2008 Financial Crisis Timeline

Critical Events in the Worst Crisis Since the Depression

The 2008 financial crisis devastated Wall Street, Main Street, and the banking industry. The Federal Reserve and the Bush administration spent hundreds of billions of dollars to add liquidity to the financial markets. They worked hard to avoid a complete collapse. They almost didn't succeed. 

January 2008: Fed Tries to Stop Housing Bust

Vacant Building
A vacant house is seen through a fence on June 27, 2012 in Stockton, California. Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

In response to a struggling housing market, the Federal Market Open Committee began lowering the fed funds rate. It dropped the rate to 3.5% on January 22, 2008, then to 3.0% a week later. Economic analysts thought lower rates would be enough to restore demand for homes. For example, the interest rate on a 30-year conventional loan was reduced to 5.76% from 6.22% in 2007.

It didn’t help the millions of homeowners who had adjustable-rate mortgages. They took introductory interest rates, knowing they would reset after a few years. Many planned to sell their homes before then. When home prices fell in 2006, they couldn't sell. They couldn't afford the higher monthly payments from the interest rate reset. As a result, they were facing foreclosure.

In January 2008, there were 57% more foreclosures than 12 months earlier. As bad as that was, it was better than December's 97% increase year-over-year. 

January's existing home sales rate fell to its lowest level in 10 years. The 4.9 million rate was down 23.4% according to the National Association of Realtors. Home prices fell to $201,100, down 4.6% from the prior year. Housing inventory was 4.19 million, a 10.3 month supply.

February: Bush Signs Tax Rebate as Home Sales Continue to Plummet

Aerial view of Rows of houses
Michael Duva / Getty Images

President Bush signed a tax rebate bill to help the struggling housing market. The bill increased limits for Federal Housing Administration loans and allowed Freddie Mac to repurchase jumbo loans.

February's homes sales fell 24% year-over-year. It reached 5.03 million according to the National Association of Realtors. The median resale home price was $195,900, down 8.2% year-over-year. 

Foreclosures were up 60% year-over-year. It was about the same as January's 57% foreclosure increase.

March: Fed Begins Bailouts

Markets React To Fed Interest Rate Announcement. Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

The Fed Chair realized the Fed needed to take aggressive action. It had to prevent a more serious recession. Falling oil prices meant the Fed was not concerned about inflation. When inflation isn’t a concern, the Fed can use expansionary monetary policy. The Fed's goal was to lower Libor and keep adjustable-rate mortgages affordable. In its role of "bank of last resort," it became the only bank willing to lend.

It increased its Term Auction Facility program to $50 billion. It also initiated a series of term repurchase transactions. These were 28-day term repurchase agreements with primary dealers. The Fed’s goal was to pump $100 billion into the economy.

March 11: The Fed announced it would lend $200 billion in Treasury notes to bail out bond dealers. They were stuck with mortgage-backed securities and other collateralized debt obligations. They couldn't resell them on the secondary market. The subprime mortgage crisis dried up the secondary market for these debt products.

No one knew who had the bad debt or how much was out there. All buyers of debt instruments became afraid to buy and sell from each other. No one wanted to get caught with bad debt on their books. The Fed was trying to keep liquidity in the financial markets.

But the problem was not just one of liquidity, but also of solvency. Banks were playing a huge game of musical chairs, hoping that no one would get caught with more bad debt. The Fed tried to buy time by temporarily taking on the bad debt itself. It protected itself by only holding the debt for 28 days and only accepting AAA-rated debt.

March 14: The Federal Reserve held its first emergency weekend meeting in 30 years. On March 17, it announced it would guarantee Bear Stearns' bad loans. It wanted JP Morgan to purchase Bear and prevent bankruptcy. Bear Stearns' had about $10 trillion in securities on its books. If it had gone under, these securities would have become worthless. That would have jeopardized the global financial system.

March 18: The Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) lowered the fed funds rate by 0.75% to 2.25%. It had halved the interest rate in six months. That put downward pressure on the dollar, which increased oil prices.

That same day, federal regulators agreed to let Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac take on another $200 billion in subprime mortgage debt. The two government-sponsored enterprises would buy mortgages from banks. This process is known as buying on the secondary market. They then package these into mortgage-backed securities and resell them on Wall Street. All goes well if the mortgages are good, but if they turn south, then the two GSEs would be liable for the debt.

