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) -- If you are a bank and still haven't repaid government bailout money, Uncle Sam has a deal for you.

Lenders that previously received federal funds through the Troubled Assets Relief Program, or TARP, are using the U.S. Treasury's newly created Small Business Lending Fund (SBLF) to pay off TARP IOUs.

The government and banks see the swap of one loan for another a win/win.

The banks can cut the interest on their government bailout money by huge amounts. Banks that still owe TARP are currently paying 5% dividends, while dividends paid through SBLF are as little as 1%.

The U.S. Treasury sees the program as a way of expanding small business lending. Like TARP, Treasury continues to take preferred stakes in banks receiving money through the SBLF but dividend payments can range from 1% to 5% depending on how successful a lender is in growing its small business loan portfolio.

The $30 billion SBLF was created when President Obama signed the Small Business Jobs Act, last September.

The Washington Post reported on Sunday that

Eagle Bancorp

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of Bethesda, Md., had redeemed the remaining $23.2 million in preferred shares held by the government for TARP assistance, with some of $56.6 million the bank holding company received through the Small Business Lending Fund, or SBLF.

Two Connecticut bank holding companies that are "already taking advantage" of the opportunity to convert TARP preferred shares to SBLF preferred shares include

BNC Financial Group


of Fairfield, and

SBT Bancorp


of Simsbury, according to the Hartford Business Journal, which also reported that

Connecticut Bank and Trust

( CTBC) had applied for SBLF money.

First California Financial Group

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of Westlake Village, Calif., used the $25 million in SBLF money received this month to repay TARP, although, according to company's July 14th announcement, its initial dividend for the SBLF money will be the same 5% it was paying for the TARP money. The dividend "may be decreased to as low as 1% if growth thresholds are met for outstanding small business loans," the company said.

SNL Financial in May identified 53 banks that said they were applying for SBLF, also commented at that time that "applying banks

continued to indicate that the fund will mostly be used as a mechanism to refinance TARP."

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According to SNL, larger SBLF applicants included

Western Alliance BanCorp

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of Phoenix;

Pinnacle Financial Partners

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of Nashville, Tenn.;

Banner Corp.

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of Walla Walla, Wash.;

First Merchants

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of Muncie, Ind.; and

Taylor Capital Group


of Rosemont, Ill.


Written by Philip van Doorn in Jupiter, Fla.

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Philip W. van Doorn is a member of TheStreet's banking and finance team, commenting on industry and regulatory trends. He previously served as the senior analyst for Ratings, responsible for assigning financial strength ratings to banks and savings and loan institutions. Mr. van Doorn previously served as a loan operations officer at Riverside National Bank in Fort Pierce, Fla., and as a credit analyst at the Federal Home Loan Bank of New York, where he monitored banks in New York, New Jersey and Puerto Rico. Mr. van Doorn has additional experience in the mutual fund and computer software industries. He holds a bachelor of science in business administration from Long Island University.