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Taxpayers may become liable for £500bn worth of bad loans and investments made by Royal Bank of Scotland and Lloyds Banking Group, the BBC has learned.
It would be part of the government's Asset Protection Scheme, under which taxpayers insure banks against future losses from such assets.
RBS has a Thursday deadline to agree terms, while Lloyds has until Friday.
The idea is to draw a line under bad assets to free up cash that the banks can lend to companies and individuals.
BBC business editor Robert Peston says that if the deal is completed it will take the total support by British taxpayers to the banks to £1.3tn.