Why the FDIC won’t run out of money

By Felix Salmon
August 17, 2009
running low, there's a fair amount of confusion out there about whether the FDIC can run out of money. The answer is no, it can't. The insurance fund might be down to its last $13 billion, but that number is really useful only for accounting purposes. There's a government guarantee on bank deposits; the FDIC is merely the arm of the government which administers that guarantee and tries to make sure, by charging banks insurance premiums, that it doesn't cost the taxpayer any money over the long term.

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With the FDIC insurance fund running low, there’s a fair amount of confusion out there about whether the FDIC can run out of money. The answer is no, it can’t. The insurance fund might be down to its last $13 billion, but that number is really useful only for accounting purposes. There’s a government guarantee on bank deposits; the FDIC is merely the arm of the government which administers that guarantee and tries to make sure, by charging banks insurance premiums, that it doesn’t cost the taxpayer any money over the long term.

Joe Weisenthal, this morning, says that we needn’t worry about the FDIC’s money running out because “Congress will replenish the FDIC instantly” — implying that there’s at least the possibility that Congress wouldn’t replenish the FDIC. But that’s not the case. In May, President Obama signed a bill providing the FDIC with as much as $500 billion in credit at the Treasury — more than enough to cover anybody’s bank-failure worst-case scenario. That bill is now a law, which means that Congress needs to do nothing in the event that the FDIC’s funds go to zero.

I wish that the reporting on the FDIC insurance fund were clearer on this front: it’s basically just a way of keeping score, and working out whether the cost of FDIC bailouts is greater than or less than the insurance premiums that the FDIC has received from the banking industry. It has no bearing at all on the FDIC’s ability to backstop bank deposits.

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