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Introduction to Treasury Securities

To understand the U.S. debt, you need to know about the different forms debt takes. In general, debt is in the form of Treasury securities including Treasury bills, notes, bonds, Treasury inflation-protected securities (TIPS), and savings bonds. Some debt is held by Government agencies. The rest is held by the public.

Most types of Treasury securities, like Treasury bills, notes, bonds, and TIPS, are called "marketable" securities because they can be bought and sold, by an adult, in the secondary market after they are purchased from the Treasury.  Savings bonds are “non-marketable” securities because they are registered to a specific owner (which could be a kid), and cannot be bought and sold to other people in the secondary market by brokers and dealers.

Note: Although we show images of different paper securities throughout our website, it’s worth noting that, except for Savings Bonds, all Treasury securities have been issued only in electronic form since 1986.

The debt ceiling is the maximum amount of debt the government can have.