Suddenly, U.S. taxpayers don't seem to be in such a giving mood anymore.

Taxpayers in recent years have voluntarily given the federal government a few million dollars a year to reduce the huge national debt. But at the start of fiscal year 2016, people seem to be keeping their money to themselves.

Whether people are feeling more tight in light of the stock market's recent plunge, fewer people working or a combination of factors, voluntary donations to the IRS are at the lowest point they've been early in the fiscal year since 2005.

According to the Treasury Department, people have donated just short of $40,000 for debt reduction in the first two months of the fiscal year, October and November of 2015.

That's a sharp reduction from the recent past. In the first two months of the last two fiscal years, people had already donated $200,000 to the IRS. In fiscal year 2013, $350,000 had already been donated in the same time period.

And in the year before that, nearly $1 million had been donated.

Even coming out of the great recession, donations were higher. In fiscal year 2009, $450,000 had been donated in the first two months.

 

Donations to the IRS can fluctuate wildly from month to month, and the IRS will often see a windfall month in which $1 million or more is donated to cut the deficit.

In September, for example, the last month of fiscal year 2015, the government got an anonymous donation for $2.2 million to reduce the debt, according to USA Today. That was more than half of the $3.8 million collected that year.

That November report from USA Today also said that Rep. Chris Gibson, R-N.Y., donates more than $4,000 each month, the same amount as his military pension. "He donates his military pension so he is not ... double-dipping," Gibson's press secretary said.

But even so, fiscal year 2016 is off to a terrible start.

Over the last decade, the IRS has seen an average donation of a little more than $130,000 per month. This year so far, the IRS got $24,000 in October, and $15,000 in November.

Voluntary contributions to the IRS seem to be drying up at the worst possible time. The national debt will hit $19 trillion any day now, and even during a good year, people donate just a few million dollars total to debt reduction.

That's just a drop in the bucket. At best, the donations cover roughly one or two thousandths of a percent of the debt the government piles up each year.

Taxpayers have been able to donate money to reduce the national debt since 1961, when Congress passed legislation allowing the practice. But in recent years, the idea has become quaint in an era of annual budget deficits in the range of several hundred billion dollars, or even more than $1 trillion under President Obama.

Way back in 2010, the New York Times wrote a story about people donating a few hundred dollars, or holding bake sales to reduce the debt. But even back then, Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., now a senator, said it's a waste of money.

"It's just good money after bad," he told the Times. Instead, he preferred legislation letting people donate up to 10 percent of their total tax bill toward reducing the debt.

Still, the IRS continues to promote the gifts, and notes all gifts are tax deductible.

"You can write a check payable to the Bureau of the Fiscal Service, and, in the memo section, notate that it's a gift to reduce the debt held by the public. Mail your check to:

Attn. Dept. G
Bureau of the Fiscal Service
P.O. Box 2188
Parkersburg, WV 26106-2188