American Express Becomes A Bank… And Wants Bailout Money

American Express won U.S. Federal Reserve approval to become a bank holding company — giving it access to the bailout party as credit card defaults climb. Bloomberg News says that the Fed waived the usual 30 day waiting period because (in the words of Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke) we’re experiencing “unusual and exigent circumstances affecting the financial markets.” Today, American Express has requested $3.5 billion in taxpayer-funded capital from the federal government, says the WSJ.

From the Wall Street Journal:

While retailers, car companies and others hit by the slowdown in consumer spending haven’t gotten the government money, financial firms of all kinds are getting federal bailouts.

It isn’t clear if the application under the Troubled Asset Relief Program came before or after the credit- and charge-card giant got Federal Reserve approval Monday to become a bank-holding company.

Amex’s shares are down 57% this year as even affluent consumers keep their plastic in their wallets. The WSJ says that it is unclear how Amex would use the money — and that it’s clear that $3.5 billion won’t help with the consumer spending slump.

Notoriously slime-filled credit card issuer Capital One has already received approval for $3.5 billion in bailout cash.

AmEx Said to Request $3.5 Billion in U.S. Aid [WSJ] (Thanks, Jameson!)
American Express Wins Fed Approval to Become Bank (Update1) [Bloomberg]


Edit Your Comment

  1. zigziggityzoo says:

    I happen to know a small business owner who has had a corp. line of credit with AMEX since they opened shop 10 years ago.

    Last month, they had the line of credit cut, and had to significantly scale back plans because of it.

    I believe a lot of small businesses rely on AMEX lines of credit, and due to the crunch, can’t get the liquid assets they need. Something should be done. I don’t know what it is…I’m no expert, but something should be done.

    • Corporate_guy says:

      @zigziggityzoo: But there is not a chance in hell Amex is going to restore credit lines because they got a loan. They will probably due what other banks are doing and use the money to buy up other banks.

  2. Hooray4Zoidberg says:

    Cool, now all those people paying their mortgage payments on their AMEX card get a double bailout.

  3. U-235 says:

    Hey, I can’t blame them. If I were in the same game as Chase and THEY got bailout money I’d want some too. I’m sure they could use it… but then again, who wouldn’t want $3.5 billion dollars of someone elses money?

  4. cotr says:

    if the CS of the bank is just as good as their CC CS, im switching immediately.

    • TheBursar says:

      @cotr: It doesnt look like they are planning on opening any bank branches. I’m assuming they’re only changing their status to a bank-holding company in order to eligible to receive all of the benefits that these organizations are currently receiving.

      • SBR249 says:

        @TheBursar: They can always start an online banking operation like CapitalOne or CitiBank.

        • LastVigilante says:

          @SBR249: I don’t know if its the same for everyone, but right above cotr’s comment is an AdSense ad, hilariously touting “Capital One Credit Cards“! Full of win on account of the article indicating they are “Notoriously slime-filled.”

  5. concordia says:

    It’s Hedwig meets the Financial Services Industry: “My first day as a bank and it’s already time to ask for bailout money.”

  6. B says:

    Dammit, they stole my idea. I was going to become a bank and get some bailout funds.

  7. Triborough says:

    Greedy bastards.

  8. Red_Flag says:

    Welfare for citizens… bad?
    Welfare for corporations… good?

    The de facto economic model of privatization-of-corporate-profits-but-nationalization-of-corporate-debt in this country never ceases to amaze me…

  9. jdhuck says:

    This really bothers me. i work hard to pay my bills and I do not get money just handed to me when i am having a hard time paying my bills. Why is it ok for corporations to file bankruptcy, but when consumers do it, it is the kiss of death for 7 years or longer?

    I see consumers everyday that have filed bankruptcy and come to me for credit. I can’t give them the credit they deserve because their scores are in the toilet.

    However, a large financial institution can threaten to file bankruptcy and they get a big fat check from Uncle Sam.

    Sorry to vent, but if AMEX gets money, the consumers will never see it.

    If a company can’t make it, let them go under. What ever happened to capitalism? Since when is trying the same as succeeding?

