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CIT Group Inc. plans to redeem almost all of the $4 billion of debt tied to its exit from bankruptcy as the small-business lender led by John Thain seeks a return to investment-grade credit ratings.

CIT will buy back $1 billion of its 7 percent Series A second-priority secured notes due in 2016 and about $2.9 billion of the debt maturing in 2017 on March 9, the New York-based company said in a statement yesterday. Repaying the debt will make the company’s outstanding Series C notes and its revolving credit line unsecured, leaving the lender with a “largely unencumbered balance sheet,” Thain said in the statement.

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