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Excess Reserves


Excess reserves are the amount of cash reserves that a financial institution holds beyond what is required by regulators or authorities. They represent a buffer of liquidity that the institution can use for lending activities or to meet sudden unexpected financial demands. These reserves exist over and above the reserve requirement set by a central bank.


The phonetics of the keyword “Excess Reserves” would be: /ˈɛksɛs rɪˈzɜːrvz/

Key Takeaways

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  1. Excess reserves are the surplus of a bank’s reserves over and above the reserve requirement set by a central banking authority. They serve as a surplus to meet unexpected cash outflows or to take advantage of immediate lending opportunities.
  2. When banks have excess reserves, they can make more loans, hence increasing economic activity. Conversely, a decrease or shortage in excess reserves can constrict a bank’s ability to lend and therefore slow down economic activity.
  3. Excess reserves can indicate financial stability in a bank as they are funds not being used for loans, and can act as a safeguard against future financial crisis or unexpected demands for funds.

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Excess reserves are important in business and finance as they signify the additional cash reserves that banks hold over and above the statutory level required by authorities such as the central bank. They can impact the economy significantly as they can be used by banks to create additional loans, therefore, stimulating economic growth by increasing the money supply. On the other hand, high levels of excess reserves can indicate banks’ unwillingness to lend due to perceived risks, which can stagnate the economy. Furthermore, they can act as a buffer against unexpected loan losses or withdrawals, enhancing the stability and security of the banking system. Thus, understanding excess reserves is crucial in interpreting banking trends, monetary policy implications, and the overall economic health.


Excess reserves play a pivotal role within the financial system by serving as an additional source of liquidity for banks. Their primary purpose is to ensure that banks have enough money to meet the sudden increase in withdrawal demands by depositors. Banks are mandated by the central bank to maintain a certain level of reserves known as required reserves. All reserves beyond this minimum requirement are labeled as excess reserves. A bank’s capacity to continue operating during an unexpected financial impact often depends on the amount of excess reserves it maintains. Excess reserves act as an internal insurance policy, offering banks greater financial stability and continued customer confidence.Apart from offering financial security, excess reserves also facilitate the lending process which is crucial for business growth and economic expansion. Banks lend excess reserves to each other in the federal funds market. Hence, excess reserves are instrumental in governing the federal funds rate, the interest rate at which banks lend reserve balances to other banks on an overnight basis. A higher level of excess reserves in the banking system can lead to a lower federal funds rate, making loans cheaper, thereby stimulating economic growth. Thus, excess reserves serve a dual purpose, both as a buffer during financial stress and a driver of economic activity.


1. In response to the 2008 financial crisis, the Federal Reserve implemented a policy of paying interest on excess reserves held by banks. This led to banks hoarding their excess reserves instead of lending them out, in order to earn a risk-free return. In 2014, it was reported that U.S. banks held nearly $2.7 trillion in excess reserves with the Federal Reserve.2. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) initiated various moves to boost liquidity and stimulate the economy. Due to this, Indian banks accumulated excess reserves. In March 2021, it was reported that Indian banks held excess reserves of over 8 trillion rupees with the RBI. 3. In 2015, Canada’s Big Six banks – Royal Bank of Canada, TD Bank, Scotiabank, Bank of Montreal, CIBC and National Bank of Canada – had combined excess reserves of CAD 86 billion. The high amount of excess reserves was partially due to new regulations requiring banks to maintain higher amounts of liquid assets.

Frequently Asked Questions(FAQ)

What are Excess Reserves?

Excess Reserves refers to cash holdings that a commercial bank has over the minimum reserve requirement set by a central bank or a regulatory body. These reserves are not lent out to the bank’s customers and do not generate interest income.

How are excess reserves generated?

Excess reserves are typically generated when a bank decides to hold onto more cash than what’s required by regulatory bodies. This could be due to reasons such as low demand for loans, increased economic uncertainty, or strategic financial decision-making.

What does a high level of excess reserves indicate?

A high level of excess reserves often signals a conservative stance by banks towards lending due to reasons such as perceived economic instability or low demand for loans.

Do excess reserves earn interest?

Yes, excess reserves can earn interest. Most central banks, such as the Federal Reserve in the United States, offer interest on excess reserves (IOER) held by commercial banks.

What is the role of excess reserves in monetary policy?

Excess reserves play a crucial role in monetary policy. Central banks can alter reserve requirements to influence lending activity, and thus, stimulate or restrain economic growth. Higher excess reserves mean banks have more liquidity, which can encourage additional lending and spur economic growth.

What is the difference between required reserves and excess reserves?

Required reserves are the minimum amount of reserves a bank is required to hold against its deposits as mandated by a central bank or regulatory authority. Excess reserves, on the other hand, are any reserves over and above this required minimum.

Can excess reserves be negative?

No, excess reserves cannot be negative. If a bank’s reserves fall below the required level, it’s not excess reserves that become negative, rather the bank is in a deficiency position and usually has to acquire reserves to meet the requirement.

What happens to excess reserves during an economic downturn?

During an economic downturn, banks may choose to increase their excess reserves as a precautionary measure against potential loan defaults and financial instability. This increase reflects a reduced willingness to lend, which can further slow economic activity.

How do excess reserves affect the money supply?

When banks choose to lend out their excess reserves, the money supply increases, which can stimulate economic activity. Conversely, when they choose to hold onto excess reserves, the money supply can decrease, which can slow economic growth.

: What are the downsides of holding excess reserves?

: While holding excess reserves provides a safety net for banks, they also represent unutilized capital that could have been used to generate additional profits through lending or investment activities. Therefore, a bank must strike a balance between risk and potential return when deciding how much to maintain in excess reserves.

Related Finance Terms

  • Reserve Requirement: The minimum amount of money that banks are required to hold in reserve by a central bank.
  • Deposit Rate: The rate of interest earned by the bank’s reserves held by a central bank.
  • Federal Reserve Bank: The central banking system of the United States, which influences the lending abilities of banks through reserve requirements.
  • Liquidity: The ease with which assets can be converted into cash. Higher excess reserves increase a bank’s liquidity.
  • Monetary Policy: The policy set by the central bank to control the money supply in the economy. This can impact the level of excess reserves in the banking system.

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