The national debt is growing at a rate of some $4 billion a day. But the United States Treasury has a simple solution for how you can help: spend more. Just put the federal debt on your personal credit card. You can pay for it later.
With as little effort as a few mouse clicks, private citizens can give Uncle Sam their spare change -- or their bank account numbers. Since 1961, the Treasury's Bureau of the Public Debt has accepted public donations. Donors can send the bureau cash or make out a check and include it with their tax returns. Direct deposits from checking or savings accounts are also accepted.
And though many Americans are struggling to keep up with their own bills under a slumping economy, potential donors need not worry. In January 2010, the Bureau of the Public Debt added an online credit card payment option that accepts Visa, MasterCard, American Express and Discover cards.
As the national debt threatens to bust through the $14.3 trillion debt ceiling, the fiscally watchful on both sides of the aisle are making the case for substantially cutting spending.
"We've maxed out our credit card - the U.S. taxpayer has - and so I think we're asking the public to make a credit card contribution to max out their credit card," quips Steve Ellis, vice president of the nonpartisan budget watchdog Taxpayers for Common Sense.
But a spokesperson for the Bureau of the Public Debt told Fox News that the government isn't encouraging the public to take on personal debt to pay off the federal debt. It's simply trying to streamline the donation process for people who want to contribute.
"Over the years, I think that the interest of wanting to pay back the debt came from the public. And so now, with the option of the Internet, it just gives you another medium to reduce the public debt. I mean obviously, people are using that route," the spokesperson said of the credit card option. "It's clearly ... voluntary."
Ellis agreed that a new avenue for people to contribute to the national debt isn't necessarily a bad thing.
"If taxpayers want to step up and make a greater contribution, and they are able to, it's important that we allow that," Ellis said. "Credit cards are a tool people use for all sorts of things ... Just because someone makes a credit card contribution, it doesn't mean they're not paying it down that month."
Josh Gordon, policy director for the Concord Coalition, a nonpartisan organization that advocates for fiscal responsibility, said the Treasury isn't doing anything that private charities don't.
"They're in a tough position," he said. "The federal government doesn't want to be in a position where they're turning away taxpayer dollars, and I can see how citizenry would get upset if they want to pay more and aren't able to do that."
Figures on how much money the bureau has received via credit card payments were not immediately available. According to records posted on Treasury's website, the Bureau of the Public Debt received just over $2.8 million in donations in fiscal year 2010, the first year it has accepted credit card payments. That's just under the $3,063,057.05 donated in 2009. Public donations in the past 10 years have ranged between a total of around $600,000 to just over $3 million.
But even $3 million in donations amounts to about 2/100,000ths of 1 percent of the national debt.
"For the average person, I do not think it's very effective," Gordon said when asked whether direct donations are the best way for the public to help pay off federal debt.
"You can put that to other charities, either related to fiscal or political advocacy, or do something for your community. I think you probably get a bigger bang for your buck doing that."
The national debt passed the $14 trillion mark on Dec. 31.