When to Let a Bank Fail

The CIT Group, one of the nation's largest commercial lenders serving a million small and midsized companies, is on the verge of collapse now that federal officials have rebuffed pleas to rescue it with more taxpayer money. It had received $2.33 billion bailout from the feds in December.

The company's failure would create a stark line between banks that the government deems too big to fail and those regarded as expendable. Some observers have pointed out that if Lehman Brothers had acquired CIT in 2002, when it was considering a deal, the two banks together would now be considered "too big to fail."