Community First Bankshares said it will delay closing its purchase of 37 Banc One Corp. branches so it doesn't anger customers before the December holidays.

Fargo, N.D.-based Community First was scheduled to close the $38 million deal in mid-December.

But Donald R. Mengedoth, president and chief executive officer at $4.2 billion-asset Community First, said he was concerned that the company wouldn't have time to distribute new automated teller machine cards to Banc One's former customers. He said he didn't want to hit customers with sudden changes in service during the busiest shopping and travel time of the year.

"People could be out shopping over the weekend and not have the right card," he said. "It was too high of a risk."

Banc One has agreed to delay the closing until January.

John Russell, a spokesman for $115.5 billion-asset Banc One, said the two sides agreed that the delay would be best for customers. Community First is buying 25 Banc One branches in Arizona, eight in Colorado, and four in Utah.

Mr. Mengedoth said Banc One had initially hoped to complete the acquisition before yearend so it could count the gain toward its fourth- quarter earnings.

However, Mr. Russell said the deal would not have affected earnings.

Robert C. Ollech, a financial services analyst at Principal Financial Securities Inc., Milwaukee, said he believes the companies are wise in delaying the sale.

"Both are probably better off taking the time to make sure they have the whole thing mapped out," he said. "It's probably more important for Community First because they want to keep all of those people as customers."

Agreeing with Banc One, Mr. Ollech said the branch sale would not have added significantly to the superregional's fourth-quarter earnings if the deal were to close during 1997.

"Any gain would have been offset by something else," he said.

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