Countrywide Credit Industries is promising borrowers that it will close a mortgage in 10 days or less or give them a partial refund of closing costs.

In the past few years, lenders have been guaranteeing speedier prequalifications and loan approvals. Some automated underwriting systems can generate loan approvals in minutes.

But Countrywide's plan is believed to be the first in which a lender has made a commitment to close a loan so quickly. Industrywide, closings can take 30 to 60 days.

"A lot of lenders are saying they can do a fast approval but nobody is saying they can do a fast close," said Joe Anderson, executive vice president of Countrywide's consumer markets division.

This month, Countrywide began to offer the 10-day guarantee through its builder division. Borrowers who have been approved for a purchase loan will get $250 back if Countrywide fails to close within 10 days.

Beginning in January, all its national retail offices will offer the program. Mr. Anderson said the 10-day guarantee would especially benefit people who are relocating and need a new home quickly.

Technology is the main reason lenders can approve and close loans so rapidly. Weston Edwards, a Laguna Beach, Calif., consultant, said it was easier today for lenders to access property and borrower information, so loan closings in five days or less might not be out of the question in the near future.

A spokesman for Chase Manhattan Mortgage said 90% of the loans originated in its Northwest retail division in the last 12 months closed within 10 days of application. This region features the highest use of laptops among loan officers, the spokesman said.

Still, some observers wondered how many borrowers really need to have a loan closed this quickly. Mr. Anderson conceded that there aren't many times when a borrower is ready to move into a house only 10 days after the mortgage is approved. The plan does not cover refinancings, which do not require such fast closings because the borrower is already in the house.

Even though Countrywide isn't expecting huge volume from this program, Mr. Anderson said the 10-day-close guarantee will remind borrowers that Countrywide will do what it takes to suit them.

"Generally speaking, there is need for lenders to make it easier and quicker to apply for and close a loan," Mr. Anderson said.

Industry observers said the Countrywide plan shows how much of a commodity business mortgage lending has become.

"If you're a lender, you'd like to find some way to differentiate yourself other than just pure price," said Edward Elanjian, managing director of Cohane Rafferty Securities, a mortgage investment banking firm and servicing brokerage.

Other large mortgage banks will probably match the Countrywide program, he said.

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