National Debt Clock Out of Room

ABC News’ Scott Mayerowitz reports: Do you know what you'd do with $10 trillion? Probably a lot of things -- but there's one thing you can't do with it: fit it on the famous national debt clock near Times Square.

With the country's national debt -- now at $9.8 trillion -- edging dangerously close to the $10 trillion mark, the debt clock is about to be replaced. As of now, it has room for only 13 digits, not the 14 required for $10 trillion.

“We had thought we would have a little more time,” said Douglas Durst, whose late father Seymour B. Durst, erected the sign in 1989, “We’re rewriting the software to deal with the current economic problems and are in the process of designing a new sign that will have more digits.”

The Durst Organization, a real estate firm, plans now to add two more digits to the clock. That means the debt clock could reach $999.9 trillion before it becomes obsolete -- that’s $999,999,999,999,999 in debt or about 100 times more than we have now.

Asked if that new maximum number was correct, Durst said,  “I think that’s right. The digits get so big” that he would have to write it out to confirm.

That’s a big change from September 2000 when the clock was actually shut down,  because the national debt was actually decreasing.

“We had a big ceremony shutting it down, draping it with an American flag,  saying we hope we never have to open it up again,” Durst said.

Well, less than two years later -- in July 2002 -- the clock was restarted.

As a temporary fix, the dollar sign will soon be moved over to make room for the "1" in $10 trillion. A new sign should appear at a later date.

Given today’s financial crisis and the amount of money the government is borrowing to keep the economy afloat,  the clock is expected to quickly climb even higher.

“Everything that’s happening,” Durst said, “is completely unexpected.”

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