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In the United States, the term "national bank" originally referred to the revolutionary era Bank of North America, later, First Bank of the United States, or its successor the Second Bank of the United States. All are now defunct.

In the modern U.S. the term "national bank" has a precise meaning: a banking institution chartered and supervised by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency ("OCC"), an agency in the U.S. Treasury Department, pursuant to the National Bank Act. The inclusion of the word "National" in the bank's name or the designation "National Association" or its abbreviation "N.A." is a required part of the distinguishing legal title of a national bank, as in "Citibank, N.A." Many "state banks", by contrast, are chartered by the applicable state government (usually the state's department of banking). The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), insures all deposits at both national and state banks.

The advantage of a National Bank Act charter is that a national bank is not subject to state usury laws intended to prevent predatory lending.[2] (However, see also Cuomo v. Clearing House Association, L. L. C., stating that federal banking regulations do not pre-empt the ability of states to enforce their own fair-lending laws.)[3] There is currently no federal cap on rates. The federal government only requires that whatever rates, fees or terms are set by issuers be disclosed to the consumer in accordance with the Truth in Lending Act.

Notwithstanding the name, not all "national banks" have nationwide operations. Some "national banks" have operations in only one city, or county or state. "National banks" should also be distinguished from federal savings associations (which include federal savings and loans, and federal savings banks, FSB), which are financial institutions chartered by the Office of Thrift Supervision, another agency in the U.S. Treasury Department. The Federal Reserve is the United States central bank.

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