The Federal Housing Finance Board also took action. It authorized the regional Federal Home Loan Banks to take an extra $100 billion in subprime mortgage debt. The loans had to be guaranteed by Fannie and Freddie Mac

Fed Chair Ben Bernanke and U.S. Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson thought this would take care of the problem. They underestimated how extensive the crisis had become. These bailouts only further destabilized the two mortgage giants.

April - June: Fed Lowers Rate and Buys More Toxic Bank Debt

Architectural details on old bank building, Americus, Georgia, USA
Danita Delimont / Getty Images

April 30: The FOMC lowered the fed funds rate to 2%.

April 7 and April 21: The Fed added another $50 billion each through its Term Auction Facility.

May 20: The Fed auctioned another $150 billion through the Term Auction Facility.

By June 2, the Fed auctions totaled $1.2 trillion. In June, the Federal Reserve lent $225 billion through its Term Auction Facility. This temporary stop-gap measure of adding liquidity had become a permanent fixture.

July 11, 2008: IndyMac Bank Fails

USA - Economy - Federal Regulators Close IndyMac Bank
Corbis via Getty Images / Getty Images

July 11: The Office of Thrift Supervision closed IndyMac Bank. Los Angeles police warned angry IndyMac depositors to remain calm while they waited in line to withdraw funds from the failed bank. About 100 people worried they would lose their deposit. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) only insured amounts up to $100,000. This was later raised to $250,000.

July 23: Paulson made the Sunday talk show rounds. He explained the need for a bailout of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The two agencies themselves held or guaranteed almost half of the $12 trillion of the nation's mortgages.

Wall Street's fears that these loans would default caused Fannie's and Freddie's shares to tumble. This made it more difficult for private companies to raise capital themselves. Paulson reassured talk show listeners that the banking system was solid, even though other banks might fail like IndyMac.

July 30: Congress passed the Housing and Economic Recovery Act. It gave the Treasury Department authority to guarantee as much as $25 billion in loans held by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. It created a new regulator for Fannie and Freddie called the Federal Housing Finance Agency. It also allowed $300 billion in FHA loan guarantees, $15 billion in housing tax breaks, and $3.9 billion in housing grants.

September 7: Treasury Nationalizes Fannie and Freddie

Federal Trade Commission and Housing Finance Agency seals in downtown with closeup of sign and logo
krblokhin / Getty Images

The FHFA placed Fannie and Freddie under conservatorship. It allowed the government to run the two until they were strong enough to return to independent management. 

The FHFA allowed Treasury to purchase preferred stock of the two to keep them afloat. They could also borrow from the Treasury. Last but not least, Treasury was allowed to purchase their mortgage-backed securities. 

The Fannie and Freddie bailout initially cost taxpayers $187 billion. But over time, they two paid back all costs plus added $58 billion in profit to the general fund. 

September 15, 2008: Lehman Brothers Bankruptcy Triggered Global Panic

Lehman bankruptcy was the last straw. Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Paulson urged Lehman Brothers to find a buyer. Only two banks were interested: Bank of America and British Barclays.

Bank of America didn’t want a loan. It wanted the government to cover $65 billion to $70 billion in anticipated losses. Paulson said no. The U.S. Treasury had no legal authority to invest capital in Lehman Brothers, as Congress hadn’t yet authorized the Troubled Asset Relief Program.

Barclays announced its British regulators would not approve a Lehman Brothers deal.

Since Lehman Brothers was an investment bank, the government could not nationalize it like it did government enterprises Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. For that same reason, no federal regulator, like the FDIC, could take it over. 

Moreover, the Fed couldn’t guarantee a loan as it did with Bear Stearns. Lehman Brothers didn’t have enough assets to secure one. 

When Lehman's declared bankruptcy, financial markets reeled. The Dow fell 504 points, its worst decline in seven years. U.S. Treasury bond prices rose as investors fled to their relative safety. Oil prices tanked.

Later that day, Bank of America announced it would purchase struggling Merrill Lynch for $50 billion. 

