never been reached -- so it's impossible to say definitively what would happen if it were -- budget and debt experts warn that no good can come of it.

If U.S. borrowing hits the ceiling and lawmakers fail to raise it, Treasury would be prohibited from borrowing more money. Barring immediate and draconian policy changes, the country would be unable to pay its bondholders or fund programs and benefits in full. That's because there wouldn't be enough tax revenue coming in to cover all of the country's bills.

Experts say the cascade effect would be crippling not only to the U.S. economy but very likely to economies and markets worldwide.

At a minimum, a default could pummel U.S. bonds, the dollar and U.S. investors' portfolios. To top of page

Index Last Change % Change
Dow 18,432.24 -24.11 -0.13%
Nasdaq 5,162.13 7.15 0.14%
S&P 500 2,173.60 3.54 0.16%
Treasuries 1.46 -0.05 -3.51%
Data as of 2:35am ET
Company Price Change % Change
KeyCorp 11.70 0.05 0.43%
Bank of America Corp... 14.49 -0.19 -1.29%
Ford Motor Co 12.66 -0.05 -0.39%
General Electric Co 31.14 -0.11 -0.35%
Chesapeake Energy Co... 5.42 0.23 4.43%
Data as of Jul 29
Sponsors

Sections

For the first time ever, Amazon and Facebook are more valuable than Berkshire Hathaway, the storied company run by legendary investor Warren Buffett. More

Venezuela's government issues a decree recently that makes it possible to force workers to work in the country's fields amid food shortages. More

Sara Mauskopf started Winnie to help parents find everything from parks to family-friendly restaurants. More

It's about to get harder for some luxury all-cash home buyers to hide their identity from the U.S. government. More