The Federal Reserve has taken many unprecedented steps in the past four years to try to boost the U.S. economy and counter the effects of a financial crisis that triggered a painful recession. It has kept the short-term interest rate it controls at a record low near zero since December 2008.
It's bought more than $2 trillion in U.S. Treasurys and mortgage bonds to try to hold down longer-term rates. Those purchases have increased the Fed's balance sheet to more than $2.8 trillion.
Some steps the Fed has taken:
— Nov. 25, 2008: The Fed says it will buy $500 billion in mortgage bonds.
— Dec. 15-16, 2008: The Fed creates a target range for interest rates and cuts its key federal funds rate to between zero and 0.25 percent. That's a record low. The Fed vows to use all the tools it has to rescue the economy from the worst financial crisis and recession since the 1930s.
— Jan. 27-28-2009: The central bank signals it's prepared to buy longer-term Treasuries and expand other programs.
— March 17-18, 2009: The Fed says it will start buying up to $300 billion in government bonds over six months. It also decides to boost purchases of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac mortgage-backed securities and debt. The actions are aimed at driving down rates on mortgages and other debt.
— Sept. 22-23, 2009: The Fed slows a mortgage-buying program to complete its purchases by March 31, 2010, instead of at the end of 2009.
— Aug. 10, 2010: It decides to use some money generated by its mortgage portfolio to buy government debt, to try to lower rates on mortgages and other loans.
— Aug. 27, 2010: In a speech in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, Chairman Ben Bernanke lists several options to boost the economy, including the purchase of additional government bonds.
—Oct. 15, 2010: Bernanke signals the Fed will buy more government bonds to boost the economy, drive down unemployment and protect against deflation.
— Nov. 3, 2010: The Fed announces it will buy $600 billion more in Treasury bonds to try to hold down longer-term rates.
— June 22, 2011: The Fed confirms it will complete its purchases of $600 billion in Treasury bonds by the end of the month. The purchases were intended to drive down rates on mortgages and other debt.
— Aug. 9, 2011: It says it plans to keep its benchmark short-term rate at nearly zero until mid-2013. It's the first time the Fed has set a target for keeping the rate at that level for a specific period. The date reflects its assessment that the economy will remain weak.
— Sept. 21, 2011: Through a program called Operation Twist, the Fed says it will sell $400 billion of its shorter-term securities to buy longer-term holdings to try to lower Treasury yields further. The Fed also says it will reinvest its holdings of mortgage-backed securities, which could help keep mortgage rates at super-low levels.
— Jan. 25, 2012: The Fed says it's unlikely to raise interest rates until late 2014 at the earliest, extending a period of record-low rates by at least a year and a half.
— June 20, 2012: The central bank says it's extending Operation Twist through the end of 2012. And it says it's prepared to act further if the economy deteriorates.
— Sept. 13, 2012: The Fed says it will spend $40 billion a month to buy mortgage bonds for as long as it deems necessary to make home buying more affordable. It plans to keep short-term interest rates at record lows through mid-2015. And it's ready to try other stimulative measures if hiring doesn't pick up.
— Nov. 14, 2012: The Fed signals that it may be preparing to take further steps to stimulate an economy that remains too weak to reduce high unemployment. The minutes of its October policy meeting suggest it might unveil a bond buying program to replace one that expires at year's end.
— Dec. 12, 2012: The central bank says it plans to keep its key short-term rate near zero at least until unemployment drops below 6.5 percent — as long as expected inflation is tame. For the first time, the Fed makes clear that it will link its actions to specific economic targets.