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A financial institution that resembles a bank but that historically did not offer services such as personal checking accounts and that invested capital mainly in home mortgages. In the late 1970s, Congress passed legislation freeing savings and loan associations (often called S&Ls) from their traditional dependency on home mortgage loans. In response, S&Ls invested their capital, often unwisely, in a range of enterprises, especially real estate. In the late 1980s, hundreds of S&Ls went bankrupt, leaving the federal government, which insured the accounts of depositors, with an enormous bill. Since then they have been subject to tighter regulation.