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The preparation of financial statements in accordance with GAAP requires management to make a number of judgments, estimates and assumptions that affect the reported amount of assets, liabilities, income and expenses in the condensed consolidated financial statements. Understanding our accounting policies and the extent to which we use management judgment and estimates in applying these policies is integral to understanding our financial statements. We describe our most significant accounting policies in “Note 1, Summary of Significant Accounting Policies” of this report and in our 2010 Form 10-K.
We evaluate our critical accounting estimates and judgments required by our policies on an ongoing basis and update them as necessary based on changing conditions. Management has discussed any significant changes in judgments and assumptions in applying our critical accounting policies with the Audit Committee of our Board of Directors. We have identified three of our accounting policies as critical because they involve significant judgments and assumptions about highly complex and inherently uncertain matters, and the use of reasonably different estimates and assumptions could have a material impact on our reported results of operations or financial condition. These critical accounting policies and estimates are as follows:
  •  Fair Value Measurement
  •  Total Loss Reserves
  •  Other-Than-Temporary Impairment of Investment Securities
See “MD&A—Critical Accounting Policies and Estimates” in our 2010 Form 10-K for a detailed discussion of these critical accounting policies and estimates. We provide below information about our Level 3 assets and liabilities as of June 30, 2011 as compared with December 31, 2010. We also describe any significant changes in the judgments and assumptions we made during the first half of 2011 in applying our critical accounting policies and significant changes to critical estimates.
Fair Value Measurement
The use of fair value to measure our assets and liabilities is fundamental to our financial statements and is a critical accounting estimate because we account for and record a portion of our assets and liabilities at fair value. In determining fair value, we use various valuation techniques. We describe the valuation techniques and inputs used to determine the fair value of our assets and liabilities and disclose their carrying value and fair value in “Note 13, Fair Value.”
Fair Value Hierarchy—Level 3 Assets and Liabilities
The assets and liabilities that we have classified as Level 3 consist primarily of financial instruments for which there is limited market activity and therefore little or no price transparency. As a result, the valuation techniques that we use to estimate the fair value of Level 3 instruments involve significant unobservable inputs, which generally are more subjective and involve a high degree of management judgment and assumptions. Our Level 3 assets and liabilities consist of certain mortgage- and asset-backed securities and residual interests, certain mortgage loans, certain acquired property, certain long-term debt arrangements and certain highly structured, complex derivative instruments.
Table 6 presents a comparison, by balance sheet category, of the amount of financial assets carried in our condensed consolidated balance sheets at fair value on a recurring basis (“recurring asset”) that were classified as Level 3 as of June 30, 2011 and December 31, 2010. The availability of observable market inputs to measure fair value varies based on changes in market conditions, such as liquidity. As a result, we expect the amount of financial instruments carried at fair value on a recurring basis and classified as Level 3 to vary each period.