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Ten large U.S. banks will finish repaying about $68 billion in bailout money Wednesday, marking a new phase for the most visible government effort to relieve the credit crisis, the Treasury Department said.

Treasury said last week the banks could begin repaying money they received last fall under the $700 billion financial system bailout known as the Troubled Asset Relief Program, or TARP. The program was the centerpiece of the government effort to relieve a global credit crunch and teetering financial markets in October.

The banks have since been negotiating with Treasury over the prices of stock warrants they issued as part of the TARP deal. When Treasury made its initial investments, it received the warrants, which give it the opportunity to buy the banks’ common shares in the future at a fixed price. The value of the warrants would depend on the shares’ future performance.

The pricing of warrants has been a point of contention, slowing the repayment process. Banks want to pay less to tear up the warrants than Treasury says they’re worth. But until banks have bought back the warrants, the banks will remain tied to the federal program. Several banks said they had told Treasury they wished to buy the warrants, officially starting the negotiation process.

TARP became a flashpoint for critics of government intervention last fall, when Congress debated whether to commit $700 billion of taxpayer money to the effort.

The banks repaying TARP are some of the industry’s largest, including JPMorgan Chase & Co., American Express Co., Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and Morgan Stanley. BB&T Corp. and U.S. Bancorp. also said they were repaying their TARP money.

In addition to the money they’re returning, the banks have paid Treasury more than $2 billion in dividends that were mandated under the TARP program. Taxpayers also will receive billions in exchange for the warrants, once Treasury and the banks can agree on how to price them.

With Wednesday’s repayments, Treasury will have recovered more than $70 billion distributed under the program, including about $2 billion from earlier repayments by smaller banks.

The repayments don’t necessarily mean Treasury is winding down the program, which injects capital into healthy banks to encourage lending. Treasury officials have said the money could be reinvested in other healthy institutions, ensuring that government support continues to ease the flow of credit.

The size of the repayments far exceeds the $25 billion that Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner projected banks would repay this year.

Banks have been itching to quit TARP because it subjects them to limits on executive compensation and other rules. Before getting permission to repay their money, the banks had to meet a series of government requirements. Nine of the 10 were subject to a “stress test” designed to show how they would withstand a deeper recession.

They also had to raise equity from investors and raise debt without government guarantees. But the banks still rely on some government subsidies, including debt guarantees from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. and discounted credit lines from the Federal Reserve.

Wednesday was the first day the banks were eligible to repay the money. Goldman disclosed its plans in letters to congressional leaders Tuesday.

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