WASHINGTON - The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency issued a rule Tuesday that permits it to charge for special examinations of banks' third-party service providers.

The agency proposed such fees in December, citing concern about banks' relationships with payday and title lenders, but the new rule will apply to a wide range of activities. These include credit card issuing, subprime lending, and check cashing.

"Some banks have recently entered new lines of business, or introduced novel and potentially high-risk products, relying substantially on third-party service providers to enable the bank to participate in or to conduct those activities," said the introduction to the rule, which was published in the Federal Register. Banks in such relationships, the agency said, may be "exposed to higher-than-normal levels of risk," so examiners have an "increased need" to examine third parties.

The rule will take effect June 7.

Currently, the agency can assess a fee for a special examination of a bank, but not for special examinations of a third-party provider.

The rule says the agency will provide notice in advance of special examinations, and decide whether to charge a fee based on the riskiness of the activity involved, its significance to a bank's operations, and the extent of a bank's internal controls.

Fees for special exams and investigations will be based on hourly rates that the agency publishes yearly as part of its fee notice.

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