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US National Debt by President by Dollar and Percentage

Have you ever thought about which president of the United States was the one to increase the debt the most? Do you wonder why? This is actually a really interesting and worth-to discussing issue that can change very quickly between every different president.

And now the reality is that the national debt is higher than before – around 27 trillion when this was written, and it is still increasing. You can take a look at the live statistics of United States National Debts here. Therefore, it is extra interesting to see how it has been since before.

We have compiled and listed the US presidents who have had the largest US debt level in history below and we have checked budget deficits when the president took office and started the tenure, and budget deficits when they resigned. Since this has been calculated in the % of GDP, we have taken into account the size of the economy automatically at that time.

US Debt

The debt has been a part of the US operations since its beginning. The government found itself in debt for the first time in 1790. Since then, the debt has been increasing over the centuries by wars and economic recession.

The debt of the United States is a measurement of how much the federal government owes its creditors. Since the US government almost always spends more than it takes in, the national debt continues to rise. Although it is shown as trillions, it is usually defined as a percentage of the country’s GDP. And this is because the debt-to-GDP ratio is used to calculate how much countries have the opportunity to repay the loans and how much they can borrow.

In addition, a larger economy generally means the country’s capital markets will grow and the government can tap them to issue more debt. It means that a country’s ability to pay off debt, and the effect that debt might have on the country’s economy, is dependent on how large the debt is as a proportion of the overall economy, not the dollar amount.

Who Increased the US Debt the Most?

Franklin D. Roosevelt

US National Debt by President by Dollar and Percentage

In total, Roosevelt added $236 trillion in debt during his tenure as the US president. When he took office (1933-1945), the debt was $22.5 trillion after Herbert Hoover. At that time, the Great Depression caused great damage to the economy, but World War II was the biggest factor as he added $186.3 billion in debt.

Woodrow Wilson

US National Debt by President by Dollar and Percentage

The second highest debt was raised by Woodrow Wilson (1913-1921).
One fact that is worth mentioning is that war actually played a major factor in the large increase in debt. World War I broke out in 1914 and it affected the entire world market. During this time, the total debt went from $2.9 billion to $21 billion. By the end of the war, the US debt was nearly $27.4 billion, and this is an increase of as much as 724%.

Ronald Reagan

US National Debt by President by Dollar and Percentage

The third US president that we are going to mention is Ronald Reagan (1981-1989).
Regan wanted to strengthen the economy and he strongly believed in supply-side economics, and that is, he wanted through tax breaks to make it easier for companies and entrepreneurs to run businesses that would contribute to more jobs and increase production for the whole country. In addition, Regan increased its defense budget by 35%. The ongoing Cold War at that time was probably the best explanation for this. During Regan’s tenure, the debt increased to $1.85 trillion (186%).

George W. Bush

US National Debt by President by Dollar and Percentage

In fourth place, it is George W. Bush (2001-2009).
We all know the 911 attacks in 2001, and that quickly led to The War on Terror. After two wars, first against Afghanistan and then Iraq, the debt had increased to a multi-trillion amount. Bush also had to deal with the recession of 2001 and the financial crisis of 2008. In total, the debt increased by $6.1 trillion, 101%.

George H. W. Bush

US National Debt by President by Dollar and Percentage

The fifth highest US president who increased the debt is George H. W. Bush (1989-1993).
Bush’s presidency coincided with some world events of large proportion, including the collapse of communism in eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, and the reunification of Germany.
On December 20, 1989, he ordered a military invasion of Panama in order to topple the leader of the country, Gen. Manuel Noriega, and he had become notorious for his brutality and his involvement in the drug trade. During his presidency, he increased the debt by $1.4 trillion.

Barack Obama

US National Debt by President by Dollar and Percentage

In sixth place, it is Barack Obama (2009-2017).
Obama came to power just during the ongoing financial crisis that took off the year before. Because of this, it took a few expensive years for Obama. He had to fight the Great Recession with an $831 billion economic stimulus package and added $858 billion through tax cuts. The healthcare system that Obama introduced “Obama care” was also a lavish deal that landed at about $1.34 trillion. In total, the debt increased by $8.6 trillion, 74%.

Richard Nixon

US National Debt by President by Dollar and Percentage

The seventh US president who increased debt is Richard Nixon (1969-1974).
After successfully ending America fighting in Vietnam and improving international relations with the U.S.S.R. and China, he became the only president to resign his office, as a result of the Watergate scandal. During his presidency, he increased the debt by $177 billion.


For the nations, debt is a necessary part of their beginnings, and the US is not an exception. As you can see, the presidents that we mentioned on the list above actually have a common thing when it comes to debt, and that is war. War is no doubt really costly on many levels, not only to execute but also the consequence it causes to its own people.

In 2020 alone, the United States has spent $6.4 trillion on post 9/11 wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and other areas. This includes veteran care and disability, increases in the homeland security budget, interest payments on direct war borrowing, foreign assistance spending, and estimated future obligations for veteran care.

Of course, economic crises have also made a strong impression on the list as well, which leaves strong traces in the population and demands crisis packages to get the economy rolling again. And there is one thing that we can reckon now is that this term of office with the current president will probably be marked as the highest costs due to Covid-19, this unprecedented pandemic that has seriously affected the US so far. We will see.