Shattering all records, banks made $218 billion in Community Reinvestment Act loan commitments last year.

According to the National Community Reinvestment Coalition, the amount is nearly five times more than the industry committed in 1996 and represents two-thirds of the $353 billion pledged since the law's inception in 1977.

"You will see a banner year in 1998 as well," predicted Josh Silver, the group's vice president of research and publications. "Banks are really seeing this as a profitable business."

Last year's total was beefed up by the two largest CRA pledges ever. BankAmerica Corp.'s $140 billion CRA loan commitment alone surpassed all the reinvestment pledges made from 1977 to 1996, the group said. Also, Washington Mutual pledged $75 billion in CRA lending.

NCRC compiled the data by interviewing its 600 members and pulling news stories on bank reinvestment pledges. It plans to release a more comprehensive version of the study at its annual conference in March.

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