Got Money Troubles?

Two Steps to Financial Recovery

2008 Economic Bill Highlights

After two full weeks of fiscal debate, Congress and the Bush administration finally passed the $700 billion bailout of the credit system.

The following is a summary of it's major parts:

Infusing credit: The intent and focus of the plan is to let banks and lenders sell to the government their troubled assets, mostly mortgage-related. It will allow the Treasury access to the $700 billion in stages, with $250 billion being made available immediately.

Taxpayer Protection: The final law includes a number of provisions that supporters say will protect taxpayers. One will direct the president to propose a bill requiring the financial industry to reimburse taxpayers for any net losses from the program after five years. And the Treasury will be allowed to take ownership stakes in participating companies.

In addition, over time, taxpayers are likely to make back much if not all of the money the Treasury uses because it will be investing in assets with underlying value.

The law includes a stipulation that the Treasury set up an insurance program - to be funded with risk-based premiums paid by the industry - to guarantee companies' troubled assets, including mortgage-backed securities, purchased before March 14, 2008.

Executive pay: The law will place limits on executive pay for companies selling assets or buying insurance from the Federal government. For example, any bonus or incentive paid to a senior executive officer for targets met will have to be repaid if it's later proven that earnings or profit statements were inaccurate. This is going to be an area of intense litigation.

Federal Oversight: The rescue plan will set up two oversight committees.

A Financial Stability Board will include the Federal Reserve chairman, the Securities and Exchange Commission chairman, the Federal Home Finance Agency director, the Housing and Urban Development secretary and the Treasury secretary.

A congressional oversight panel, to which the Financial Stability Board will report, will have five members appointed by House and Senate leadership from both parties.

Tax Benefits: The Senate-version of the bill that the House passed on Friday included three key tax elements designed to attract House Republican votes.

It extends a number of renewable energy tax breaks for individuals and businesses, including a deduction for the purchase of solar panels.

The law also continues a host of other expiring tax breaks. Among them: the research and development credit for businesses and the credit that allows individuals to deduct state and local sales taxes on their federal returns.

In addition, the law includes relief for another year from the Alternative Minimum Tax, without which millions of Americans would have to pay the so-called "income tax for the wealthy."

Higher FDIC protection: The law  raises the FDIC insurance cap to $250,000 from $100,000. It allows the FDIC to borrow from the Treasury to cover any losses that might occur as a result of the higher insurance limit.

Federal bank regulators, who first floated the idea to Congress late Tuesday, said that bumping up the insurance limits will help improve liquidity at banks across the country. It may also provide a much-needed dose of confidence for consumers who may be worried about the health of their bank.
The plan will also temporarily increase the level of federal insurance for credit union savings to $250,000.

Foreclosures: The new law calls on federal agencies to encourage loan servicers to modify mortgages by a number of means - including reducing the principal or interest rate. It also extends a temporary provision that exempts from federal income tax any debt forgiven by a bank to a borrower in a foreclosure.

Cost: The law's tax provisions - the bulk of which come from the addition of tax breaks from other legislation - may reduce federal tax revenue by $110 billion over 10 years, according to estimates from the Joint Committee on Taxation. More than half of that is due to the one-year extension of AMT relief.

The Congressional Budget Office said it cannot estimate the net budget effects of the troubled asset program because of the many unknowns about that piece of the bill. However, the agency noted in a letter to lawmakers on Wednesday, it expects the program "would entail some net budget cost" but that it would be "substantially smaller than $700 billion."