Congress has never willfully let the United States default on any of its legal obligations. So it's impossible to say with certainty what will happen if lawmakers don't approve a debt ceiling increase soon.
But this much is certain: If Congress fails to act, the Treasury Department won't be able to borrow new money and will soon be strapped for cash to pay all the country's bills coming due.
Here's what many believe is at risk if lawmakers do decide to test the waters of default:
Your job --Recessions kill jobs. And a recession is what economists predict will happen if the Treasury Department is allowed to fall short of the cash needed to pay incoming bills this month and lawmakers don't raise the debt ceiling for weeks thereafter.
That would force Congress to abruptly slash spending or hike taxes to such an extent that it would slam the brakes on growth.
Your loans --If stocks start to tank, that could send investors racing into Treasury bonds in pursuit of a safe place to put their money.
If Treasury rates rise, rates on mortgages, small business loans and other consumer loans would trek higher "with many losing access to credit altogether," according to a fact sheet from Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association of America.
Your nest egg -- There's good reason to think the stock market could drop precipitously.
In summer 2011, Congress fought bitterly about the debt ceiling for months before raising the nation's borrowing limit on Aug. 2, barely averting a default. Stocks got walloped, and Standard & Poor's called foul anyway and stripped the United States of its sterling AAA credit rating three days later.
Your safety net -- The Treasury has said it will be very difficult, if not impossible, to prioritize some payments over others, if it can't pay everyone on time.
Some of the biggest single payments that come due in a given month are Social Security benefits. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew has already raised the specter of those not being paid on time if Congress doesn't raise the debt ceiling.
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