Who do we owe?

Any sane person knows excessive debt is bad news. Just watch the foreclosure rate rise each month and feel your heartbeat start racing. And then there’s credit cards: Those lenders understand the rule of compound interest so much better than the rest of us that we might end up paying double, triple or quadruple the price of that iPod (counting interest) if we’re not careful to pay off the balance quickly.

But what about the national debt? It’s one thing to owe MBNA or Citibank—but who does the United States owe? We can’t just check the FICA score for the federal government to find out. But according to the U.S. Treasury Department’s figures for March of this year, the U.S. debt to foreign nations comes to a total of $2.2 trillion. The big players look like this:

Japan: 28 percent

China: (mainland and Hong Kong) 22 percent

United Kingdom: 7 percent

oil-exporting nations: 5 percent*

Caribbean banking centers: 4 percent**

All other nations: (1 percent or less owed to each) 34 percent

*Oil exporting nations: Ecuador, Venezuela, Indonesia, Bahrain, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Algeria, Gabon, Libya and Nigeria.

**Caribbean banking centers: Bahamas, Bermuda, Cayman Islands, Netherlands Antilles and Panama.

Source: U.S. Department of the Treasury