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The U.S. debt clock: an important tool for advisors

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To successfully prepare our prospects and clients for the future, we must have a working knowledge of the economic challenges they will face. But in our increasingly complex world, the economic information we receive can be manipulated by politics or financial conflicts of interest. We must find information that we can trust. That information must be easy to understand and easy for our clients to access.

One tool I have recommended is the debt clock, which has helped me to inspire many prospects and clients to take action. I want to highlight it again in this column because some changes have been made to the site recently that have increased its value to me.

The debt clock provides very valuable (and free) information in one easy-to-use location.

An important benefit of the debt clock is its ability to show current values and compare them to values up to the year 2019. The clock also provides various ways to compare those predictions. It uses the Congressional Budget Office, the Office of Management and Budget, the House Committee on the Budget and the debt clock’s own numbers.

I use the debt clock to verify information for my clients and to develop great questions. Let’s review several examples of how to effectively use the debt clock.

According to the debt clock, federal tax revenues are currently $3.1 trillion. They will rise to between $3.8 and $4.1 trillion in just four years. That is a 30 percent increase. Ask your clients, “Who will they get that money from? People that don’t have any money or people who are already paying taxes?”

One particularly compelling part of the debt clock is the last column. It pegs the annual deficit not at $500 billion (as we’re commonly told) but rather $5 trillion-plus, the latter figure based on generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP). The clock also shows that the current Social Security liability is $14 trillion; and that our current Medicare liability is almost $28 trillion.

Using GAAP accounting, the federal government has unfunded liabilities of over $96 trillion. The government’s entire annual budget is only $4 trillion. How will they make up the shortfall?

The clock is also very useful for helping your prospects and clients to understand the true impact of certain statistics. Here are a few examples: 

Unemployment: Why is the unemployment rate going down if so many people are unemployed? The debt clock uses math to explain. There were 282 million people in the U.S. in 2000. At the time, we had a workforce of almost 154 million people.

Now, we have 320 million people, which is 38 million more. Yet there are only 149 million in the workforce. Thus, the unemployment rate decreases because fewer workers are divided into more citizens, not necessarily because there are more jobs.

Medicaid: The debt clock reveals that there are 74 million people on Medicaid. That is 23 percent of the population. What do you think will be the fastest growing expense for the federal and state governments moving forward? Where will the money come from?

Remember, ask your clients, don’t tell them. Will the government raise taxes, lower benefits or print more money? Will government action cause greater volatility that occurs more often? Ask clients how this information will affect them. Ask whether they want to take action to prevent these issues from hurting them.

The reason to ask rather than tell is very clear: Our prospects and clients have vivid imaginations. Allow them to imagine the consequences to their money. The debt clock will help them do that. 


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