In an unmarked office building opposite its headquarters here, Countrywide Credit Industries is quietly mapping new strategies for one of the hottest areas of consumer lending.

Last August, the nation's largest independent mortgage lender created a division to make loans to people with less-than-pristine credit records. It also brought in a veteran of subprime lending, Paul Abbamonto, from Long Beach Mortgage, another California company that specializes in the niche.

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