April 17 (Reuters) - Citizens Financial on Wednesday reported a lower first-quarter profit as it earned less from customer interest payments.

Banks in the United States have been bracing for a turnaround in gains from interest income, as they paid more to retain customers who are in search of higher-yield securities, while loan growth declines.

Citizens Financial's net interest income (NII) - the difference between what it earns on loans and pays for deposits - tumbled 12% to $1.44 billion in the first quarter compared with the previous year.

Larger rivals Bank of America and Wells Fargo also posted similar declines in NII in recent days.

Period-end loans and leases fell 7% to $143 billion in the quarter ended March from a year ago.

The bank set aside $171 million in provisions for credit losses in the first quarter, slightly higher than $168 million a year earlier, as it prepares for more customers to miss or fall behind on their payments.

The lender reported net income of $334 million, or 65 cents per share, for the first quarter, compared with $511 million, or $1 per share, a year earlier. (Reporting by Mehnaz Yasmin in Bengaluru; Editing by Maju Samuel and Vijay Kishore)