Answer by Matt Wasserman:
The government of the United States is in debt for about $18 trillion.
About $5 trillion of that is technically owed to itself – intragovernmental debt. Money collected for specific purposes (like Social Security or Medicare) goes into the general fund, and non-transferrable treasury bonds are issued in its place. For example, the Social Security trust funds currently have about $2.6 trillion worth of these bonds, but no cash other than what's been collected in the last 30 days.
While the money is technically owed to the government by the government, it's really owed to the citizens. And while these are not the same bonds being sold in the open market, I think it's a safe bet that defaulting on them would have a significant impact on our credit worthiness.
The other $13 trillion is in the form of treasury bonds, treasury notes, savings bonds, and other forms of government issued debt. $6 trillion of that is held by foreign investors, banks, and creditors. August 2014 numbers from Treasury look like this (in billions)-
Carib Banking Centers 313.9
Oil Exporters 267.5
United Kingdom 172.8
Hong Kong 160.5
South Africa 10.3
All Other 182.3
Grand Total 6066.6
The remaining ~$7 trillion is held by people and entities in the US. The Federal Reserve holds about $2.5 trillion of it. Mutual funds and pension funds hold about $1.6 trillion. State governments hold about $800 billion. Insurance companies, $270 billion. Banks, $380 billion. Savings bonds are about $180 billion. Individuals and other entities hold the rest, about $1.1 trillion.
State governments are in debt for another $1.2 trillion. Some percentage of that should be added to the federal debt because the money is borrowed to fund federal programs.
Local governments are in debt for about $1.9 trillion.
Consumer debt is about $11.6 trillion.
Yes, America is in debt.