September 16, 2008: Fed Buys AIG for $85 Billion

Bernanke grimaces
Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke testifies before the House Financial Services Committee on Capitol Hill July 17, 2013 in Washington, DC. Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

The American International Group Inc. turned to the Federal Reserve for emergency funding. The company had insured trillions of dollars of mortgages throughout the world. If it had fallen, so would the global banking system. Bernanke said that this bailout made him angrier than anything else. AIG took risks with cash from supposedly ultra-safe insurance policies. It used it to boost profits by offering unregulated credit default swaps.

October 8, 2008: The Federal lent another $37.8 billion to AIG subsidiaries in exchange for fixed-income securities.

November 10, 2008: The Fed restructured its aid package. It reduced its $85 billion loan to $60 billion. The $37.8 billion loan was repaid and terminated. The Treasury Department purchased $40 billion in AIG preferred shares. The funds allowed AIG to retire its credit default swaps rationally, stave off bankruptcy, and protect the government's original investment. 

September 17, 2008: Economy Almost Collapsed

Without money market funds, grocery stores would run out of food because the trucks would stop. Photo: Thomas Northcut/Getty Images

Due to losses from Lehman’s bankruptcy, investors fled money market mutual funds. That's where companies keep their short-termcash.

September 16: The Reserve Primary Fund "broke the buck." It didn't have enough cash on hand to pay out all the redemptions that were occurring.

September 17: The attack spread. Investors withdrew a record $172 billion from their money market accounts. During a typical week, only about $7 billion is withdrawn.

If it had continued, companies couldn't get money to fund their day-to-day operations. In just a few weeks, shippers wouldn’t have had the cash to deliver food to grocery stores. We were that close to a complete collapse. 

September 19, 2008: Paulson and Bernanke Meet with Congress

Paulson and Bernanke
U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson (L) speaks as Federal Reserve Board Chairman Ben Bernanke (R) listens during a hearing before the House Financial Services Committee on Capitol Hill September 24, 2008 in Washington, DC. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

September 19: Paulson and Bernanke met with Congressional leaders to explain the crisis. Republicans and Democrats alike were stunned by the somber warnings. They realized that credit markets were only a few days away from a meltdown. 

The leaders were prepared to work together in a bipartisan fashion to craft a solution. But many rank-and-file members of Congress were not on board. 

Bernanke announced the Fed would lend the money needed by banks and businesses to operate so they wouldn't have to pull out the cash in money market funds. This, along with the announcement of the bailout package, calmed the markets enough keep the economy functioning.

The Asset-Backed Commercial Paper Money Market Fund Liquidity Facility was born. The Fed created many other innovative but poorly named tools throughout the crisis.

September 20, 2008: Treasury Submits Legislation to Congress

Bernanke and Paulson
Federal Reserve Board Chairman Ben Bernanke (R) testifies before the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee as U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson watches on Capitol Hill September 23, 2008 in Washington, DC. Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

On September 20, Paulson submitted a three-page document that asked Congress to approve a $700 billion bailout. Treasury would use the funds to buy up mortgage-backed securities that were in danger of defaulting. By doing so, Paulson wanted to take these debts off the books of banks, hedge funds, and pension funds that held them.

When asked what would happen if Congress didn't approve the bailout, Paulson replied, "If it doesn't pass, then heaven help us all."

September 21, 2008: The End of the "Greed Is Good" Era

Greed is good
Michael Douglas reprised his role as Gordon Gekko in the movie "Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps." Here, he speaks at the NYSE Euronext Board Room when he attends The Windward School Reception at the New York Stock Exchange on February 6, 2013 in New York City. Photo: Herrick Strummer/Getty Images

Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley, two of the most successful investment banks on Wall Street, applied to become regular commercial banks. They wanted the Fed's protection.

On September 23, Congressman Barney Frank, Chairman of the Housing Financial Service Committee, worked with lawmakers to negotiate a plan that cost less and offered more protection for taxpayers. These measures made it into the final bailout bill. 

September 26, 2008: WaMu Goes Bankrupt

Former WaMu Executives Testify On The Role Of High Risk Loans
Mark Wilson / Getty Images

Washington Mutual Bank went bankrupt when its panicked depositors withdrew $16.7 billion in 10 days. It had insufficient capital to run its business. The FDIC then took over. The bank was sold to J.P. Morgan for $1.9 billion.

