Budget Deficit

How often do you make a budget for yourself and stick to it? What are the consequences of failing to follow your budget? Depending on your circumstances, going over budget can be trivial or consequential. Just like you, the government has its own budget to balance for an entire country, and sometimes, it might not be successful, leading to a deficit. Curious to learn about what occurs during a budget deficit and how it affects the economy? Our comprehensive guide covers topics such as what a budget deficit is, its causes, the formula to calculate it, the differences between budget deficit and fiscal deficit, and the concepts of cyclical and structural budget deficits. Moreover, we'll explore the broader implications of budget deficit economics, discuss the advantages and disadvantages of budget deficits, and examine practical ways to reduce them. So, settle in and get ready to master the ins and outs of budget deficits!

Budget Deficit Budget Deficit

Create learning materials about Budget Deficit with our free learning app!

  • Instand access to millions of learning materials
  • Flashcards, notes, mock-exams and more
  • Everything you need to ace your exams
Create a free account
Table of contents

    What is a Budget Deficit?

    A budget deficit occurs when a government's spending on public services, infrastructure, and other projects surpasses the revenue it generates (from taxes, fees, etc.). Although this financial imbalance may require borrowing or reducing savings, it can help governments invest in initiatives that provide long-term benefits to their citizens.

    A budget deficit is a fiscal situation in which a government's total expenditures exceed its total revenues over a specific period, resulting in a negative balance.

    Envision a country, where the government plans to improve its transportation system and healthcare facilities. The government collects $15 billion in taxes, but the projects cost $18 billion. In this case, the country experiences a budget deficit of $3 billion. However, having a deficit isn't always negative; investing in essential projects like these can lead to a more prosperous society and improved quality of life for its citizens.

    In contrast, a budget surplus occurs when the government's tax revenues are greater than its spending for a particular year.

    Budget surpluses occur when the government's tax revenues are greater than its spending for a particular year.

    After the fiscal year, any deficit the government has will be added to the national debt. The fact that deficits add to the national debt is a reason why many argue against prolonged deficits. However, if this is the case, why ever argue for a budget deficit?

    If the government utilizes an expansionary fiscal policy, then a budget deficit will likely occur. Expansionary fiscal policy will increase government spending and lower taxes to boost aggregate demand. This is desirable to address recessions, but will likely push the budget into a deficit. Therefore, it can be difficult to follow the rule of avoiding a deficit at all costs. If governments followed this rule of thumb, then there would be no action during recessionary periods, which could prolong the recession.

    As you can see, no "right" answer to the budget exists. Governments have to make difficult decisions based on the circumstances they are given at that point in time.

    Budget Deficit Causes

    Understanding the causes of a budget deficit is essential for addressing and mitigating its impact on the economy. Here are some common budget deficit causes:

    Economic downturns and rising unemployment

    Recessions and rising unemployment can lead to lower tax revenues and increased welfare spending. For example, during the 2008 financial crisis, many governments experienced decreased tax revenues as businesses struggled and unemployment rose, contributing to budget deficits.

    Decreased consumer spending

    A decrease in consumer spending results in less tax revenue for the government. During periods of economic uncertainty, consumers may cut back on their spending, leading to reduced sales tax revenue and exacerbating budget deficits.

    Increased government spending and fiscal stimulus

    Governments may increase spending on public services, infrastructure, or defense to stimulate economic growth or address pressing needs. Additionally, using fiscal stimulus to lift aggregate demand can contribute to budget deficits. During the COVID-19 pandemic, governments worldwide increased spending on healthcare, relief packages, and economic stimulus plans, leading to larger budget deficits.

    High interest payments

    Governments may have to make large interest payments on their existing debts, reducing the available funds for other expenses. An increase in interest rates can cause a rise in debt service costs, exacerbating budget deficits. Countries with high levels of public debt often allocate a significant portion of their budgets to service this debt.

    Demographic factors

    An ageing population or other demographic changes can lead to increased social services and healthcare spending, contributing to budget deficits. For example, many developed countries face the challenges of an ageing population, putting pressure on their pension systems and healthcare services.

    Unplanned Emergencies

    Natural disasters, public health crises, or military conflicts can strain a government's budget, leading to deficits. For instance, when Hurricane Katrina hit the United States in 2005, the government had to allocate significant funds for emergency response and recovery efforts, contributing to a budget deficit.

    In summary, budget deficit causes can include economic downturns and rising unemployment, decreased consumer spending, increased government spending and fiscal stimulus, high interest payments and rising interest rates, demographic factors, and unplanned emergencies. Recognizing and addressing these factors can help governments manage their budgets more effectively and maintain fiscal stability.

