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Regulators Urge Banks to Provide Help to Hurricane Victims

MARTIN CRUTSINGER AP Economics Writer WASHINGTON (AP) - Federal and state banking regulators on Thursday urged financial institutions in areas affected by Hurricane Katrina to do what they could to help customers with their banking needs.

The regulators suggested those actions could include waiving fees for use of automated teller machines, increasing the daily withdrawal limits on ATM machines and easing restrictions on cashing out-of-state and non-customer checks.

In a joint statement, the regulators said that banks and other financial institutions should ``consider all reasonable and prudent actions that could help meet the critical financial needs of their customers and communities.''

Among other possible actions the banking regulators suggested were waiving overdraft fees for people whose paychecks have been interrupted, allowing loan customers to defer or skip some payments and waiving early-withdrawal penalties on time deposit accounts.

The regulators said that many financial institutions were already implementing contingency plans including procedures for consumers to have access to ATMs and the use of their debit cards.

Separately, the Internal Revenue Service announced that it had set up a special toll-free telephone number for use by taxpayers affected by Katrina who need help with tax matters. These people can call 1-866-562-5227.

The joint banking statement was issued by the Federal Reserve, the Comptroller of the Currency, the Office of Thrift Supervision, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., the Conference of State Bank Supervisors and the National Credit Union Administration.

Mortgage-finance giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac announced earlier this week that they are helping homeowners who are in difficult straits in the hurricane-ravaged areas by allowing reduced or suspended mortgage payments on a case-by-case basis. ___

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