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Keeping tabs on the bailout

Workers arrive at insurance company AIG in London, England. Sure, AIG's rescue turned a profit, but what about the rest of the bailouts?

CORRECTION: The original version of this story incorrectly identified the government bailout program known as TARP. It is the “Troubled Asset Relief Program.” The text has been corrected.


As of this morning, the federal government no longer owns any part of the American International Group (AIG), the big insurance company that was bailed out back when bailouts were the thing, in 2008.

$182 billion was the final payment. It was the single largest investment the government made.

Today, the Treasury Department said it has made that money back -- and then some: $22 billion in profit on the sale of AIG stock.

“I think we should pop the Champagne bottles,” says Stephen Davidoff, a law professor at The Ohio State University, noting that, in 2008, no one was talking about turning a profit on these bailouts, many of which were essentially no-interest loans. “We’ve done much better than people thought we would.”

AIG was part of the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP). According to Michael Barr, a former Assistant Treasury Secretary, taxpayers spent about $418 billion, bailing out companies, like AIG, Citigroup and Goldman Sachs.

“More than 90 percent of that has been returned to the taxpayer,” he adds. Roughly $380 billion.

The Treasury Department won’t say how much all the government bailouts cost. It does says it expects to make a profit on TARP, or at least break even.

But Barr, for one, is not breaking out that Champagne. At least not yet.

“It doesn’t mean that we’re out of the woods,” he says. “There’s still lots of investments out there in Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.”

Taxpayers have spent nearly $200 billion propping up the two mortgage giants, and we’re likely to lose money on that. As we go down our bailout scorecard, Davidoff suggests we keep an eye on a few other investments as well.

“The automakers, the auto-finance companies have not done great,” he says.

We got out of Chrysler last year, but we lost more than a billion dollars, and we’re still part-owners of GM and Ally Financial.

About the author

David Gura is a reporter for Marketplace, based in the Washington, D.C. bureau.
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