"A large and relatively unimpeded flow of credit through healthy financial markets is a salient attribute of the U.S. economy and any well functioning modern economy. Banks and other financial institutions channel the economy's savings toward a variety of current productive uses. By borrowing short-term and lending long-term, these institutions create a flow of credit that passes liquidity from savers to investors, and transforms liquid short-run assets into less liquid long-term assets. These long-term assets are created by credit-financed, current spending by households on housing, consumer durables, and education, and by, current spending by businesses on new plant and equipment. But lending in credit markets requires confidence in the borrowers' ability to repay the debt (principal and interest) in full and on schedule. The current turmoil in U.S. financial markets is the result of a breakdown in that necessary confidence. In an environment of distrust, financial institutions are far less willing and able to lend long-term. The move toward short-term lending diminishes the flow of long-term credit to the non-financial economy and dampens the economic activities of households and businesses that are dependent on borrowing. Economic policy may be needed to get credit flowing smoothly again and to mitigate the damage incurred by households and non-financial businesses. A number of indicators have pointed to a substantial rise in the cost of credit and a decrease in the flow of credit to the broader economy."
CRS Report for Congress, R40007