At stake in a financial system meltdown: $26 trillion?

September 15, 2008, the day the 150-year-old Lehman Brothers declared bankruptcy.
Keith Lew | Flickr Vision | Getty Images

As the U.S. finance system just keeps getting bigger, so does the amount to which taxpayers, in an extreme case, would be exposed should things go haywire again.

The total portion of financial system liabilities that "are subject to explicit or implicit protection from loss by the federal government" has grown to a record 60 percent, according to the latest calculations from the Richmond Federal Reserve's "Bailout Barometer."

Total price tag for those guaranteed liabilities: $25.9 trillion.

That's a post-crisis high for a system that regulators and legislators have sought desperately to downsize. To no avail, though: The 2009 estimate put the total liabilities, including guaranteed and nonguaranteed, at $42.33 trillion; the latest assessment, updated in March, is $43.15 trillion, a 2 percent gain. The total guaranteed level rose from $24.92 trillion, a 3.9 percent gain.

The liabilities come from banking and savings firms; credit unions, government-sponsored enterprises including Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, private pension funds and other financial firms.