WASHINGTON – The federal agency that insures bank deposits, which is asking for emergency powers to borrow up to $500 billion to take over failed banks, is facing a potential major shortfall in part because it collected no insurance premiums from most banks from 1996 to 2006.
The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, which insures deposits up to $250,000, tried for years to get congressional authority to collect the premiums in case of a looming crisis. But Congress believed that the fund was so well-capitalized – and that bank failures were so infrequent – that there was no need to collect the premiums for a decade, according to banking officials and analysts.
Now with 25 banks having failed last year, 17 so far this year, and many more expected in the coming months, the FDIC has proposed large new premiums for banks at the very time when many can least afford to pay. The agency collected $3 billion in the fees last year and has proposed collecting up to $27 billion this year, prompting an outcry from some banks that say it will force them to raise consumer fees and curtail lending.
To possibly reduce the fee increase, the FDIC has asked Congress for the temporary authority to borrow as much as $500 billion from the US Treasury – up from the current $30 billion limit – in case the number of bank failures increases even more dramatically. If Congress approves the measure, to borrow more than $100 billion, the FDIC would still need permission from the Federal Reserve, the Treasury Department, and the White House.
Are we at “perfect storm” levels yet, or do we need one more colossal instance of incompetence and/or corruption to push us over the edge?