A unit of Norwest Mortgage is offering lenders electronic access to income and employment information from state employment security agencies.

Data are available from only five states so far, but Norwest is pressing a rapid expansion.

The unit, VIE LLC of Des Moines, began to make agreements with states in 1995 and to date has lined up Iowa, Minnesota, Texas, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania.

The information includes all of a person's employers, as well as wage data for eight to 16 quarters. To get the information, lenders must have written consent from the loan applicant, the company said.

For consumers, the service is expected to facilitate access to credit, the company said. It also "enhances privacy because it reduces the frequency of letters and phone calls going to employers," said Manny Siprut, president of VIE.

Mr. Siprut said employers are happy to get out of giving the time- consuming verifications, he added.

This type of streamlining "could very well be the wave of the future as long as those companies can protect the data they are collecting properly," said Ken A. Palla, a consultant at Fair, Isaac & Co., San Rafael, Calif.

The populations of the five states comprise about 17% of the U.S. work force, the company said. VIE has more than 200 lenders as subscribers. It said it hopes to cover up to 80% of the U.S. population and to market the service to lenders financing car, consumer, and home equity loans.

VIE (the letters originally stood for "verification of income and employment") was established in 1995 after Norwest was given permission by the Federal Reserve to earn fees from providing employment histories to third parties.

Once on line, lenders need about five seconds to gain access to information, said Mr. Siprut. The service is sold by resellers or credit reporting agencies that already call on lenders to sell them credit reports.

Every state collects employment and income information from employers. Although these data are confidential, VIE succeeded in gaining access by obtaining approval from the federal Department of Labor and then negotiating with each state, Mr. Siprut said.

VIE pays for operating the program and pays a per-transaction royalty to each state, he said. No tax dollars are used, and costs are covered by user fees, he added.

But states can reject participation, and some need legislative authorization to provide the service, Mr. Siprut said.

Talx Corp. of St. Louis also verifies income and employment, but it uses employers' data bases. Lenders gain access to the data by telephone now, but Talx is testing an Internet service, said Jackie Engel, manager of marketing communications.

Talx just completed an agreement with the state of California to add its 250,000 employees to the data base.

Companies outsource the job of employment verification to Talx, Ms. Engel said.

It has nearly 20 million employment and salary records from more than 300 public- and private-sector employers spread among all 50 states, she added.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, the Department of Veterans Affairs, eight private mortgage insurers, and three debt rating agencies have approved use of his service by lenders, Mr. Siprut said.

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