When it comes to non-private debt, I hear these three terms the most, but I am not sure if they're interchangeable or discernible. Also, are they recorded in the balance of payments? I'm guessing if they are, they'd be recorded in the transfers part of the current account and the capital and financial accounts.

I understand that this is a duplicate question, but my previous question had no contributions other than my own, so I figure it would be sensible to repeat it.


2 Answers 2


With all these types of debt, there are various descriptions rather than standard definitions, and sometimes the same thing can be labelled with different names or the same name used for different things. In addition, they can be measure gross or net, and there will be questions of how money owed by one part of the public sector to another is treated.

  • National debt can mean the debt of the national or central government. This is how it was used for example with the debt the British government built up during the Napoleonic wars, which became the risk-free asset basis of 19th century banking

  • Government debt can mean the combined debt of different layers of government, so combines national, municipal and other levels

  • Public debt may include government debt and debt of other parts of the public sector, such as public corporations

None of these explicitly appear in the balance of payments statistics, especially as most public debt is owed to the domestic private sector.

What does appear is in the international investment position, where all debts (public or private) owed to foreign residents or governments appear as liabilities. Payments of interest to foreigners count as debits in the primary income part of the current account, while borrowing or repayments of principal are flows in the financial account.


They are all interchangeable terms, as stated on wikipedia

Government debt (also known as public debt, national debt and sovereign debt) is the debt owed by a central government.

However the site makes some exceptions for the term "government debt"

(In federal states, "government debt" may also refer to the debt of a state or provincial, municipal or local government.) By contrast, the annual "government deficit" refers to the difference between government receipts and spending in a single year.

Hope this helps

  • $\begingroup$ There's also "sovereign debt", often used by Americans to refer to the public debt of other countries. And then there's "federal debt", which could be defined a bit differently (but often isn't) and (obviously) applies only to countries with a federal government. $\endgroup$
    – PatrickT
    Commented Apr 29 at 5:34

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