WASHINGTON - Facing the prospect of paying six times more for deposit insurance than banks, thrifts are looking for any way out of the Savings Association Insurance Fund.

The escape hatches may end up bankrupting the thrift fund or forcing a default on bonds that funded the beginning of the industry's cleanup.

But those are the concerns of policymakers, not savings and loan managers.

Thrift executives, in interviews, said they do not plan to wait and see whether Washington will come up with an answer to their problem.

"We have to take care of it ourselves," said Jay Sidhu, president and chief executive of Sovereign Bancorp., which control $5 billion of deposits in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

"I've talked to lots of people in Washington and came to the conclusion that we can't expect anything from Congress or the administration this year because the banking lobby is too strong."

There are ways to the same destination, but all the routes demand control of a commercial bank charter, which carries with it membership in the Bank Insurance Fund.

Sovereign decided chartering a new bank would take too long, so it bought a BIF-insured commercial bank last month.

Mr. Sidhu said Tuesday that he expects the deal to buy Colonial State Bank in Freehold, N.J., will close by June 30.

"By this time next year, a much higher portion of our deposits should be BIF-insured," Mr. Sidhu said.

Bud Koch, chairman and chief executive officer of Charter One Bank in Cleveland, would not say what the $6 billion-asset thrift has planned. But Charter One is not planning to stand still.

"We're working on it," Mr. Koch said Tuesday. "We'll have an announcement by the end of the month."

Great Western Bank, Los Angeles, blazed a trail last week as the first thrift to try to charter two national banks. The nation's second- largest thrift plans to lure deposits out of the thrift and into the new banks and save $64 million a year in deposit insurance costs.

California Federal Bank followed Great Western on Monday, announcing it will apply for a national bank charter once the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. finalizes the new, lower bank premium. That action is expected in May.

"We are looking at all alternatives to meet the challenge presented by the proposed disparity," said Edward G. Harshfield, CalFed's president and CEO. "In addition to our national bank charter filings, we have not ruled out other options, such as forming a bank holding company or acquiring a BIF-insured institution.

"We all have to think creatively about how to exit the SAIF."

Indeed, the five other large California thrifts as well as other giants like TCF Financial Corp. in Minneapolis, are weighing similar moves, according to industry observers.

"There are lots of people working even as we speak on applications," said Gil Schwartz, a partner at Schwartz & Ballen who represents Great Western.

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