WASHINGTON - The federal government on Thursday reported a rare surplus of $116.5 billion in June, the largest for a single month in five years. The gain kept the nation on track for its lowest annual deficit in five years.
The June surplus was due in part to $66.3 billion in dividend payments from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The mortgage giants were taken over by the government at the height of the 2008 financial crisis and now are repaying taxpayers for the massive bailouts they received.
Through the first eight months of the budget year, the deficit has totaled $509.8 billion, according to the Treasury. That's nearly $400 billion lower than the same period last year.
The Congressional Budget Office forecasts the annual deficit will be $670 billion when the budget year ends on Sept. 30.
If correct, that would be well below last year's deficit of $1.09 trillion and the lowest since President Barack Obama took office. It still would be the fifth-largest deficit in U.S. history.
The Obama administration also estimates a lower annual deficit, although it projects a slightly higher figure of $759 billion.
Steady economic growth and higher tax rates have boosted the government's tax revenue this year. At the same time, government spending has fallen. The dividend payments from Fannie and Freddie also have helped.
The government has collected $2.09 trillion in revenue so far this budget year, according to the June report. That's 14 percent more than the first eight months of the previous budget year.
It has spent $2.6 trillion so far, or nearly 5 percent less than the same stretch last year. The decline partly reflects the impact of the automatic spending cuts that began in March. Defense spending is down 7 percent. A better job market also has helped lower spending for unemployment benefits almost 25 percent.
Interest payments on debt are 4 percent lower than the same period last year. The improvement reflects record-low interest rates. But those payments will rise in coming years as the Federal Reserve allows interest rates to return to more normal levels.
The federal deficit represents the annual difference between the government's spending and the tax revenues it takes in.
Each deficit contributes to the national debt, currently $16.7 trillion.
The improving deficit picture has taken pressure off negotiations to raise the federal borrowing limit, although that battle is likely to resurface in the fall. Obama has remained at odds with Republicans over cutting benefit programs and imposing further tax increases.