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Definition: savings and loan association from Merriam-Webster's Collegiate(R) Dictionary

(1884) : a cooperative association organized to hold savings of members in the form of dividend-bearing shares and to invest chiefly in home mortgage loans —called also savings and loan

Summary Article: savings and loan association
From The Columbia Encyclopedia

(S&L), type of financial institution that was originally created to accept savings from private investors and to provide home mortgage services for the public.

The first U.S. S&L was founded in 1831. In 1932, the Federal Home Loan Bank System was created to oversee the S&Ls, with deposits to be insured by the Federal Savings and Loan Insurance Corporation (FSLIC). In 1933 the federal government began chartering S&Ls, although they generally were not required to be federally chartered. After World War II, the associations began a period of rapid expansion. Historically, S&Ls could be organized in two ways: either as a mutual or a capital stock institution. A mutual organization would be similar in operation to a mutual savings bank.

S&Ls went through many changes in the late 20th cent., primarily due to deregulatory measures instituted in the 1980s by the U.S. federal government, allowing them to offer a much wider range of services than ever before. The deregulatory measures allowed S&Ls to enter the business of commercial lending, trust services, and nonmortgage consumer lending. The Depository Institutions Deregulation and Monetary Control Act of 1980 began these sweeping changes, one of which was to raise deposit insurance from $40,000 to $100,000. Many contend that this extension of insurance coverage encouraged S&Ls to engage in riskier loans than they might otherwise have sought.

Two years later, the Depository Institutions Act gave S&Ls the right to make secured and unsecured loans to a wide range of markets, permitted developers to own S&Ls, and allowed owners of these institutions to lend to themselves. Under the new laws, the Federal Home Loan Bank Board (FHLBB) was given a number of new powers to secure the capital positions of S&Ls. The FHLBB allowed S&Ls to print their own capital, and escape charges of insolvency through such measures as “goodwill,” in which customer loyalty and market share were counted as part of a capital base. As a result, an S&L that was technically insolvent could resist government seizure.

S&Ls began to engage in large-scale speculation, particularly in real estate. Financial failure of the institutions became rampant, with well over 500 forced to close during the 1980s. In 1989, after the FSLIC itself became insolvent, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation took over the FSLIC's insurance obligations, and the Resolution Trust Corporation was created to buy and sell defaulted S&Ls. The S&L crisis ultimately cost the government some $124 billion. The Office of Thrift Supervision (1989; functions transferred to the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, 2011) also was created, in an attempt to identify struggling S&Ls before it was too late, but the largest S&Ls were among the institutions at the core of the financial crisis of 2008.

  • See Teck, A. , Mutual Savings Banks and Savings and Loan Associations (1968);.
  • Balderston, F. E. , Thrifts in Crisis: Structural Transformation of the Savings and Loan Industry (1985).
The Columbia Encyclopedia, © Columbia University Press 2018

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