WASHINGTON - Banks looking to make safer rural loans - and get credit toward Community Reinvestment Act goals to boot - can turn to a federal loan guarantee program.

The Department of Agriculture runs the popular program, which spurs homeownership by extending guarantees on loans to poor and working-class rural residents. Last year, $725 million worth of those loans were supported by the guarantees. This year the plan is to support $1.04 billion in such loans.

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