State and federal officials said on Monday that Goldman Sachs would pay $5.1 billion to settle accusations of wrongdoing before the financial crisis.
But that is just on paper. Buried in the fine print are provisions that allow Goldman to pay hundreds of millions of dollars less — perhaps as much as $1 billion less — than that headline figure. And that is before the tax benefits of the deal are included.
The bank will be able to reduce its bill substantially through a combination of government incentives and tax credits. For example, the settlement calls for Goldman to spend $240 million on affordable housing. But a chart attached to the settlement explains that the bank will have to pay at most only 30 percent of that money to fulfill the deal. That is because it will receive a particularly large credit for each dollar it spends on affordable housing.
Goldman is the last of the major American banks to settle with the government. Past deals with other banks also contained some of these concessions, but Goldman appears to have negotiated an even sweeter deal on certain points. For all the banks, the credits suggest that the amounts that the banks will have to actually spend on consumer relief will be much lower than the numbers announced in the news releases.