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Top 10 Countries with Largest National Debt-to-GDP in 2018

July 26, 2017

5 min read

We live in a time where interest rates are at historic low levels in some of the world’s wealthiest nations. In some countries, interest rates have even been reduced to negative levels.

Low interest rates mean cheaper repayments, which makes it easier for governments, corporations and individual to borrow and service their debts. When a country’s national debt is reported, it’s a measure of the total amount a central government has borrowed and needs to repay.

Nevertheless, a country’s national debt is different from the debt that consumers typically take on via credit cards or their banks. Government debt is the account of all money that a nation’s central government has borrowed, but not yet paid back with taxes collected.

A government goes into debt when it fails to collect enough revenue and taxes to cover spending. That shortfall is called a deficit, but it adds to the national debt.

Learn: How is my debt different than a country’s debt? 

If you list the countries with the highest amounts of national debt by dollar value alone, the United States tops the list easily with more than US$19.86 trillion. China comes in second, with a gross national debt level of US$10.17 trillion, followed by Japan with US$9.08 trillion.

Yet, rather than list the top countries with the largest national debt by dollar value, a more meaningful metric for analysts is to see how countries rank based on their gross government debt-to-GDP ratio.

Here are the top 10 countries with the largest national debt-to-GDP ratios in 2017.

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1. Japan

Japan’s government debt is less than half that of the United States in terms of dollars. However, the Japanese national debt is more than twice its GDP, indicating that it may be in a difficult financial position.

The country’s economy is growing at a slower rate than economists have anticipated for years, consequently its central bank has resorted to negative interest rates in an effort to stimulate the economy.  While Japan’s current debt-to-GDP ratio is staggering, it has decreased from its record high of 250.4% in 2016.

2.  Greece

On the surface, Greece’s national debt of $379 billion US hardly seems smaller than most.  But its high debt-to-GDP ratio, high unemployment levels across the country, and the continuing struggle to keep up with existing debt repayments are problematic. International creditors have bailed out the country numerous times since its debt crisis  began in 2010, and government spending remains austere in an effort to get debt levels back under control.

3. Portugal

Portugal has been struggling through a financial crisis since 2010 and has received various bailouts from international creditors in the years since. While Portugal has reportedly returned to a level of fiscal health,  its level of national debt still exceeds its GDP, indicating that the nation’s financial woes are not yet over. At the end of 2016 Portugal recorded a government debt-to-GDP ratio of 130.4%. That percentage has risen to 138.08% by the middle of 2017. Portugal’s weak economy and slow growth throughout the third quarter of 2016 have sparked fears that the country may see its credit ratings downgraded in the near future.

4. Italy

The country is still struggling with slow economic growth and high unemployment levels, following a triple-dip recession in the years after 2007. Throughout the first quarter of 2017, Italy’s €17b banking crisis reared its head again after years of festering under the radar.

5. Bhutan

Bhutan is a small Asian country with close economic ties to India. The nation relies heavily on India for financial assistance, but also depends on the availability of foreign workers to support its infrastructure. At the end of 2016, Bhutan recorded a government debt-to-GDP ratio of 118.6%, an increase of 19.92% from its ratio of 98.9% at the end of the previous year.


6. Cyprus

Cyprus’s exposure to Greece caused a number of economic problems within the country. From 2012 to 2013, Cyprus experienced a financial crisis that was a combined result of Cypriot banks being over-exposed to over leveraged property companies and its proximity to the Greek financial crisis.

The country received an international bailout of €10 billion ($11.4 billion USD) in the first quarter of 2013 following the failure of its second-largest bank. Since that time its national debt-to-GDP ratio has slowly climbed from 102.2% in 2013 to 115.47% in mid-2017.

7. Belgium

Belgium is the seat of the wealthy Eurozone’s government. Yet the nation is still caught under the burden of high national debt levels. Belgium has few natural resources and is reliant on importing substantial quantities of raw materials. The country’s national debt-to-GDP ratio has been hovering above 105% since 2013.

8. United States of America

The United States is the world’s largest economy and it also has the highest level of national debt. While its national debt levels exceed the country’s GDP in 2017, in 2007, the U.S. debt-to-GDP ratio was at just 62.5%. The U.S. government spends around 6% of its annual budget just repaying the interest payments on its debt, which significantly reduces the amount of money available to pay for other programs. In order to repay such a massive debt, the government could decrease spending, which could impede economic growth, or increase taxes to raise revenue.

9. Spain

Spain’s economic woes have been well publicized in recent years, although experts predict the country’s economic growth will be robust throughout 2017. The level of national debt relative to GDP has been slowly decreasing over the past two years, but still remains a concern to economists.

10. Singapore

Singapore is considered one of the richest countries in the world, yet it has a high national debt-to-GDP ratio. The country’s economic growth slowed to 0.6% in 2016, its lowest level since the global financial crisis of 2008.

Throughout the first two quarters of 2017 it has been widely reported that the growth rate of Singapore’s economy is slowing further, with the country at risk of sinking into a  recession.


By Stash Team

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