    So to all of you I promise I am going to call AMEX today and tell them I can’t pay my bill and I need a bailout. I will tell them I have mismanaged my funds and I am relying on them, the benevolent supplier of my credit, to forgive my charges for gas, food and travel this month. I urge you all to do the same.

    • Red_Flag says:

      @jdhuck: They see all the other handouts and think, “hey, I deserve some of that too”. It’s not like the gov’t is setting much of a precedent of actual free market ideals. Privatize the profits! Socialize the losses!


    • Pylon83 says:

      You mistakenly assert that Amex mismanaged their funds. I’m not sure there is any evidence of this. The articles indicate that the drop in value of Amex’s investments, their inability to sell packaged credit card debt on the open market and the steep decline in consumer spending as the reason for the need for the loan. That said, banks borrow money all the time from the Federal Reserve. My point is that if you’re going to vilify Amex over this, at least get your facts straight.

      • jdhuck says:

        @Pylon83: Ahh, I see you are a bit presumptuous. I said that I would call and say that “I” mismanaged my funds. You drew your own conclusion. A conclusion I never stated or intended.

        What you say is true about packaged cc debt and a cut in consumer spending. What you left out was AMEX got all loosey goosey with their lending practices and issues many cards and credit lines that should have never been issued. AMEX also jumped head first into revolving lines of credit. Both have been poor decisions and this is an example of a company being mismanaged. At least on the strategy side.

        AMEX has had no problems with obtaining financial backers like other banks. They do not ‘need’ the $3.5B.

        I am in no way villifying AMEX. They did a good job on their own by requesting the money from the government.

        Your poor assumptions on my post and leaving out pertinent information about AMEX confuses me. You are quick to incorrectly point out that I say AMEX has mismanaged their funds, but you leave out the rest of the information about problems AMEX is having.

        To be clear, I think AMEX has mismanaged their company and bastardized their business model. These are all decisions that were made coherently. Why should AMEX get a do over because they made some bad decisions.

        Lastly, before you hit the submit on a reply to a post, read the original post again. Maybe you will comprehend it better the second time and not misquote the author.

        • Pylon83 says:

          I read and re-read your comment, and the last paragraph still reads as an analogy to what you think happened to Amex, that they mismanaged their funds and now need money. Whether you intended it that way or not, that’s how it comes across, at least in context with your entire comment.

          • jdhuck says:

            @Pylon83: That was not my intent.
            I also mentioned bankruptcy in the previous paragraphs. i was not implying that AMEX was going to file bankruptcy either.
            I apologize for the confusion and will do my best to make my analogies straightforward.

        • hellinmyeyes says:

          @jdhuck: No, I’m pretty sure Pylon83 had it right the first time. You essentially extended your BS call to how you feel about their business. Whatever.

          American Express has a pretty solid business as far as their class of lenders goes, and they’ve been pretty immune from the mortgage crisis; it’s just the consumer spending and default problems now. If their conference calls are anything reflective of reality as it is, they do have the lending capability as well as the borrowing capacity to hold things off for more than a year. They simply want their piece of the pie like everyone else is getting. I personally think it was a bad business choice for them, but it doesn’t reflect a poor business model.

          Let us know how that call goes. I did actually see an article today (forgot the URL) where you can call American Express and they will put you on a special twelve-month plan if you ask to have your interest rate reduced, where you can pay 0% for six months and then a nominal percentage for the remaining six. You should check into that if you’re going to call them today.

          • jdhuck says:

            @hellinmyeyes: I agree. Whatever is right. Project what you want into my post, I am ok with it, just don’t misquote and/or represent your own inference onto my words.

            The default problems were related to poor business decisions. Why should we bail them out for operational mismanagement?

            AMEX told me to pay my bill or they will:
            1. Charge a late fee.
            2. Begin calls to collect the debt.
            3. report it to the bureaus after 30 days.

            I did call AMEX and stated my case. I was professional and courteous.
            I owe about $80 and I thought it would have been humorous to give them a call.
            Guess not.

          • hellinmyeyes says:

            @hellinmyeyes: Here’s that link I was looking for. Dunno how well it works.

