On a linked-quarter basis, the Company increased its provision for loan losses to $3.4 million for the fourth quarter of 2010 from $1.0 million in the third quarter of 2010, reflecting increased charge-offs during the fourth quarter of 2010 as well as general growth of the loan portfolio. The fourth quarter provision was down from $3.7 million in the year-earlier quarter, the majority of which resulted of an additional $2.0 million loan loss provision related to the disposition of a single nonperforming loan. For 2010, the provision for loan losses was $5.5 million versus $7.5 million for 2009. At December 31, 2010, the allowance for loan losses represented 1.93% of total loans outstanding versus 1.58% of total loans outstanding at September 30, 2010, and 1.81% of total loans outstanding at December 31, 2009.
Noninterest income for the fourth quarter of 2010, excluding the aforementioned bargain purchase gain and the receipt of life insurance proceeds, increased 40% to $2.6 million from $1.9 million in the prior-year quarter. This increase reflected higher service charges, fees and commissions, brokerage fees and mortgage origination fees associated with both organic growth and the acquisition of eight branch offices since December 2009. Noninterest income for 2010, excluding special items, increased 14% to $8.8 million from $7.8 million in the year-earlier period, as higher service charges, fees and commissions, brokerage fees and mortgage origination fees were offset partially by lower gains on the sale of securities in 2010.
Noninterest expense for the fourth quarter of 2010, excluding special items, increased 69% to $7.5 million from $4.5 million in the fourth quarter of 2009 and primarily reflected the addition of personnel and occupancy expenses associated with eight acquired branch offices since December 2009, as well as those related to the opening of a de novo branch in Valdosta. Noninterest expense for 2010, excluding special items, rose 41% to $25.0 million compared with $17.8 million for the year-earlier period. The Company's efficiency ratio was 61.85% and 79.79%, respectively, for the fourth quarter and year ended December 31, 2010, versus 85.93% and 81.59%, respectively, for the year-earlier periods.