Banking history in the United States changed forever with the Great Depression. The Great Depression began when the stock market crashed in October 1929, causing numerous banks to fail, which in turn caused bank depositors in many cases to lose most or all of their money. U. S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Congress responded by creating the FDIC to guarantee the safety of bank deposits and regain the public’s confidence in the banking industry. The history of the FDIC, however, may be traced back even before the Great Depression.
When the United States was formed in 1776, the thirteen original colonies each had their own banking systems, with no uniform currency and little government involvement in the banking systems. In 1791, Congress created the First Bank of the United States, a bank in Philadelphia that closed in 1811. As the country grew, banking remained largely unregulated and inconsistent. Following the Civil War, the economy in the North prospered while the economy in the South floundered. To encourage economic stability and consistency throughout the country, the National Banking Act of 1864 created national banks as well as the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC), and the dollar became the national currency. Bank failures in the early twentieth century led the creation of the Federal Reserve System, a central bank that continues to oversee and regulate national banks throughout the country.
The economy grew rapidly in the 1920s until the stock market crash in 1929. Stocks quickly lost their value, and as a result, banks lost money, farm prices fell, unemployment soared, and consumers began taking their money out of banks. Many banks failed and closed, lacking sufficient funds to pay their lenders and depositors. Finally, in 1933, President Roosevelt closed all banks temporarily and enacted the Banking Act. The Banking Act of 1933 established the FDIC, giving it authority to regulate and oversee banks and to provide insurance to bank depositors.
In early 1934, the maximum amount of insurance offered by the FDIC was $2,500, but by the end of the year the maximum amount increased to $5,000. Also in 1934, Congress created an entity similar to the FDIC to protect depositors from failures of federal savings and loan institutions. This entity was known as the Federal Savings and Loan Insurance Corporation (FSLIC).
The Banking Act of 1935 made the FDIC a permanent and independent corporation. Banks continued to fail throughout the 1930s, and the FDIC honored its promise to depositors by reimbursing them up to $5,000 for money lost in bank failures. Gradually, the number of bank failures declined, and by the late 1930s banks were becoming more profitable. In 1950, the FDIC maximum amount of insurance rose from $5,000 to $10,000.
In 1960, only four banks insured by the FDIC failed. The FDIC at that time employed approximately 2,500 bank examiners, and by 1962, no banks insured by the FDIC failed. In 1966, the FDIC maximum amount of insurance rose to $15,000, and in 1969, it rose again to $20,000. In 1980, the maximum amount of insurance was $100,000. It remained at that amount as of 2002.
Inflation skyrocketed to 14 percent by 1981, and the interest rates for home mortgages were extremely high at 21 percent. In 1983, the FDIC continued to collect more in premiums from member banks than it paid out for bank failures, but that same year, 48 banks insured by the FDIC failed. By 1984, the FDIC was paying more on bank failures than it collected in bank assessments, with 79 banks failing. In 1985, 125 banks failed, and in 1986, 138 banks, with assets totaling $7 billion, failed. What was worse, savings and loans were failing at an unprecedented rate, prompting Congress to act in 1989 with the Financial Institutions Reform, Recovery, and Enforcement Act (FIRREA). This act created the Resolution Trust Corporation (RTC) as a temporary agency charged with administering and cleaning up the savings and loan failures. The act also established the Savings Association Insurance Fund (SAIF), which insures deposits in savings and loan associations and charged the FDIC with administering the SAIF. The SAIF replaced the FSLIC.
In 1990, the FDIC began to increase its premium rate for the first time in its history, charging banks more to remain FDIC insured. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation Improvement Act of 1991 allowed the FDIC to borrow additional funds from the U. S. Treasury to rebuild its coffers. It also instructed the FDIC to set premiums for banks based upon each bank’s level of risk and to close failing banks in more cost-effective ways. No longer was the FDIC permitted to repay all deposits to encourage consumer confidence; rather, Congress strictly limited the FDIC to reimburse only insured depositors and only to the maximum amount allowed by law. Congress also mandated that the Federal Reserve System not lend money to banks in financial trouble. By 1993, bank failure rates were down to their lowest number in twelve years. Congress dissolved the RTC and transferred its duties back to the FDIC that same year.