    Budget Deficit Formula

    Did you know there is a formula to calculate the budget deficit? If not, then today is your lucky day! Let's take a look at the budget deficit formula:

    \(\hbox{Deficit}=\hbox{Government Spending}-\hbox{Tax Revenues}\)

    What does the formula above tell us? The greater the government spending and the lower the tax revenues, the greater the deficit. In contrast, the lower the government spending and the greater the tax revenues, the lower the deficit will be — potentially even a surplus! Let's now take a look at an example that utilizes the formula above.

    The economy is in a recession and the government has to utilize expansionary fiscal policy. This will help address the recession but may increase the deficit by a large amount. The government is asking for your help to calculate what the deficit will be after this policy. The tax revenues are estimated to be $50 million, and the spending is estimated to be $75 million.

    First, set up the formula:

    \(\hbox{Deficit}=\hbox{Government Spending}-\hbox{Tax Revenues}\)

    Next, plug in the numbers:

    \(\hbox{Deficit}=\hbox{\$ 75 million}-\hbox{\$ 50 million}\)

    Lastly, calculate.

    \(\hbox{Deficit}=\hbox{\$ 25 million}\)

    We can say that given the numbers supplied by the government, the deficit will be $25 million after utilizing expansionary fiscal policy.

    It's always helpful to begin your calculation by writing down the formula you will be using!

    Budget Deficit vs Fiscal Deficit

    What is the difference between a budget deficit vs a fiscal deficit? It is a rather small distinction, but a distinction nonetheless. Recall that a budget deficit occurs when the government's tax revenue is lower than its spending. A fiscal deficit is merely a type of budget deficit. A fiscal deficit's main difference from a budget deficit is that every country has a different fiscal year. For example, the United States' fiscal year is from October 1 to September 30, whereas Canada's fiscal year is from April 1 to March 31. Depending on how each country classifies a fiscal year will determine its fiscal deficit or surplus.

    Cyclical Budget Deficit

    A cyclical budget deficit occurs when a government's spending exceeds its revenue due to temporary economic fluctuations, such as a recession. In simpler terms, it's a financial imbalance that arises during economic downturns and typically resolves when the economy recovers.

    A cyclical budget deficit is a fiscal imbalance in which a government's expenditures surpass its revenues due to short-term changes in economic activity, particularly during periods of economic contraction.

    Take a look at the example to better understand this concept:

    Let's take a country where the government's spending on public services and infrastructure generally matches its tax revenue. However, during an economic recession, tax revenue declines as businesses struggle and unemployment rises. As a result, the government spends more than it collects, creating a cyclical budget deficit. Once the economy recovers and tax revenue increases again, the budget deficit resolves and the government's spending and revenue become balanced.

    Structural Budget Deficit

    A structural budget deficit occurs when a government consistently spends more than it collects in revenue, regardless of whether the economy is in a period of growth or decline. In simpler terms, it's like a constant financial imbalance that remains even when the economy is booming and employment rates are high.

    A structural budget deficit is a persistent fiscal imbalance in which a government's expenditures exceed its revenues, irrespective of the current phase of the business cycle or the state of economic activity.

    Below is another example that will help you grasp the concept of structural budget deficit and it's difference from cyclical budget deficit.

    Imagine a country where the government consistently spends more on public services and infrastructure than it collects from taxes and other sources. This overspending occurs during economic downturns and when the country's economy is booming, and employment rates are high. In this scenario, the country faces a structural budget deficit, as the financial imbalance is not tied to the changing economic conditions but is instead a constant issue that needs to be addressed.

    Budget Deficit Economics

    Let's discuss the budget deficit in economics. A budget deficit can impact the economy, both good and bad. Let's look at a few of them.

    Crowding Out

    Crowding out can occur with a budget deficit. In order for the government to increase government spending, the government will have to borrow money from the loanable funds market to finance its spending. However, the loanable funds market is the same market that private businesses also use for their investments. Essentially, private businesses are competing with the government for loans in the same market. Who do you think is going to win that battle? The government will end up with a majority of the loans, leaving little for private businesses. This will cause the interest rate to increase for the few loans available. This phenomenon is known as crowding out.

    You may be thinking, isn't a major point of expansionary fiscal policy to increase investment? You would be correct; however, crowding out can be an unintended consequence of deficit spending. Therefore, it's important for the government to recognize this potential problem when increasing government spending during recessions.

    Crowding Out occurs when the government needs to borrow from the loanable funds market to finance their increased government spending, leading to increased interest rates for private businesses.

    Defaulting on Debt

    Defaulting on debt can also occur with budget deficits. If the government runs prolonged and large deficits year after year, it can catch up to them and cause catastrophic issues for the economy. For example, if the United States continually runs budget deficits, it can finance it in one of two ways: increase taxes or continue to borrow money. Increasing taxes is very unpopular and could deter the government from taking this route. This leads to the other option of borrowing money.

