The Comptroller of the Currency's office said Tuesday it has set up a toll-free number customers can call with complaints and questions about national banks.

The calls will be handled by the agency's customer assistance unit, which was created in September to act as a liaison between consumers and national banks.

"It's important for the health of the national banking system that customer problems be dealt with," said Comptroller Eugene A. Ludwig.

Both the Office of Thrift Supervision and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. have already established "800" numbers for customer inquiries.

In the past, all national bank customers' calls and letters were handled by the OCC's six district offices.

"Now consumers won't have to figure out whether to call an office in New York or Atlanta," said agency spokeswoman Janis Smith.

Most customer complaints are still being investigated by officials in the six districts. However, the entire process will be brought under the Washington-based customer assistance unit by 1997, agency officials said.

In 1994, the agency received more than 38,000 letters and phone calls with complaints from national bank customers. Nearly half of the complaints involved lending issues, and 20% involved deposit accounts, according the agency. In the first 11 months of 1995, the complaint total was 35,108.

The toll-free number is 800-613-6743. Consumers can also send inquiries over the Internet to consumer.complaint

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