September 29, 2008: Stock Market Crashes as Bailout Rejected

stock market crash 2008
A trader gestures as he works on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange September 29, 2008 in New York City. U.S. stocks took a nosedive in reaction to the global credit crisis and as the U.S. House of Representatives rejected the $700 billion rescue package, 228-205. Dow Jones Industrials fell as much as 700 points in midday trading. Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images

The stock market collapsed when the U.S. House of Representatives rejected the bailout bill. Opponents were rightly concerned that their constituents saw the bill as bailing out Wall Street at the expense of taxpayers. But they didn't realize that the future of the global economy was at stake.

Stock investors did, sending the ​Dow Jones Industrial Average down 770 points. It was the most in any single day in history. It didn't stop there. Global markets panicked:

The Morgan Stanley Capital International World Index dropped 6% in one day, the most since its creation in 1970.

  • Brazil's Bovespa was halted after dropping 10%
  • The London Financial Times Stock Exchange dropped 15%
  • Gold soared to over $900 an ounce
  • Oil dropped to $95 a barrel

To restore financial stability, the Federal Reserve doubled its currency swaps with foreign central banks in Europe, England, and Japan to $620 billion. The governments of the world were forced to provide all the liquidity for frozen credit markets.

October 3, 2008: Congress Passes $700 Billion Bailout Bill

Henry Paulson
Former U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson testifying before the House Financial Services Committee on Capitol Hill November 18, 2008 in Washington, DC. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

The bank bailout bill allowed Treasury to buy shares of troubled banks. It was the fastest way to inject capital into the frozen financial system. The Troubled Asset Relief Program funds also bailed out AIG and auto companies. It restored credit markets and helped homeowners avoid foreclosure.

October 6: Global Stock Markets Collapse Despite Central Bank Action

A trader works on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) October 06, 2008 in New York City. The Dow plunged below 10,000 in morning trading, the lowest it has fallen since 2004. Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Stock markets around the world plummeted, despite the bailout package. All bailouts do is keep the markets operating. It would take time for banks to trust each other again.

Central banks around the world did restore liquidity, as they’re supposed to. They stepped in to provide the overnight lending capability for the private banks. This helped keep the collapse from becoming a depression. 

October 7, 2008 - $1.7 Trillion Commercial Loan Program

Even Ford took advantage of the Commercial Loan Program.
Bill Pugliano/Stringer/Getty Images News

The Federal Reserve agreed to directly issue short-term loans for businesses that couldn't get them elsewhere. Interest rates ranged from 2% to 4%, high under normal circumstances but low compared to Libor rates at the time. The Fed bought high-quality, three-month debt. Dozens of companies signed up. They included Morgan Stanley, the finance arm of General Electric, Ford Motor Credit, and GMAC Mortgage, LLC.

The Fed created this program to allow businesses to keep enough cash flow to stay in business. It would have prevented Washington Mutual's bankruptcy. The program also lowered interest rates by increasing liquidity.

October 8 and 14, 2008: Central Banks Coordinate Global Action

foreign currency reserves
Central banks rarely coordinate their actions. Photo: sndr/Getty Images

October 8: The Federal Reserve and the central banks of the European Union, Canada, the United Kingdom, Sweden, and Switzerland cut their rates by half a point. China's central bank cut its rate by 0.27 of a point. This was done to lower Libor, thus lowering the cost of bank borrowing. Overnight bank lending rates dropped in response, indicating a potential turning point in the crisis. 

October 14: The governments of the EU, Japan, and the United States again took unprecedented coordinated action. The EU committed to spending $1.8 trillion to guarantee bank financing, buy shares to prevent banks from failing, and take any other steps needed to get banks to lend to each other again. This was after the U.K. committed $88 billion to purchase shares in failing banks and $438 billion to guarantee loans. In a show of solidarity, the Bank of Japan agreed to lend unlimited dollars and suspend its bank stock selling program.

In return, the EU asked the United States to meet and increase banking regulation. It also wanted an increased role of the International Monetary Fund in this process.

In response to the global united front, Paulson changed how he would use TARP funds. Instead of purchasing toxic mortgage debt, he agreed to purchase equity ownership in major banks.

