By Colin Barr
March 31, 2011

The government is getting ready to start cashing out of another bailout.

Ally Financial filed Thursday to sell shares to the public. The company didn’t say how much money it expects the offering to raise, but a report in the Detroit News puts the likely figure at perhaps $6 billion or so. All the proceeds will go to taxpayers as Treasury whittles down a 74% stake in the lender.

All told the company has taken $17 billion in federal funds, two-thirds of which have been converted to common shares held by Treasury. The news comes as the government and various watchdogs debate the true cost of the 2008-2009 rescue of major banks, automakers and insurers.

Ally, the leading lender to U.S. car buyers, was known as GMAC when it was rescued by Treasury at the end of 2008. Ally lost $10 billion in 2009 as it wrote down the value of bubble-era mortgage loans made when GMAC was a major subprime lender, and escaped a massive loss the year before only by swapping existing bonds for new ones – a transaction that allowed it to book a large accounting gain.

But like its bailout brethren Citi (C), AIG (aig) and General Motors (gm), Ally has been on the mend over the past year. The company posted a $1 billion profit for 2010, and CEO Michael Carpenter has been saying since he was hired in August that he believed the bank would repay taxpayers in full.

How long that might take is another question, and the government isn’t showing its hand. “Treasury will retain the right, at all times, to decide whether and at what level to participate in the offering,” the government said Thursday. The offering will be led by Citi, in a touching show of bailout solidarity.

In any case, the IPO filing puts Ally on the road toward getting off the dole — an event that looked unlikely not too long ago.

Also on Fortune.com:

Follow me on Twitter @ColinCBarr.

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