El presidente Bush firmó el Programa de Alivio de Activos en Problemas en 2008, permitiendo al gobierno comprar valores respaldados por hipotecas defectuosas.

El Programa de Alivio de Activos en Problemas, comúnmente pronunciado y abreviado como TARP, fue el primer gran esfuerzo del gobierno de Estados Unidos para estabilizar la economía estadounidense a raíz del colapso económico de 2007-2008. El colapso precipitó lo que se ha llamado la Gran Recesión y la peor recesión económica en Estados Unidos desde la Gran Depresión . El programa, promulgado por el presidente George W. Bush el 3 de octubre de 2008, en virtud de la HR 1424, autorizó al gobierno a gastar miles de millones de dólares para comprar valores respaldados por hipotecas defectuosas . Al comprar estos llamados ” activos con problemas, “el gobierno esperaba brindar estabilidad financiera e inyectar al mercado un flujo de crédito más fluido. Al referirse al rescate financiero de este período, la gente se refiere en gran parte al Programa de Alivio de Activos en Problemas”.

Si bien el TARP puede haber “salvado la economía”, su éxito es ampliamente discutido.

En 2008, las potencias financieras que distribuyeron seguros para hipotecas de viviendas, en particular, la Asociación Hipotecaria Nacional Federal, o Fannie Mae ; Federal Home Mortgage Corporation , o Freddie Mac; y American Insurance Group (AIG) —comenzaron a flaquear y colapsar bajo el peso de préstamos hipotecarios de alto riesgo defectuosos . Las hipotecas de alto riesgo son más riesgosas porque se otorgan a prestatarios con la menor probabilidad de poder devolver el préstamo. En otras palabras, los prestatarios con malas calificaciones crediticias estaban siendo aprobados para préstamos por bancos, que estaban asegurados contra esos préstamos por organizaciones como Fannie Mae y Freddie Mac. El problema empeoró porque esos préstamos hipotecarios se agruparon en valores que los inversores podían comprar y vender.

Subprime mortgages are risky because they are given to borrowers with the least likelihood of being able to pay the loan back.

When millions of homeowners couldn’t make payments and defaulted on their loans it sparked a chain reaction of financial failure; the banks which made the loans faltered, the mortgage-backed securities tanked, and the financial powerhouses insuring those mortgages—and packaging them into securities—likewise suffered a blow of such catastrophic proportions that the federal government had to step in to prevent a depression-era collapse. The government did this by buying up faulty loans and mortgage-backed securities, with the hundreds of billions of dollars provided through the Troubled Asset Relief Program. Initially, the estimated cost of the bill was $700 billion US Dollars (USD), but over time the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimated the long-term costs at less than half of that. If the government had not stepped in, the banks would have been forced to drastically increase the cost of mortgage payments, and most economists believe the housing market would have collapsed far more than it ultimately did.

The Trouble Asset Relief Program led the U.S. government to literally acquire certain organizations, although the government expressed its intention to eventually sell the businesses back to private shareholders. Failing businesses such as American automaker General Motors (GM) were bought up by the government, for example. The businesses that received money from the Troubled Asset Relief Program were required by law to pay the money back, which they began doing as early as 2009. The program, and certain organizations that received money from it, came under heavy fire when companies such as AIG were discovered to be using some of the money to pay lavish bonuses to some of the very executives who had helped cause the economic turmoil.

The Troubled Asset Relief Program should not be confused with the Recovery Act, which was signed into law by President Barack Obama on February 17, 2009. The act allocated another $787 billion USD to invest in the American economy’s recovery. Much of that money was used as a short-term stimulus, some of which was given in the form of personal checks to each American citizen, and other parts of it spread out to state governments and other financial structures that stood to benefit from an influx of liquid cash.