NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH

Off-Balance-Sheet Federal Liabilities

James D. Hamilton

NBER Working Paper No. 19253
Issued in July 2013
NBER Program(s):   PE

Much attention has been given to the recent growth of the U.S. federal debt. This paper examines the growth of federal liabilities that are not included in the officially reported numbers. These take the form of implicit or explicit government guarantees and commitments. The five major categories surveyed include support for housing, other loan guarantees, deposit insurance, actions taken by the Federal Reserve, and government trust funds. The total dollar value of notional off-balance-sheet commitments came to $70 trillion as of 2012, or 6 times the size of the reported on-balance-sheet debt. The paper reviews the potential costs and benefits of these off-balance-sheet commitments and their role in precipitating or mitigating the financial crisis of 2008.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w19253

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