The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) closed out the first half of the year by closing down another three banks, bringing its total number of closings for first six months of 2011 to 61.

That’s down from the pace in 2010, when a total of 157 banks were shuttered by the agency -- and 2009 when 140 institutions were closed-- but it is still a lot more than are closed in a normal year.

The FDIC also reports that at the end of the first quarter of this year, it had 888 banks that it was classifying as “problem institutions.”  That’s up slightly from the 884 problem institutions it had on its list in the fourth quarter of 2010. 

It’s also the highest number of problem institutions the agency has reported at one time since March 31, 1993, when there were 928 banks characterized as problems. That was back when the nation was dealing with what became known as the Savings & Loan crisis -- a series of scandals and collapses that ended up closing down nearly a quarter of the nation’s 3,200 thrifts and costing taxpayers $153 billion.

With 7,575 banks and savings institutions in the country insured by the FDIC, the current figures mean that 12% of the nation’s banks are currently considered “problem institutions” by FDIC regulators.

When the FDIC closes insolvent banks it does so by requiring another bank or group of banks to take them over. Any uncovered losses up to $250,000 suffered by depositors are reimbursed by the FDIC from its deposit insurance fund.

That fund has been in the red since 2009 because of the fiscal crisis that began in 2008 and the FDIC expects to have to pay out another $52 billion over the next two and a half years dealing with the hundreds of banks that are still expected to fail by 2014, primarily because of loan losses on commercial property.

The most recent failures announced by the agency are the Richmond-based Virginia Business Bank, with total deposits of $85 million, BankMeridian of Columbia, S.C., with total deposits of $215 million, and Integra Bank of Evansvale, Ind., with $1.9 billion in total deposits.

The FDIC explains that while large banks have been stabilizing, “many smaller banks are still struggling to survive.” The agency says still rock-bottom housing prices, as well as loan defaults and high unemployment, have hobbled such institutions, with little indication that these problems are winding down.