Mortgage lenders and their customers are starting to make big use of the Internet.

Consider the following notice, recently posted by Norwest Mortgage Co. on an Internet site that allows users to ask questions about the loan process:

"We have gotten so backlogged in answering questions that we are requesting that you not submit any new questions until we can catch up."

A recent search on the Internet, the worldwide computer network, found 102 sites related to home mortgage lending. Besides Norwest, lenders with an Internet presence include Fannie Mae, PHH US Mortgage Corp. of Mount Laurel, N.J., and American Savings Bank of Irvine, Calif.

The activity suggests that on-line communications is shaping up as an important marketing channel for the home mortgage industry.

Fannie Mae gets 5,600 visits a day to its home page - apparently the most among on-line mortgage operations.

Some lenders - like United Companies Financial Corp., Baton Rouge, La. - allow borrowers to fill out loan applications on-line. United Companies, mainly a home equity lender, got 80 loan applications over the Internet in June.

Norwest Mortgage, a subsidiary of Norwest Corp., Minneapolis, is the largest mortgage bank currently on the Internet. Its home page is linked to its parent's on-line presentation, meaning that users can easily jump between the two.

The mortgage company lets browsers ask - and gripe - about nearly every aspect of the origination process. It gets 50 site visits a week.

Some questions to Norwest Mortgage's home page have prompted surprisingly frank answers. Chris Connelly of Jacksonville, Fla., asked when is the best time to lock in an interest rate. Tricia Wolff answered for Norwest that she did not know for certain. She recommended that Mr. Connelly watch rate trends "and go with your best intuition."

"If I had a more accurate answer for this question, I'd be living in Hawaii!" she wrote.

Fannie Mae, formally the Federal National Mortgage Association, has an extensive presence on-line.

Since May 4, when its home page was created, 444,500 people from around the world have visited the Fannie Mae site, a spokesman said.

Its home page allows lenders - and the public - to read parts of Fannie's latest Lender Letters, updates and rule changes from the agency on topics such as using revised appraisal forms. It also lists new products being offered.

HSH Associates Inc. offers a comprehensive listing of loan rates nationwide. The Butler, N.J., information provider gives a daily accounting of average mortgage rates across the country - by far its most popular feature, said Paul S. Havemann, a vice president.

The company gets about 1,000 visits a day to its home page, he said. And it will soon start Lenders' Showcase, a site that will allow borrowers to shop for lenders.

"The Internet is like a great big library, and all the books are dumped on the floor," Mr. Havemann said. "We are trying to bring some sense of organization to it."

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