Let's open this posting with a graph showing the U.S. federal on-budget surpluses and deficits since 1915:
Here's a graph showing us the on-budget surpluses and deficits as a percentage of GDP:
That certainly is a significant number of deficits over the past century or so, isn't it?
While Washington occasionally pats itself on the back about how it has reduced the annual deficit since it peaked at $1.413 trillion in 2009, there is an interesting way that every American (or others) can have a direct impact on the federal fiscal imbalance other than paying their annual income taxes.
The Bureau of Public Debt has been granted the honor of accepting gifts that are donated to the United States government with the express purpose of reducing the national debt under the provisions of 31 U.S. Code 3113 from 1917 which authorizes the Secretary of the Treasury to accept such generosity as shown here:
"(a) To provide the people of the United States with an opportunity to make gifts to the United States Government to be used to reduce the public debt—
(1) the Secretary of the Treasury may accept for the Government a gift of—
(A) money made only on the condition that it be used to reduce the public debt;
(B) an obligation of the Government included in the public debt made only on the condition that the obligation be canceled and retired and not reissued; and
(C) other intangible personal property made only on the condition that the property is sold and the proceeds from the sale used to reduce the public debt; and
(2) the Administrator of General Services may accept for the Government a gift of tangible property made only on the condition that it be sold and the proceeds from the sale be used to reduce the public debt.
(b) The Secretary and the Administrator each may reject a gift under this section when the rejection is in the interest of the Government.
(c) The Secretary and the Administrator shall convert a gift either of them accepts under subsection (a)(1)(C) or (2) of this section to money on the best terms available. If a gift accepted under subsection (a) of this section is subject to a gift or inheritance tax, the Secretary or the Administrator may pay the tax out of the proceeds of the gift or the proceeds of the redemption or sale of the gift.
(d) The Treasury has an account into which money received as gifts and proceeds from the sale or redemption of gifts under this section shall be deposited. The Secretary shall use the money in the account to pay at maturity, or to redeem or buy before maturity, an obligation of the Government included in the public debt. An obligation of the Government that is paid, redeemed, or bought with money from the account shall be canceled and retired and may not be reissued. Money deposited in the account is appropriated and may be expended to carry out this section.
(e) (1) The Secretary shall redeem a direct obligation of the Government bearing interest or sold on a discount basis on receiving it when the obligation—
(A) is given to the Government;
(B) becomes the property of the Government under the conditions of a trust; or
(C) is payable on the death of the owner to the Government (or to an officer of the Government in the officer’s official capacity).
(2) If the gift or transfer to the Government is subject to a gift or inheritance tax, the Secretary shall pay the tax out of the proceeds of redemption."
Note that the government reserves to right to refuse your gift if rejection is deemed to be in the best interest of the Government. As if that's likely to happen!
Now, let's look at how much money has been donated annually since 1996 with the express purpose of reducing the federal debt:
Since 1996, a total of $39.5 million has been donated to pay down the public debt. Between 1996 and 2013, approximately $9.97 trillion in debt has been added, meaning that the voluntary donations have covered roughly 0.0004 percent of the debt accrued over the 17 year period.
If you are still interested in helping out, there are two ways that you can make a contribution to reducing the debt:
1.) You can write a cheque payable to the Bureau of the Fiscal Service and put the words "Gift to Reduce the Debt Held by the Public" in the memo line and mail your cheque to:
Attention Department G
Bureau of the Fiscal Service
P.O. Box 2188
2.) You can make an online contribution at Pay.gov found here where you can make a contribution using credit cards including Visa, American Express and MasterCard or by direct debit from your bank account.
You can also donate property to the United States government or add them to your will as a testamentary bequest. Any properties donated this way will have to be sold and the proceeds will be accepted by the Treasury.
On the upside, according to this website, all such voluntary donations will be eligible for a charitable deduction. It helps quite a bit if you just think of the federal government as a giant charity!