Last fall, Hank Paulson forced big banks to take funds from the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) -- which has yet to provide an iota of Troubled Asset Relief -- and so far about $576 billion has gone out in the form of preferred stock. Paulson forced banks to take the money so that the ones that really needed it would not be stigmatized by investors and customers. Of course, any trader with a grain of a brain could see through that little scam -- and did drive down the stock prices of the real financial disasters (e.g., Citigroup (C)) to nearly zero.
Now some of those banks that probably never needed the money in the first place -- such as Goldman Sachs (GS), JPMorgan Chase (JPM) and Morgan Stanley (MS) -- want to pay back their $45 billion worth of TARP funds. Of course, they're not in the driver's seat -- the White House is. But if Tim Geithner is to be believed -- they won't get their wish since he just announced that only $25 billion will be repaid in the next year. Regardless, I think the White House should decide whether to let them pay back the money based on the answers to three questions: