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If Congress doesn’t raise the debt ceiling, what does that mean for you?

September 28, 2021, 6:30 PM UTC

Janet Yellen sounded the alarm for Congress Tuesday, warning that the U.S. Treasury will run out of cash around Oct. 18 if the federal debt limit is not suspended or increased.

Republican Senators and House Democrats remain at odds, setting the stage for a second high-stakes government face-off, on top of the looming possible federal government shutdown.

What kind of effect would a debt ceiling default have on the average person? A pretty major one if you rely on the government for regular checks. Here are some of the potential impacts:

Will I still get my social security check if the debt ceiling isn’t raised or suspended?

You might not. By defaulting on the debt ceiling, the government will not be able to borrow to pay for operations, which could result in a delay for Social Security checks. Yellen, in an op-ed that appeared in The Wall Street Journal, said “nearly 50 million seniors could stop receiving Social Security checks for a time.” And the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare recently warned benefit checks could be delayed for weeks (and possibly longer) if Congress doesn’t act on the debt limit.

The money will still be there, since Social Security funds are separate from the government’s operating fund. But disbursing them could run into delays. It is worth noting, though, that the Social Security Administration has never missed a payment since its foundation in 1935.

Will government employees receive paychecks if the debt ceiling isn’t raised or suspended?

Federal employees, including the military, are paid, naturally, by the government. Failing to raise or suspend the debt ceiling effectively means the government can’t pay its bills, meaning paychecks possibly would be suspended until the situation is resolved.

Would failing to raise or suspend the debt ceiling affect my veterans’ benefits?

Veterans would be affected by the debt crisis as well. Millions rely on pension payments to supplement their income—or as their sole source of income. Those payments would likely lapse if the situation is not resolved by Oct. 18.

Will my monthly child tax credit still arrive?

Probably not on time. Yellen warned that the millions of people who rely on the monthly checks of up to $300 per child will experience delays.

How would a debt ceiling crisis impact Medicare?

Much like Social Security, it’s possible. The federal debt includes Medicare payments and the debt limit allows this program to be financed. Should the limit not be raised or suspended, it could cause delays in Medicare payments.

What impact would a U.S. default have on my stock portfolio?

That’s what analysts are trying to figure out now. The uncertainty over the debt ceiling and the possibility of a federal shutdown have certainly contributed to the stock market’s recent drops. Moody’s Analytics warned on Tuesday that a default would be “catastrophic” and said it could cut stock prices by as much as one-third, eliminating $15 trillion in household wealth.

What are the odds of a debt ceiling default really happening?

House Democrats have passed a stopgap spending bill that would keep the government running through December, which includes suspending the debt limit through December 2022. Senate Republicans, though, are strongly opposing the plan. Mitch McConnell has said the GOP will not support raising the debt limit.

Democrats need 10 Senate Republicans to jump the aisle for the bill to succeed, which doesn’t look likely at present. McConnell has suggested Democrats shift the debt ceiling language to their budget reconciliation package, which doesn’t need any Republican votes. Democrats are pushing for a bipartisan agreement, though.

It’s a political game of chicken, but the odds of a default do seem to be increasing.

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