If social security funds are held in a trust fund, why would not raising the debt ceiling impact social security payments? Wouldn't the trust fund be paying the beneficiaries from its reserves? At least certainly for the short period of time until a debt ceiling agreement was reached? I mean, the two parties generally cave after a very short period of time and pass a new bill.

The context here is the current battle in congress. One of the points of FUD is that if the debt ceiling isn't increased, seniors and those on disability may not receive their social security check. My question pertains to if social security is supposedly funded by holdings in the Social Security Trust Fund, which one would expect to be a reserved bucket of cash and other equitable holdings, then why wouldn't payments be made to those on SS from that trust fund, at least for the short duration of a potential debt ceiling impasse.

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    Can you provide more context (can be an external article)? This seems related to the current US events and the question should also make sense for future readers.
    – Alexei
    Commented May 25, 2023 at 11:17
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    "from it's reserves" Maybe there are none. Commented May 25, 2023 at 12:12
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    Social Security checks are issued by the US Treasury, the same as any other obligation of the US. The 'trust fund' metaphor is more like a budget line than a separate account with its own payment mechanism. Commented May 25, 2023 at 12:27
  • This doesn't look like a duplicate of that other question at all. It is specifically about the relationship between social security and the debt ceiling, which isn't really addressed in the other question. Furthermore, this is an interesting and widely misunderstood subject. It looks to me like stopping social security payments would actually exacerbate the debt ceiling situation by causing funds to accumulate in the social security trust fund, which counts toward the debt ceiling. Perhaps there is a mechanism for preventing this that I'm not seeing; either way it deserves a discussion.
    – Nobody
    Commented May 30, 2023 at 15:02

1 Answer 1


According to Wikipedia, as of 2022, the "trust fund" for social security was owed $2.7 trillion. The rest of the government basically "borrows" from the fund in order to be able to show less debt and deficit on the books.

That is to say, the trust fund is not just empty. It is a giant debt.

  • according to usdebtclock.org, the number you give is a little low... 1 order of magnitude low, at least in terms of liabilities. I don't know if that means debt...
    – Questor
    Commented May 25, 2023 at 16:40
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    Strictly speaking, the Social Security trust fund is funded with ledger entry Treasury bonds. Physically (according to an article in the Washington Post a few years ago), those ledger entries are on an old school pre-GUI PC without an Internet connection in a windowless office just barely bigger than a closet with a dot matrix print in an office building in the main office building of the Treasury Department in Washington D.C. It is maintained by a senior civil servant in the department.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented May 25, 2023 at 16:44
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    @Questor It is a highly non-trivial question and depends quite strongly on the assumptions and time scale involved.
    – Boba Fit
    Commented May 25, 2023 at 17:37

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