WASHINGTON

a House panel is expected to approve legislation that would cut the rates lenders may charge students getting government-guaranteed loans. Page 3

COMMUNITY

Nearly 200 small banks were created in the United States last year, while about 600 banks of all sizes were gobbled up in merger deals, according to the FDIC. Page 8

MORTGAGES

HOME EQUITY: Associates First Capital, the largest U.S. finance company, is planning to celebrate its newfound independence quietly. Page 9

CARDS

Late payments on bank credit cards fell dramatically in the fourth quarter, to the lowest levels since 1994, according to the ABA. Tight lending standards and low unemployment were cited. Though the numbers excited some economists, others wondered whether consumer credit has really gotten healthier. Page 21

INVESTMENT PRODUCTS

Banks continued to sell more third-party than proprietary mutual funds in the fourth quarter. Page 12

CORPORATE FINANCE

Citicorp has arranged a $547 million, 364-day revolving loan for NEC, Japan's biggest producer of microchips and personal computers. Page 14

TECHNOLOGY

Synovus formed a technology subsidiary that will be the focus of product testing and innovation for the multibank holding company. Page 16

DIGITAL FRONTIERS

SMART CARDS: In an effort to add coherence to its smart card capabilities and help banks deploy them, Visa has introduced a program called Visa Smart. Page 19

MARKETS

Shares of Long Island Bancorp remain near their historic high as money managers and analysts bet that the New York company would soon be bought. Back page

LETTERS Page 20

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