Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP): Bailout Breakdown

Table of Contents

TARP Troubled Asset Relief Program

What is TARP?

In an effort to stabilize the economy during the 2008 financial crisis, Congress authorized the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) as part of the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008. TARP was initially intended to bail out only banking institutions but later extended to other industries.

The U.S. Department of the Treasury was initially slated to have $700 billion in bailout funds, but that later got reduced to $475 billion with the enactment of the Dodd-Frank Act. Congress, as a consequence of printing such massive amounts of money, had to raise the debt ceiling to $11.3 trillion

In this article, the Zero Theft Movement will cover:

  • TARP’s five bailout program areas
  • The recovery of TARP funds and the legacy of the program

TARP’s Five Bailout Program Areas

The TARP was initially devised to provide capital to failing banks by purchasing their unwanted shares and bonds. But the instability across the economy led to TARP bailout programs eventually expanding to other industries.

The Treasury Department allocated the funds into five program areas:

  • About $250 billion to stabilize banking institutions 
  • Approximately $27 billion to restart credit markets
  • About $82 billion to stabilize the U.S. automotive industry
  • Around $70 billion to stabilize American International Group (AIG)
  • Approximately $46 billion to help struggling families avoid foreclosure, with these expenditures extended over time

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Don’t believe us? See what your fellow citizens are saying on Zero Theft…

The Capital Purchase Program

On October 14, 2008, the Treasury Department launched the Capital Purchase Program (CPP) to provide capital to banks on the verge of collapse. While the department had expected the effort to cost $250 billion, it ended up costing about $205 billion.

The Treasury Department primarily used around half of the money to purchase preferred stock (generally stock that does not come with ownership or voting rights) or debt securities from financial institutions of varying size. According to the department’s overview linked above, “707 financial institutions in 48 states, including more than 450 small and community banks and 22 certified community development financial institutions (CDFIs). The largest investment was $25 billion and the smallest was $301,000.” 

The following eight major banks received around half of the CPP funds:

  • Bank of America (acquired Merrill Lynch)
  • Bank of New York Mellon
  • Citigroup
  • Goldman Sachs
  • J.P. Morgan
  • Morgan Stanley
  • State Street
  • Wells Fargo (acquired Wachovia)

It bears noting that these funds were not grants. Most financial institutions receiving aid had to pay the Treasury a 5% dividend on preferred shares for the first five years, and 9% every year after. The 4% jump in interest would incentivize financial institutions to buy back their stocks from the government within a reasonable timeframe. 

Alongside the investment in preferred stocks, the Treasury Department also received warrants to buy common shares and other securities from the banks. But why buy more stocks of failing companies? One of the basic principles of investing is to buy low and sell high. By investing billions in capital through stock purchases, the Treasury Department helped banks recover their value while enabling taxpayers to reap the returns on the investments.

Credit Market Restart

After Lehman Brothers collapsed in September, 2008, credit markets were frozen. This freeze happened because many major financial institutions had been involved in the high-risk lending, primarily collateralized debt obligations (CDOs).

That high-risk borrowing majorly contributed to the crisis. 

When a credit freeze occurs, consumers and small businesses experience difficulty acquiring loans/credit. Consumers mainly need credit for major expenditures, such as college tuition or a car. Many budding businesses need credit to fund growth and meet demand. 

The modern financial world heavily relies on ‘non-bank financial intermediaries’ who operate in complex secondary markets (i.e. the shadowing banking system). Even traditional financial institutions go through non-bank financial intermediaries to borrow and/or loan. 

The Treasury Department used $27 billion, which was spread across three programs to defrost credit markets and get consumers and small businesses the loans they needed. 

The Automotive Industry

In December 2008, then President George W. Bush authorized the use of TARP funds to bail out the big three automotive companies: General Motors (GM); Chrysler; and Ford. The two carmakers had experienced a 40% drop in sales, and three million jobs were reportedly at risk.

The Treasury believed the failure of these major manufactures posed a significant risk to not only the many players involved in the automotive industry (e.g. partsmakers, employees, etc.) but the economy as a whole. 

