WASHIGNTON -- Federal regulators are trying to make it easier for the public to obtain data on banks' minority-lending records.

The data-including some records used by examiners to evaluate compliance - have been generated from reports made by banks under terms of the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act.

Among the new offerings is a comprehensive three-report package that includes data on loans and applications by income and race, loan applications by community and housing type and applications by census tract.

Keeping Public Informed

"HMDA is, after all, a disclosure act," said Glenn Canner, a senior economist at the Fed who is helping to put the information onto floppy disks so that it is more accessible to citizen-action groups as well as to bankers. "One of the main reasons for doing this is to provide information to the public."

Previously, information on the 9,358 lenders covered was available only from data tapes, which generally require a mainframe computer, or in thick books.

While banks could buy the data from the Fed and private vendors to obtain information on their competitors, many community gropus complained that they could not effectively analyze the data.

With much of the information now available on floppy disk, all it takes is a personal computer to tap into the information.

The new efforts are being lauded by consumers.

"It's something we've been pushing for for a long time," said Deborah Goldberg of the Center for Community Change in Washington. "It gives people more insight into what is going on. "It's going to be harder for bankers to just explain discrimination away."

Copies of the reports can be obtained through the Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council in Washington. Charges range from a few dollars for printouts to several hundred dollars for some data tapes.

The regulators say that the new products have many applications. Among them:

* Financial institutions can use the data to evaluate more fully their own lending records, especially new outreach programs.

* They also can monitor competitors' records, especially among specific neighborhoods, ethnic backgrounds, and income levels.

* Community groups with easier access to the raw data can run their own tests of lending activities in specific comunities.

* Real estate agenst can locate areas of high lending activity, and identify banks with a willingness to make particular types of loans.

* Foundations and investors can gather detailed information on bank's performance.

Regulators are also preparing a national aggregate report and tables detailing loan denial rates for each city in the county. Communities and community groups will be able to rate their regions against their peers.

"You could get a quick look at how Boise is comparing with Seattle, for example," Mr. Canner said.

In addition, diskettes can be obtained that have complete lending records for each financial institution in a given city.

The new reports are "all designed to provide flexibility to the consumers and bankers out there who are interested in making use of the HMDA data," Mr. Canner said.

A |Monument' of Data

Collecting and evaluating the minority-lending data are enormous tasks for federal regulators. The 7.8 million records collected this year, in paper form, would make a stack higher than the Washington Monument. Last year, regulators spent more than $5 million on the survey.

"The public has invested substantial money in HMDA," said Griff Garwood, who heads the Fed's consumer affairs office. "We have an obligation to make sure tham money is well spent."

The reports are available in different forms, including print, diskette and tape.

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