Several top lenders and mortgage associations have signed on to an on- line mortgage information exchange service that uses America Online, a popular interactive data network.

Countrywide Funding, Downey Savings and Loan, and the Mortgage Bankers Association of America, among others, have joined the start-up service provided by Mixstar Inc. of Newport Beach, Calif.

The service, called Mortgage Information Exchange, allows mortgage brokers and lenders to communicate through Windows-based "message boards" designed to match buyers and sellers of processed loans.

BankAmerica Corp., the California Mortgage Bankers Association, and the California Association of Mortgage Brokers have also signed on to the service, which expects to go live March 1.

Walter Blass, chairman of Mixstar, said the service was designed to cut down on the amount of time spent processing mortgages, as well as reducing fax and Federal Express expenses incurred when brokers and lenders exchange paper-based loan documentation.

The service, he said, will function as a utility for information transmissions in "any format they want, including electronic data interchange X12."

X12 is an EDI standard for the exchange of business transactions, such as order placements and processing, invoicing, and payments.

Dan McLaughlin, a director of technology initiatives with the Mortgage Bankers Association, said the marketing incentives to join the service -a free one-month trial - were too great to pass up.

Mr. McLaughlin said although the Washington-based trade group has joined, it was still evaluating its potential usefulness. He noted that America Online is not X12 compliant.

"We have not yet made a decision on how we intend to use the various network opportunities for communicating with our members," Mr. McLaughlin said.

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