Meet the countries in the Triple-A debt club

@CNNMoney July 30, 2011: 1:26 PM ET
These 17 countries have the world's highest credit rating, AAA from both Moody's and Standard & Poor's, but the U.S. risks losing that high standing if lawmakers don't raise the debt ceiling.

These 17 countries have the world's highest credit rating, AAA from both Moody's and Standard & Poor's, but the U.S. risks losing that high standing if lawmakers don't raise the debt ceiling.

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- Amid the contentious debt ceiling debate, the United States is at risk of being booted out of a prestigious group of countries that boast a spotless credit rating.

Only 17 countries in the world -- currently including the U.S. -- hold the highly coveted triple-A rating from both Standard & Poor's and Moody's. (S&P rates an additional three countries as triple-A, that aren't featured on Moody's list).

Germany, Canada, France, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland are among those with the undisputed stamp of approval -- so is the Isle of Man, a British crown dependency off Ireland's east coast, and Singapore (both of which are too small to see on our CNNMoney map above.)

Now, S&P and Moody's are questioning the United States' membership in this exclusive club.

The triple-A rating enables nations to borrow funds at a low cost, because their governments are considered stable and their bonds safe.

The U.S. for example, has seen its dollar become the world's No. 1 reserve currency because its bonds are held in such high regard by investors. They're backed by the "full faith and credit of the U.S. government" -- which until now, has never seriously been called into question.

Already, just the threat of a possible downgrade has taken a toll.

Prior to November 2007, the United States boasted some of the safest bonds in the world. That started to gradually change with the recession, and now the country's creditworthiness continues to be questioned amid the debt ceiling debates.

Debt ceiling fight: What a downgrade would mean

Investors can discern the "risk" associated with a country's debt, by looking at the cost to insure against a possible default -- through a financial instrument called a credit default swap. In the case of the U.S., that cost surged on Thursday to its highest level since 2009.

By that measure, U.S. bonds are no longer in the clear lead as a safe bet, compared to other triple-A rated countries.

By looking at the prices of 5-year credit default swaps, Norway's debt ranks the safest, followed by Sweden, Switzerland, Finland, the Netherlands and Australia.

Canada, Singapore and Germany also have safer bonds than the United States.

If lawmakers don't come through with a deal to raise the debt ceiling and lower the long term deficit, the U.S. could soon join the ranks of the lower-level, double-A rated countries like China, Spain, Japan, Saudi Arabia and even Kuwait. To top of page

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