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Loans from home alone

Countrywide, the nation's largest independent mortgage lender, offers a discounted home loan only for those who apply via the Internet, the first such deal of its kind.

Countrywide, the nation's largest independent mortgage lender, today offered a discounted home loan only for those who apply via the Internet, the first such deal of its kind.

Dubbed Gold Credit, the loan offers a discount of up to 1-1/4 points, or up to $1,250 on a $100,000 home loan.

"Not only can users apply for a loan in the comfort and privacy of their homes, but also can they save money at the same time," said Cameron King, executive vice president of Countrywide's Electronic Commerce Division.

It is the one the most tangible signs yet of using the Net not just to process paperwork, but also to pass those cost savings on to consumers (up to $1,200 on a $100,000 loan in this case). It shows the Net's growing role in making these transactions possible, not just for home loans, but for buying insurance and processing drivers' licenses and U.S. passport applications, among other services. Even wedding insurance started selling over the Net last month from a company called InsWeb.

There are hurdles to overcome, though. Only about one-third of American households are estimated to have computers today. In addition, consumers still worry whether the information they send via cyberspace will be secure and hidden from pranksters who may try get at it.

Nonetheless, the trend is expected to accelerate. Countrywide is drafting other loan packages to be sold via the Net, including another discounted one for first-time home buyers. It hopes to complete those by year's end. Other mortgage companies are expected to follow suit.