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How Your Bank Can Create Money Out Of Thin Air

How Banks Can Create Money:

There are two types of money in a fractional-reserve banking system operating with a central bank:

  1. Central bank money: money created or adopted by the central bank regardless of its form – precious metals, commodity certificates, banknotes, coins, electronic money loaned to commercial banks, or anything else the central bank chooses as its form of money
  2. Commercial bank money: demand deposits in the commercial banking system; sometimes referred to as “chequebook money”

When a deposit of central bank money is made at a commercial bank, the central bank money is removed from circulation and added to the commercial banks’ reserves (it is no longer counted as part of M1 money supply). Simultaneously, an equal amount of new commercial bank money is created in the form of bank deposits. When a loan is made by the commercial bank (which keeps only a fraction of the central bank money as reserves), using the central bank money from the commercial bank’s reserves, the M1 money supply expands by the size of the loan. This process is called “deposit multiplication”.

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Here is an example of deposit multiplication:

The table below displays the relending model of how loans are funded and how the money supply is affected. It also shows how central bank money is used to create commercial bank money from an initial deposit of $100 of central bank money. In the example, the initial deposit is lent out 10 times with a fractional-reserve rate of 20% to ultimately create $500 of commercial bank money (it is important to note that the 20% reserve rate used here is for ease of illustration, actual reserve requirements are usually a lot lower, for example around 3% in the USA and UK…some jurisdictions don’t even require any specific reserve and leave it to the discretion of the banks’ directors). Each successive bank involved in this process creates new commercial bank money on a diminishing portion of the original deposit of central bank money. This is because banks only lend out a portion of the central bank money deposited, in order to fulfill reserve requirements and to ensure that they always have enough reserves on hand to meet normal transaction demands.

The relending model begins when an initial $100 deposit of central bank money is made into Bank A. Bank A takes 20 percent of it, or $20, and sets it aside as reserves, and then can theoretically loan out the remaining 80 percent, or $80. If the bank does in fact issue loan proceeds in the form of $80 in central bank money, the money supply actually totals $180, not $100, because the bank has loaned out $80 of the central bank money, kept $20 of central bank money in reserve (not part of the money supply), and substituted a newly created $100 IOU claim for the depositor that acts equivalently to and can be implicitly redeemed for central bank money (the depositor can transfer it to another account, write a check on it, demand his cash back, etc.). These claims by depositors on banks are termed demand deposits or commercial bank money and are simply recorded in a bank’s accounts as a liability (specifically, an IOU to the depositor). From a depositor’s perspective, commercial bank money is equivalent to central bank money – it is impossible to tell the two forms of money apart unless a bank run occurs.

At this point in the relending model, Bank A now only has $20 of central bank money on its books. The loan recipient is holding $80 in central bank money, but he soon spends the $80. The receiver of that $80 then deposits it into Bank B. Bank B is now in the same situation as Bank A started with, except it has a deposit of $80 of central bank money instead of $100. Similar to Bank A, Bank B sets aside 20 percent of that $80, or $16, as reserves and lends out the remaining $64, increasing money supply by $64. As the process continues, more commercial bank money is created. To simplify the table, a different bank is used for each deposit. In the real world, the money a bank lends may end up in the same bank so that it then has more money to lend out.

The following Table shows the expansion of $100 of central bank money through fractional-reserve lending with a 20% reserve rate. $400 of commercial bank money is created virtually through loans.

Individual Bank Amount Deposited Lent Out Reserves
A 100 80 20
B 80 64 16
C 64 51.20 12.80
D 51.20 40.96 10.24
E 40.96 32.77 8.19
F 32.77 26.21 6.55
G 26.21 20.97 5.24
H 20.97 16.78 4.19
I 16.78 13.42 3.36
J 13.42 10.74 2.68
K 10.74 0.0 10.74
  Summary of Results:
  Total Amount of Deposits Total Amount Lent Out Total Reserves
  457.05 357.05 100

Choosing a Jurisdiction

Although no new money was physically created in addition to the initial $100 deposit, new commercial bank money is created through loans. The boxes marked in red show the location of the original $100 deposit throughout the entire process. The total reserves will always equal the original amount, which in this caseis $100. As this process continues, more commercial bank money is created. The amounts in each step decrease towards a limit. If a graph is made showing the accumulation of deposits,one can see that the graph is curved and approaches a limit. This limit is the maximum amount of money that can be created with a given reserve rate. When the reserve rate is 20%, as in the example above, the maximum amount of total deposits that can be created is $500 and the maximum increase in the money supply is $400.

For an individual bank, the deposit is considered a liability whereas the loan it gives out and the reserves are considered assets. Deposits will always be equal to loans plus a bank’s reserves, since loans and reserves are created from deposits. This is the basis for a bank’s balance sheet. Fractional-reserve banking allows the money supply to expand or contract. Generally the expansion or contraction of the money supply is dictated by the balance between the rate of new loans being created and the rate of existing loans being repaid or defaulted on. The balance between these two rates can be influenced to some degree by actions of the central bank. However, the central bank has no direct control over the amount of money created by commercial (or high street) banks.

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