Ever need a college loan? You've probably pored through the notorious eight-page FAFSA application. A likely home buyer? Try the five-page Uniform Residential Loan Application.
But what if you're a bank looking for a few billion from the federal government's new Capital Purchase Program?
That's all the nation's financial institutions had to fill out to request money from the government's $700 billion Trouble Asset Relief Program. In fact, the first page only requires bank contact information.
For some lawmakers and watchdog groups, the simple request form has become a symbol of a government financial bailout plan in need of more accountability and oversight.
"When student lenders and mortgage companies ask more questions in lending thousands of dollars than the federal government does when it injects billions of dollars worth of capital, we should all be concerned," said Rep. Spencer Bachus of Alabama, the top Republican on the House Financial Services Committee.
That said, the application process is not particularly easy. Applicants had to submit their forms by Nov. 14 to banking regulators, who have access to vast amounts of data about the banks seeking the money. Those regulators are generally well-acquainted with the applicants and then make a recommendation to the Treasury on whether to provide the capital infusion or not.
"The application starts the process, it's not the end of the process," said Brian Olasov, a former Wall Street banker and now managing director at McKenna Long & Aldridge, an Atlanta-based law firm.
"Either the Treasury or the primary regulator reserves the right to come back to the bank and ask additional questions," Olasov said. What's more, if a bank gets preliminary approval, it also must provide a security purchase agreement and a warrant agreement — paperwork that far exceeds the original two-page application.
The money comes from a $250 billion fund within the Troubled Asset Relief Program that was designed to provide a capital infusion to banks in hopes that would loosen up lending. So far, 87 financial institutions have received money, ranging from $2 million to $25 billion. Banks can request from 1 to 3 percent of their assets.
During a House Financial Services committee hearing, GOP Rep. Randy Neugebauer of Texas asked Neel Kashkari, the director of the Treasury office that oversees the bailout program, whether the banks had to present a business plan that explained what they would do with the money.
"Not specifically," Kashkari replied. "It's very hard for us to try to micromanage and say this is how you should run your business, because each bank and each community is a little bit different. So we wanted to work with the regulators to identify the healthy banks, put capital in on the same terms, and then create the economic incentives for them to want to go make new loans."
Bachus, in an interview, contrasted the bank application process to the paces Congress put the auto industry through when Detroit's Big Three automakers asked for financial relief.
"Automobile companies came to the Congress for four lengthy hearings," Bachus said. "They were told, 'We're not going to even consider giving you money unless you tell us everything you're going to do to return to profitability.'"
Of course, General Motors and Chrysler were pleading for their lives. The bank capitalization program is designed only for financially stable institutions.
But for Steve Ellis, vice president of the nonpartisan Taxpayers for Common Sense, there's that two-page application.
"It's still somewhat shocking to the senses," he said, "when you think that credit card applications are a heck of a lot longer than that."