House-Senate conferees agree on nationwide banking bill


WASHINGTON -- A bill lifting most remaining restrictions on nationwide banking was virtually guaranteed passage yesterday after a House-Senate conference committee settled the two chambers' disagreements over the issue.

The measure would bring a major change in U.S. banking law, loosening restrictions dating to 1927, and allowing banks to open branches nationwide. It also is likely to speed consolidation and make banking more convenient for customers.

Supporters said it also would bring higher interest rates for depositors and lower costs for borrowers.

The bill, which now heads back to the floors of both houses for final votes, where approval is likely, will allow a customer to make deposits and cash checks with the branch office of an out-of-state bank, something currently permitted in only a few areas. It also will permit banks to cut expenses associated with operating separate banks in each state.

NationsBank Corp. of Charlotte, N.C., estimates that consolidating its existing operations in nine states would save it $50 million annually.

The bill also includes provisions designed to save banks as much as $45 million a year on paperwork, protect borrowers from being gouged on second mortgages and make $382 million in loans available to poor neighborhoods.

The conference committee's measure allows healthy banks to buy existing banks in any state one year after the bill becomes law. After June 1, 1997, a healthy bank holding company may combine bank units in several states, saving money and allowing consumers to bank across state lines. States may opt out of the so-called interstate branching.

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