Checks would have to be cleared more quickly under a provision agreed to yesterday by members of the House and Senate banking committees.

In the third day of discussions to reconcile banking bills passed by the two chambers of Congress, conferees from the House and Senate agreed to force banks to clear local checks within one business day and out of town checks within four business days. The limit on how long banks hold checks -- long sought by consumer groups -- would require funds from a local check deposited on Monday to be available Wednesday morning.

But consumers should not hold their breath. The provision is unlikely to become law for months, and then it would take 90 days to write the regulations and three years for the restrictions to take full effect.

The check hold limit is one of the few issues on which agreement has been reached by the conferees, who have spent three days arguing over relatively noncontroversial items before touching the controversial ones.

Aides said several members of the conference decided to stretch out the debate for the afternoon yesterday to avoid a showdown on how to close a loophole in federal banking law that enables companies from other industries to own banks. Some lawmakers want to permanently outlaw the so-called nonbank banks, while other want only a moratorium on new ones.

On Tuesday, the conferees are scheduled to begin debate on the heated issue of rebuilding the Federal Savings and Loan Insurance Corp., the insolvent federal fund that insures deposits at savings and loans. The lawmakers are billions of dollars apart over how much more money the fund needs.

August is the earliest that a compromise bill could be hammered out, passed by both the House and Senate and signed by the president, congressional aides say.