For years, I've wondered if anyone ever just sent the government money and said, "Here, apply it to the national debt." After all, our national debt's a big problem, and if you're the charity-giving sort, you might want to make the United States your charity.
And then Reuters goes along and does a story about people who do just that. As it turns out, there's a government office that will be more than happy to take your check, should you decide your pet cause this year is going to be the United States' debt.
The Reuters article, in fact, mentions that $3 million was given by generous Americans in the last fiscal year, though still just a drop in the bucket when you consider that our national debt, according to the Reuters' article, now stands at $7.6 trillion.
If you'd like to do your part, make your check out to the Bureau of the Public Debt and send your money to:
P.O. Box 2188
Parkersburg, West Virginia
Be sure to include a note in the memo section of your check that the money is intended for the national debt.
Wondering how our national debt fares as a charity when we stack it up against other nonprofits? Not so great, considering you're talking about an entire country -- and then again, not so bad, considering that the Bureau of the Public Debt doesn't exactly do a lot of advertising and fund raising. In any case, for some perspective, I took a look at an annual list of charitable organizations that Forbes puts out every year, their most recent being in 2008, so the numbers are from 2006-2007. During that period, the American Cancer Society received $1.04 billion billion in private financing (donations), the American National Red Cross received $643 million and the National Audubon Society received $51 million (there are a lot of bird lovers out there).
All in all, according to CharityNavigator.org, which has a ton of information on charities if you're ever deciding to give away some of your money, donations last year to charitable causes hit $307 billion. That was down 5.7% from the year before but still pretty generous, considering the recession we find ourselves in.
But what really floors me when I think about all of this is the actual dollar figure of our national debt.
While the Reuters article put it at $7.6 trillion, the U.S. National Debt Clock's web site has us down by $11 trillion and counting. The last time I refreshed its page, it stated that if every American wanted to contribute to help pay down the national debt -- if you're pulling out your check book, you'd better make sure your pen has plenty of ink -- we'd all have to fork over $39,036.54. And I guarantee if you go to the site now, it'll be higher. It changed even while I was writing this post.
Again, that's $11 trillion dollars, or written out, $11,000,000,000,000. That's one million millions multiplied 11 times. And yet, if we all dug a little deeper in our pockets and sent Department G just a little over $39,000 each, we'd clear off that debt entirely. I'm sure most of us reading this are thinking, "Right, I'll get right on that."
The good thing is, some people out there are getting right on that, which I can't help but find inspiring. According to the U.S. Treasury, the typical reason people have given money to help pay down the national debt is a sense of patriotism -- and much of these patriotic feelings come from immigrants expressing their thanks to the United States for everything the country has done for them. You have to admit, whether you think people who pay down the national debt are crazy or misguided, it's a charming sentiment -- and a bit of a surreal one: People willingly handing money to Uncle Sam, not because they have to, but because they want to. When was the last time you could claim that?
Geoff Williams is a regular WalletPop contributor. He's also the co-author of the upcoming book, Living Well with Bad Credit.
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