The FDIC expects more banks to fail in the coming year, though they also believe that the number of bank failures will peak in 2010 and then recede.
According to Gray, the FDIC's insurance fund is doing just fine despite, technically, being in the red. "We have over $66 billion to fund bank failures. At the end of 2009, we collected $45 billion in prepaid assessments over what banks would have paid over the next three years, so that comes into our immediate cash position to handle failures, but banks are expensing that over the next three years so we book it as a liability," he says.
How to make sure your bank is safe and soundConsumers need to pay attention to the amount of money they have in any particular institution. The FDIC insures deposits up to $250,000 per depositor.
That limit is slated to come back to $100,000 at the end of 2013, but according to Ely, in most bank failures, the FDIC has been able to cover most deposits, even those that exceed the limit.
"The FDIC has quietly adopted a policy of protecting all deposits in a bank failure if they can," Ely says.
But there is still some risk. There are ways to make sure all of your deposits are insured, from keeping money under separate registrations, using several different banks or CDARS, the Certificate of Deposit Account Registry Service.
As far as what banking customers should look for in a bank, McCloskey recommends that "consumers should stay away from banks that have high levels of development loans and commercial real estate lending right now," McCloskey says.
"People should ask their banks what kinds of lending exposure and business they participate in, especially if they can't find it in the company's financial statements," he says.
If combing through your bank's annual statements sounds daunting, Bankrate also has a system for measuring the safety of banks, thrifts and credit unions throughout the country.
In the extremely unlikely event that your bank goes belly-up, don't panic. Gray stresses that customers have immediate access to their money.
For more on bank failures, read the Bankrate feature, "What happens when a bank fails?"
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