  10. Saboth says:

    Seems like a lot of hands are getting greased with taxpayer dollars these days. The bailout was supposed to help taxpayers by freeing up loans and credits (and the proposed buyup of bad mortgages). Instead…credit is still being slashed, interest rates are still going up, loans are still frozen, and the bad mortgage thing was done away with. So apparently it was just a bailout that helps companies that made bad decisions in a ‘free market’. I don’t recall being reimbursed by the government when I made risky stock purchases that fell flat…

    • KStrike155 says:

      @Saboth: How are interest rates going up? Didn’t the Federal Reserve lower the interest rate?

      My credit cards have all lowered their interest rates by .5%, and I’m certainly still getting offers in the mail for new cards.

  11. crabbyman6 says:

    Maybe someone can enlighten me, but wasn’t this bailout supposed to help lessen the blow from bad mortgage investments? Does AmEx even have any mortgage investments or are they just preparing for the inevitable credit crunch following bad mortgages or from the defaults because people pay their mortgages on credit and then decide not to pay them no matter what? I understand the bailout is also supposed to open up credit, but a credit card suddenly changing to a bank so it can get some free cash doesn’t seem to me like they’re going to be doing consumers any favors any time soon.

  12. elloGov says:

    No shocker here! You get used to making money out of thin air without labor. Money no longer comes in, you get in line when the government is handing out money. Unfortunately, it’ll take the government another decade to OFFICIALLY recognize (media will make pop culture) that these actions are of same immoral discipline and values as that which caused this crisis in the first place. Holy or not, there is a reason why all religions condemned interest.
    Last I remembered is that if a business is not profitable, it shuts down. Corporations are no longer about being profitable. Debt incurred and aid received are part of the profits.
    This is illogical and even a two year old will comprehend this. You make money by laying a layer of abstraction between the individual and transactions (as if we didn’t have enough layers). You then collect fees and 20% interest. You do this by setting up traps for people of all types and ages. You make your money off of people’s mistakes. You monopolize that layer via credit histories and such. You reinvest your earnings into the same sort of scum business you run. When it all ends and the money flow stops, you go and get the people’s money so you can do this all over again to the people; for the people; of the people. Oh the irony!

    If you are going to fix a disaster don’t pour all your resources and hope into the same damn thing that caused the disaster. We know there is a wall there, yet we heal and bang our heads again.

    Automotive industry, Credit Card companies, which industry is next I wonder hmmmm???

  13. Citizen Kang says:

    Bank Holding Company is the new Investment Bank. Look for huge scandals involving these entities at your next regularly scheduled financial meltdown.

  14. nicemarmot617 says:

    I’m having mixed feelings about these guys right now. A few weeks ago they reduced my credit limit hugely with no real warning (I got an email 3 days after the reduction). I wouldn’t have been so angry if they hadn’t lowered the limit to less than $100 of the current balance – putting me at risk of going over the limit with no idea why.

    Turns out there’s a fraudulent student loan hiding on my credit report. Who knows how long it’s been there, but if it weren’t for Amex’s assholery, I would have let it go even longer without knowing. It wasn’t on my last credit report, so I had no idea whatsoever. Of course, I also didn’t know it was even possible for a fraudulent student loan to exist. Thanks for fucking over my credit score Sallie Mae, you scumsucking pieces of shit! You’ll be hearing from my lawyer real soon!

    • the_wiggle says:

      @nicemarmot617: good luck getting your LOC restored once you get the fraud off your credit b. banks can jack rates & drop lines w/o having to restore anything even if fraud involved. . . .

  15. mpacuk says:

    So… what would happen if American Express were to open retail branches with checking and savings accounts? Would they issue American Express branded debit cards, so that you couldn’t use them at a variety of merchants?

  16. postnocomments says:

    In a couple of weeks the GM, Ford and Chrysler banks will open with free checking and loads of ATMs.

