The provision for loan losses was $2.7 million in the fourth quarter of 2010, representing a decline of $20.3 million versus the comparable 2009 period. The provision for loan losses recorded during the fourth quarter of 2009 resulted primarily from the strategic execution of several sales of lower-quality higher-risk loans, including a significant portion of the Company's non-accrual loans. The fourth quarter 2010 provision for loan losses exceeded net charge-offs resulting in a $590 thousand increase in the allowance for loan losses primarily due to several additions to the Company's watch list and net risk rating changes that required higher allocated reserves.
Income from bank owned life insurance increased by $641 thousand, including a $701 thousand receivable for an insurance benefit payment at December 31, 2010. Net gains on sales of securities were $5 thousand in the fourth quarter of 2010 compared to net losses of $174 thousand for the same period last year and net gains of $733 thousand in the third quarter of 2010.
Fourth quarter 2010 total operating expenses decreased by $6.2 million or 39.9% to $9.3 million compared to the fourth quarter of 2009. This decline was primarily due to a $3.5 million reduction in credit and collection expenses resulting from a $3.0 million charge recorded in 2009 to write-down the carrying value of loans held for sale to their estimated fair value. Salaries and other employee benefits expense declined by $1.0 million in the fourth quarter of 2010 when compared to 2009 primarily as the result of a reduction in the Company's pension and incentive compensation costs. Other operating expenses declined by $1.3 million largely due to $740 thousand in costs recorded in 2009 associated with the exchange of the Company's subordinated notes for equity. Also contributing to the lower level of operating expenses in the fourth quarter of 2010 was a $416 thousand decline in legal expenses reflecting the lower fourth quarter 2010 accrual and the fourth quarter 2010 reclass of a third party consulting expense to other operating expenses. Partially offsetting the foregoing expense reductions was a $260 thousand increase in marketing and advertising costs in the fourth quarter of 2010 versus 2009 as the result of enhanced corporate branding efforts.