It will soon become even harder to tell the difference between a federal thrift and a national bank.

The thrift charter has already been endangered for years. What once were 4,000 mortgage-focused lenders has dwindled to just over 300, and Congress already did away with a dedicated regulator for federal thrifts following the crisis.

But as the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency implements a provision of the recent regulatory relief law, allowing most thrifts to "elect" to be treated as national banks rather than go through a more cumbersome charter conversion process, any meaningful difference between the two charters will be close to negligible.

Under the new law and a proposed OCC rule, thrifts with less than $20 billion in assets could keep their charter but could opt for a new designation freeing them from limits on commercial lending imposed on savings and loans. They would also be exempt from meeting the "qualified thrift lender" test — requiring that at least 65% of a lender's portfolio be made up of mortgage- and housing-related assets.

Read more in American Banker.