  17. BrianDaBrain says:

    My list of reasons the bailout was a mistake just keeps getting longer…

  18. hellinmyeyes says:

    @jdhuck: Well, that’s why. You don’t owe them enough. I wouldn’t mind if you call on my behalf though. :P

  19. kwsventures says:

    So, by the same thinking, GM and Ford need to become banks to get in on the bailout gravy train. Marvelous. Simply marvelous. .. all this bailout money, created from the Federal reserve printing press, is going to cause massive inflation within the next 5 years. Flooding the world with dollars is insanity.

  20. nsv says:

    What, the 24% interest they were getting from me wasn’t enough?

  21. highpitch_83 says:

    And people were afraid of Obama socializing the country…. Bernanke beat him to it!

  22. kwsventures says:

    The truth is we are a socialist society. Bailouts at taxpayer expense is the proof. Massachusetts Democratic Rep. Barney Frank said his committee will hold a hearing next week to consider a bill to provide $25 billion in federal loans to U.S. auto manufacturers. … none of these bailouts will work. All the taxpayer money is going to waste. Nobody can stop the natural market action. I don’t care how much money you throw at the situation. As the Federal Reserve burns out the printing press, we are setting up for a massive hyper inflation period within the next 5 years. Why? The Fed is flooding the world with dollars. .. I don’t understand these fools. Banks should dilute shareholders by offering more common and preferred shares to investors who take the risk and reward. That is how the banks get more money. If nobody wants to invest in the banks, then, they go bankrupt. I hate to tell ya but central planning/socialism doesn’t work.

  23. Anonymous says:

    whenever we bailout out a company it always ends bad for the consumer and very often the employees of the company. Look at the airline bailouts post 9/11 we give millions to airline companies and they lay off thousands. We should let these corporations fail, deal with trouble it causes and then move on. With the way things happen now we are just going to keep repeating the cycle. The bloat in these companies is so ingrained that it will never stop on it’s own.

  24. bitgod says:

    So where can I sign up to be a bank?

  25. RedwoodFlyer says:

    So…hopefully this will get Paypal to actually become a damn bank!

  26. GuinevereRucker says:

    There was a great post on here awhile ago with a movie called “Money as Debt”. I watched the whole thing twice and it said something like only 5% of money actually exists as currency – the rest is based on debtors’ promises to repay loans. That’s how our economy functions.

    I’m starting to see why the Bible calls debt slavery! I have only a mortgage as debt, and I’m going to make sure I pay that off ASAP and never get another or go into debt for anything.

    Anyway, I already pay very high taxes being self-employed. I’m not looking forward to what they will be as a result of the bailout.

  27. Blueskylaw says:

    Im having my accountant restructure me from self employed to a bank holding company.

    Twiddling thumbs, tapping foot, and whistling while waiting for money to roll in.

  28. andyfvp says:

    Greedy pigs. Happy to charge higher fees, but quick to seek our assistance when times are tough for them!

  29. Anonymous says:

    Why blame the corporations for taking advantage of the legal means available to them. The problem is the damn politicians, elected by the damn dumb voters. If you really want changes that matter, the political group has to be held accountable and that ain’t likely. But it is possible if voters quit going for the BS and personalities. Politicians are prostitutes, but they aren’t nearly as honest, reliable, skilled or caring. At least with a prostitute it feels good.

  30. emanresuym says:

    Thats it forget using an AMEX now, not only do you pay your bill but your taxes pay your bill too. It never ends.

  31. Anonymous says:

    American Express, among others I’m in hock to are dunning me without mercy. Am I going to get a bailout too? My wife and I, both 70 years old, have been in a state of panic since she lost her 100k a year job. We had to re-fi our mortgage to finish fire damage repair because Allstate totally screwed us and our mortgage doubled. I hope Deal or No Deal calls me.

  32. Anonymous says:

    Now that I am one of the many victims of American Express’s poor management (credit line decrease), I am proposing a boycott of all companies that receive government bailout money. Furthermore, I stand in good company with the majority of Americans who have managed credit and finances responsibly. I don’t need bailout money because I have good credit and will continue to get the best rates and ultimately save thousands of dollars over my lifetime over the pathetic but fashionably chargedoff or foreclosed. I would rather work two or even three jobs rather than ruin my life over getting out of a debt because it’s the in thing to do now…