Americans donate almost $8 million to pay down debt

Robert Gubbins/

More than any time since the mid-1990s, citizens are pitching in to help the government pay its debt.

During the latest fiscal year, which began shortly after a fight over the statutory borrowing limit cast the country's eyes on its ballooning debt, citizens gifted nearly $7.7 million to the government to help it pay down its obligations.

The gifts, allowed under a 1961 law, are processed by a small agency within the Treasury Department called the Bureau of the Public Debt.

According to the bureau's records, fiscal 2012 brought in more than double the amount of donations than any of the past 15 years--and that doesn't even include gifts made in September, the final month of the fiscal year, which have yet to be tallied up.

The annual average since 1996 is $2.2 million; people donated $3.3 million in fiscal 2011.

People can make contributions online or through a check payable to the Bureau of the Public Debt, mailed to "Dept G" at the bureau in Parkersburg, W.Va., according to the bureau's website.

Donations tend to be small, under $1,000, according to Joyce Harris, a spokeswoman for the Treasury Department. They usually come from estates and individuals. Harris did not have data broken down in a way that would explain the spike in giving during fiscal 2012, although she notes that the level of donations has picked up over the last few years.

Even though $7.7 million is a large sum in the gifts-to-reduce-the-debt world, it is a small drop in a giant bucket; the national debt currently stands at over $16 trillion.

(Image via Robert Gubbins/

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