To circumvent court-imposed membership restrictions, BUCS Federal Credit Union, Owings Mills, Md., asked the government Monday for a thrift charter.

An October federal appeals court decision barring occupation-based federal credit unions from adding new companies to their fields of membership is hindering the $55 million-asset institution's growth, said BUCS Federal's vice president of operations, Debi Vinson.

"We are stagnating," Ms. Vinson said. "We can't take in any new members, and we don't know how long it is going to take the Supreme Court or Congress to resolve this issue."

BUCS Federal is the first credit union to file a charter application with the Office of Thrift Supervision since the court decision, but OTS officials said several others are contemplating the same move.

William J. Donovan, vice president of government affairs at the National Association of Federal Credit Unions, cautioned credit unions against changing their charters.

"We would encourage all credit unions to use restraint and exercise patience before taking the very major step of a charter switch," he said. "When the field of membership issue is finally resolved ... we're convinced that credit union services will still be the most effective way to provide low-cost consumer financial services."

Legislation was introduced in the House last week that would nullify the federal appeals court decision, and the Supreme Court plans to review the case this year.

BUCS Federal was chartered to serve Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Maryland, and its membership now includes employees at about 80 related companies.

The federal appeals court in December said credit unions could continue adding members from companies they already serve but reiterated a ban against adding companies.

"None of the companies we serve are doing much hiring, so the only way we could really expand was by adding new companies," Ms. Vinson said. "We're looking at one company with a potential 6,000 new members, but we've had to put them on hold."

Two credit unions have switched to thrift charters: Lusitania Federal Credit Union, Newark, N.J., on March 6, 1995, and Awane Credit Union, Peterborough, N.H., on Nov. 17, 1995.

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