The Department spent $80.7 billion of TARP to successfully bail out the automotive giants who managed to repay most of what they owed by 2014. The Treasury reports, “While the auto industry rescue resulted in a cost of $9.3 billion to the government, the cost of a disorderly liquidation to the families and businesses across the country that rely on the auto industry would have been far higher. The government’s actions not only saved GM and Chrysler but they saved many businesses up and down the supply chain. They even helped Ford, as its CEO has acknowledged.”


American International Group

On November 10, 2008, the Treasury Department controversially invested a total $152.5 billion of TARP in preferred shares to save American International Group (AIG), a global insurance corporation. AIG used the money to retire its credit default swaps (i.e. insurance for collateralized debt obligations) and narrowly evade bankruptcy.


To learn more about AIG’s role in the crisis, check out our article: AIG: The One-Way Bet Behind the 2008 Financial Crisis?

Foreclosure Avoidance

On February 18, 2009, the Treasury Department implemented the Homeowner Affordability and Stability Plan. $75 billion in TARP funds was set aside to aid homeowners refinance or restructure their mortgages.

Then, it first created the Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP), encouraging banks to reduce monthly mortgage payments for anyone facing impending foreclosure. The Treasury then launched the Home Affordable Refinance Program (HARP). HARP was intended to help creditworthy homeowners from foreclosure by allowing them to refinance with reduced mortgage rates.

But many didn’t actually benefit from either the HAMP or the HARP. Primarily because banks were either highly selective and/or refused to consider those with lower equity. Many financial institutions rejected applicants for dubious reasons, or accepted their applications but strung them out.

Frustratingly, these were the financial institutions that had been liberally handing out loans to all applicants in the lead up to the crisis. Making matters worse, banks would not have to take on any risk on these loans because they were guaranteed by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac

TARP Recovery & Legacy

As of February 2021, the government has realized a $110 billion profit from TARP. Not only did many of the corporations pay back what they received, but the extra investments the government made paid off greatly. 

Economists, politicians, and finance professionals remain divided on TARP’s necessity and merits. Proponents of TARP argue that the bailout was necessary, as the collapse of numerous global corporations would have extended the Great Recession even longer than it ended up being. Critics, on the other hand, contend that the government should not have intervened as the lender of last resort; TARP essentially rewarded reckless corporations and individuals.

Regardless, TARP has left a bad taste in the mouth of many in the public. Particularly when news broke that TARP recipients were handing out the money to their executives in the form of bonuses. Congress did pass a bill levying 90% on those bonuses, but do you think those executives really returned the money they’d reportedly received. 

What do you think of TARP? 

So, do you think the TARP was necessary? A big bailout for those who rigged the economy, leaving with bags of cash while the public was left to deal with the ruins? Or perhaps something else? 

While taxpayer money eventually got returned, that doesn’t mean the psychological and monetary damages many experienced during the crisis can ever be reversed. The stock market and housing markets crashed. Just think about the millions who lost their jobs, the many retirements that had to get postponed, the loss in GDP, and the list goes on and on.

All of those troubles could (and probably should) have been avoided. But in looking to the future, you may wonder what you can do to make sure another financial crisis does not happen again. That’s where the Zero Theft Movement comes into play.

On the Zero Theft platform, citizens investigators examine potential problem areas across the economy and then author theft proposals explaining their findings. The community then decides whether that investigation has convincingly proven (1) theft is or isn’t occurring in a specific area of the economy, and (2) how much is being stolen or possibly saved. Through direct democracy, we can collectively decide where the problem areas are and start working on addressing them systematically.

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Standard Disclaimer

The Zero Theft Movement does not have any interest in partisan politics/competition or attacking/defending one side. We seek to eradicate theft from the U.S economy. In other words, how the wealthy and powerful rig the system to steal money from us, the everyday citizen. We need to collectively fight against crony capitalism in order for us to all profit from an ethical economy.   

Terms like ‘steal,’ ‘theft,’ and ‘crime’ will frequently appear throughout the article. Zero Theft will NOT adhere strictly to the legal definitions of these terms (since congress sells out). We have broadly and openly defined terms like ‘steal’ and ‘theft’ to refer to the rigged economy and other debated unethical acts that can cause citizens to lose out on money they deserve to keep.  

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Beyond TARP…

An educated public is an empowered public. 

We regularly publish educational articles on, just like this one on TARP. They teach you all about the rigged layer of the economy in short, digestible pieces.