    If the United States continues borrowing without paying its debts, the United States can eventually default on its debt. Think about yourself, if you continue to borrow instead of paying off your debts, what would happen to you? The same principle applies to governments, and it can produce bad outcomes!

    Advantages and Disadvantages of Budget Deficit

    Budget deficits can have both positive and negative implications for a country's economy. While they may contribute to economic growth and development, they can also lead to financial instability and other economic challenges. In this context, it's essential to evaluate the advantages and disadvantages of budget deficits to make informed fiscal decisions.

    Table 1. Advantages and disadvantages of budget deficits
    Economic stimulusIncreased public debt
    Investment in infrastructure and public servicesHigher interest rates
    Economic stabilization of counter-cyclical fiscal policy Inflation

    Advantages of Budget Deficits

    A budget deficit can sometimes serve as a powerful tool for promoting economic growth and addressing pressing social needs. Here are some advantages of budget deficits:

    Economic Stimulus

    Deficit spending can help stimulate economic growth during a recession by increasing aggregate demand, creating jobs, and boosting consumer spending.

    Investment in Infrastructure

    Budget deficits can finance essential investments in infrastructure, education, and healthcare, which can lead to long-term economic growth and improved quality of life.

    Countercyclical Fiscal Policy

    Deficit spending can help stabilize the economy during economic downturns by acting as a countercyclical fiscal policy, reducing the severity and duration of recessions.

    Disadvantages of Budget Deficits

    On the other hand, budget deficits can also have negative consequences on the economy and financial stability. Here are some disadvantages of budget deficits:

    Increased Public Debt

    Persistent budget deficits can lead to a rise in public debt, which can burden future generations with higher taxes and reduced public services.

    Higher Interest Rates

    Increased government borrowing can result in higher interest rates, making it more expensive for businesses and consumers to borrow money, potentially slowing down economic growth.


    Financing budget deficits by printing more money can lead to inflation, eroding the purchasing power of consumers and negatively affecting the overall economy.

    In summary, budget deficits offer advantages such as economic stimulus, investment in infrastructure, and countercyclical fiscal policy, while also presenting disadvantages like increased public debt, higher interest rates, and inflation. By carefully considering these factors, policymakers can strike the right balance between the benefits and drawbacks of budget deficits to achieve sustainable economic growth and fiscal stability.

    How to Reduce a Budget Deficit?

    Let's examine some ways the government can reduce a budget deficit.

    Increasing Taxes

    Tax increases can help reduce a budget deficit. To see why this is, recall the formula for calculating a budget deficit.

    \(\hbox{Budget Deficit}=\hbox{Government Spending}-\hbox{Tax Revenues}\)

    Budget deficits occur when there is high government spending and low tax revenues. By increasing taxes, the government will be receiving more tax revenues which can offset the high government spending. The downside to this is the unpopularity of high taxes. Most people will have a negative reaction to the government increasing taxes, even if it is for lowering the deficit. Regardless, it is still effective at doing so. Using the same formula, let's go over an example of tax increases lowering the budget deficit.

    The current budget deficit is $100 million. Government spending is $150 million and tax revenues are $50 million. If the government increases taxes to receive an additional $50 in tax revenue, how will the budget deficit be affected?

    \(\hbox{Budget Deficit}=\hbox{Government Spending}-\hbox{Tax Revenues}\)

    \(\hbox{Budget Deficit}=\hbox{\$150 million}-\hbox{\$50 million}=\hbox{\$100 million}\)

    Tax revenue increase

    \(\hbox{BUdget Deficit}=\hbox{\$150 million}-\hbox{\$100 million}=\hbox{\$50 million}\)

    Therefore, the budget deficit decreased by $50 million after the tax increase.

    Now let's take a look at the other way to reduce the budget deficit.

    Decreasing Government Spending

    Decreasing government spending can also help in reducing the budget deficit. To see why this is, we will look at the budget deficit formula once more:

    \(\hbox{Budget Deficit}=\hbox{Government Spending}-\hbox{Tax Revenues}\)

    If the government does not want to increase taxes due to public disapproval, the government can instead reduce government spending to reduce the budget deficit. This can also be unpopular with this public, since decreasing government spending could decrease spending on popular programs that people enjoy, such as Medicare. However, decreasing government spending can potentially be more favorable than tax increases.

    The current budget deficit is $150 million. Government spending is $200 million and tax revenues are $50 million. If the government decreases government spending by $100 million, how will the budget deficit be impacted?