October 21, 2008 - Fed Lends $540 Billion to Bail Out Money Market Funds

Operation Twist
Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke participates in an open session of the Financial Stability Oversight Council at the Treasury Department January 18, 2011 in Washington, DC. The council discussed recommendations of the Volcker Rule and the Concentration Limit, both part of the Dodd-Frank Act. Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

The Federal Reserve lent $540 billion to allow money market funds to have enough cash to meet a continuing barrage of redemptions. Since August, over $500 billion was withdrawn from money markets, which is where most businesses park their cash overnight. Businesses hoarded cash because Libor rates skyrocketed as banks panicked and stopped lending to each other.

The Fed's Money Market Investor Funding Facility (MMIFF) was managed by JPMorgan Chase. The MMIFF would purchase up to $600 billion of certificates of deposit, bank notes, and commercial paper that were coming due within the next 90 days. The remaining $60 billion will come from the money markets themselves, who must purchase commercial paper from the MMIFF.

The Fed’s Asset-Backed Commercial Paper Money Market Mutual Fund Liquidity Facility, established September 19, had $122.8 billion of such loans outstanding as of October 15. On September 21, the Treasury guaranteed $50 billion worth of money market funds, as reported in an October 21, 2008, Bloomberg article. The fact that the Fed announced this new purchase program showed that credit markets were still partially frozen.

On October 29, the FOMC dramatically lowered the fed funds rate to "between 0.25 points and zero," the lowest rate in its history. It lowered the discount rate to 0.5 percent. With that, the Fed couldn't lower rates any further. It used its other tools and created a few new ones. 

November 2008 - Auto Companies Request Bailout, Fed Creates TALF

vertical integration
The auto industry in the U.S. is vertically integrated through a tight relationship with dealers. Photo: Glowimages/Getty Images

November 18:  GM, Ford, and Chrysler requested $50 billion in bailout funds. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said the Big Three should return with "... a responsible plan that gives us a realistic chance to get the needed votes." It didn't help the public's opinion of the automakers that the three CEOs flew to DC in corporate jets. 

November 21: The FDIC agreed to guarantee up to $1.3 trillion in loans that banks made to one another. About 1.2 million unemployed workers received an extra three months of benefits.

November 25: Treasury partnered with the Federal Reserve to use part of TARP to address a freeze in the consumer credit market. The $1 trillion secondary market for credit card, auto, and student debt had come to a standstill. That's because the debt had been sold as asset-backed securities. Investors were just as afraid to buy them as they were the subprime mortgage-backed securities. The Term Asset-Backed Securities Loan Facility program kept these credit card companies afloat. It bought their old debt, suffusing them with enough capital to avoid bankruptcy. 

That same day, Treasury gave Citigroup a $20 billion cash infusion. It was in return for $27 billion of preferred shares yielding an 8% annual return and warrants to buy no more than 5% of Citi's common shares at $10 per share.

November 26: The Fed announced it planned to spend $800 billion to purchase mortgage-backed securities from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, as well as consumer loans. As a result, rates for 30-year fixed mortgages fell to 5.5% from 6.38%.

The Fed successfully revived commercial bank lending with the Commercial Paper Facility, although activity stabilized. The question remained as to how much demand there would be for mortgages.

Many of the Fed’s programs, such as the Commercial Lending Program and a program to buy toxic credit card debt, had not yet had a chance to take effect.

December: Zero Interest Rates, TARP, and Big 3 Bailout

Bankers who took the bailout
(L-R) Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein, JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon, Bank of New York Mellon CEO Robert Kelly, Bank of America CEO Ken Lewis and State Street CEO Ronald Logue. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

On December 19, the Treasury inserted $105 billion in TARP funds into eight banks in return for preferred stock. The government would receive a 5% dividend, increasing to a painful 9% over time. Most banks bought the government out as soon as the crisis was over. Taxpayers actually made a profit on the deal.

GM, Chrysler, and Ford asked for a $34 billion bailout. In January 2009, they got $24.9 billion. GM and Chrysler needed it, but Ford really didn't. But without the bailout, 1 million jobs could have been lost.

More Crises Timelines

A trader works on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange near the end of the day's trading in 2008. Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images

2007 Financial Crisis Timeline

2009 Financial Crisis Timeline 

Savings and Loan Crisis