With the heads of all four federal banking agencies talking tough and presenting a united front, expectations of a crackdown on predatory lending are running high. But one question remains: What can bank regulators really do about it?

According to Comptroller of the Currency John D. Hawke Jr., not much. "While we can insist on scrupulous observance of such laws as Truth in Lending, much of what we are seeing in this area is within the boundaries of existing law," Mr. Hawke said in a speech last week.

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