    \(\hbox{Budget Deficit}=\hbox{Government Spending}-\hbox{Tax Revenues}\)

    \(\hbox{Budget Deficit}=\hbox{\$200 million}-\hbox{\$50 million}=\hbox{\$150 million}\)

    Government spending decrease:

    \(\hbox{Budget Deficit}=\hbox{\$100 million}-\hbox{\$50 million}=\hbox{\$50 million}\)

    Therefore, the budget deficit will decrease by $100 million after the decrease in government spending.

    Budget Deficit Graph Showing the US Budget Deficit and Recessions Between the Years 1980 and 2020 StudySmarterFig. 1 - U.S. Budget Deficit and Recessions. Source: Congressional Budget Office1

    The graph above shows the U.S. budget deficit and recessions from 1980–2020. As you can see, the United States has seldom been in a budget surplus in the past 40 years! Only in 2000 did we see a minor budget surplus. Additionally, the budget deficits seem to increase the most when recessions are present — most notably in 2009 and 2020.

    Budget Deficit - Key takeaways

    • A budget deficit occurs when a government's spending exceeds its revenue, while a budget surplus arises when its tax revenues are greater than its spending.
    • Budget deficits can result from various factors, including economic downturns, decreased consumer spending, increased government spending, high interest payments, demographic factors, and unplanned emergencies.
    • Expansionary fiscal policy can contribute to budget deficits by increasing government spending and lowering taxes, but it can help address recessions and boost economic growth.
    • Budget deficits can have both advantages, such as economic stimulus, investment in infrastructure, and countercyclical fiscal policy, and disadvantages, like increased public debt, higher interest rates, and inflation.
    • Crowding out is a potential consequence of budget deficits, as increased government borrowing can lead to higher interest rates for private businesses, negatively impacting investment.
    • Prolonged and large budget deficits can increase the risk of a government defaulting on its debt, which can have severe economic consequences.
    • Reducing a budget deficit can involve increasing taxes, decreasing government spending, or a combination of both approaches.


    1. Congressional Budget Office, Budget and Economic Data, https://www.cbo.gov/data/budget-economic-data#11
    Frequently Asked Questions about Budget Deficit

    What is a budget deficit example?

    The government plans to spend $50 million and collect $40 million in tax revenues. The deficit is $10 million.

    What causes a budget deficit?

    A budget deficit is caused by increased government spending and low tax revenues.

    What does budget deficit mean?

    A budget deficit means that the government is spending more than they collect in tax revenues.

    What is the effect of budget deficit?

    The effect of a budget deficit can vary. It can be used to address recessions, but prolonged use can engender other problems, such as defaulting on debt or inflation.

    What is the difference between the federal budget deficit and federal government debt?

    If the government has a budget deficit at the end of the year, it is added to the government debt. The government debt is an accumulation of budget deficits.

    What is the definition of budget deficit?

    A budget deficit definition in economics is as follows:

    A budget deficit is a fiscal situation in which a government's total expenditures exceed its total revenues over a specific period, resulting in a negative balance.

     How does a budget deficit affect interest rates? 

    A budget deficit can increase government borrowing, causing higher interest rates for businesses and consumers.

    How to calculate budget deficit?

    To calculate a budget deficit, subtract tax revenues from government spending.

    How to finance a budget deficit?

    Financing a budget deficit typically involves borrowing money, increasing taxes, or printing more money.

    Is a budget deficit bad?

    A budget deficit is not inherently bad, as it can stimulate economic growth and fund essential projects, but persistent deficits can negatively affect the economy.

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    True or False: a government cannot default on its debt.

    True or False: Crowding out rarely occurs since the government does NOT borrow from the loanable funds market.

    True or False: Tax increases can help lower a budget deficit.

    About StudySmarter

    StudySmarter is a globally recognized educational technology company, offering a holistic learning platform designed for students of all ages and educational levels. Our platform provides learning support for a wide range of subjects, including STEM, Social Sciences, and Languages and also helps students to successfully master various tests and exams worldwide, such as GCSE, A Level, SAT, ACT, Abitur, and more. We offer an extensive library of learning materials, including interactive flashcards, comprehensive textbook solutions, and detailed explanations. The cutting-edge technology and tools we provide help students create their own learning materials. StudySmarter’s content is not only expert-verified but also regularly updated to ensure accuracy and relevance.

    Learn more
    StudySmarter Editorial Team

    Team Budget Deficit Teachers

    • 16 minutes reading time
    • Checked by StudySmarter Editorial Team
    Save Explanation

    Study anywhere. Anytime.Across all devices.

    Sign-up for free

    Sign up to highlight and take notes. It’s 100% free.

    Join over 22 million students in learning with our StudySmarter App

    The first learning app that truly has everything you need to ace your exams in one place

    • Flashcards & Quizzes
    • AI Study Assistant
    • Study Planner
    • Mock-Exams
    • Smart Note-Taking
    Join over 22 million students in learning with our StudySmarter App