Bank of America Corp will pay its investment bankers bonuses close to the levels of 2007, as it tries to reduce defections following its takeover of Merrill Lynch & Co., the Wall Street Journal said late Thursday.

Citing people familiar with the matter, the paper said on its website some bankers were expected to receive bonuses equal to what they got in 2007, but the overall average was likely to be somewhat lower.

Under the basic formula likely to be used, about 25 percent of 2009 bonuses will be paid in cash, with the rest as deferred payments of stock or cash that will vary in value with the company's performance, the Journal said.

Portions of pay for many executives would be subject to clawbacks in the event of future losses, the report added.

Some of the deferred stock would be in the form of phantom units subject to fluctuations in the bank's share performance and available in increments over a three-year period, the Journal said.

Bankers expect to be told about their pay in late January or early February. The amounts will be awarded in mid-February.

Bank of America, which received $45 billion in federal bailout money at the height of the financial crisis, was sued by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission over accusations it misled shareholders over the bonuses paid by Merrill during the final months of 2008.

According to the SEC, Bank of America, which bought Merrill in September 2008, said in a proxy filing in November of that year that Merrill agreed not to pay bonuses. This was after the bank had already agreed to Merrill paying as much as $5.8 billion.

The bank has argued that shareholders already knew from media reports that Merrill was expected to pay year-end bonuses.