WASHINGTON - Federal regulators have given themselves an extra month to decide whether to object to Citigroup Inc.'s planned acquisition of Associates First Capital.

In letters sent Thursday to the companies, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency said they have extended to Dec. 16 their deadline for action. Their original target date had been today, but officials said they needed more time to consider the many public comments that they have received on the deal.

An FDIC spokesman said the agency has received more than 160 comment letters, most raising questions about Associates' practices as a large subprime lender.

Regulators said they plan to use the extra time to clarify Citigroup's plans to address alleged predatory lending practices. The Comptroller's Office asked Citigroup to describe the kinds of disclosures that will be made to customers who buy single-premium credit insurance and to clarify its planned limits on points for refinanced and broker-sourced loans.

The agencies did not announce any plans for public hearings, which more than 70 consumer and community groups demanded in a letter sent Tuesday to bank regulators, but the FDIC spokesman said hearings have not been ruled out.

Despite Citigroup's announcement last week of initiatives intended to calm activists who have targeted Associates as a predatory lender, community groups argued that Citigroup has not gone far enough. The groups said that the company's proposal would still permit practices associated with predatory lending, such as prepayment penalties, single-premium credit insurance, and mandatory arbitration clauses.

The groups' letter commended the New York State Banking Department for its hearing last week on the issue and called on the OCC and FDIC to follow suit.

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