Credit unions across the country are expanding into poor communities.

Since July 1994, when the federal government liberalized membership rules, 28 credit unions have moved into low-income communities with a total population of 580,963, according to the National Credit Union Administration.

In December 1995 alone, five institutions expanded their potential membership in such areas by 105,659, according to the NCUA.

In two of the December expansions credit unions weren't venturing into the unknown: They were reaching out to people in their backyard.

Randolph-Brooks Federal Credit Union, Universal City, Tex., added the town of Seguin to its membership base.

The town, which has a population of 18,853, is near one of the credit union's sponsors, Randolph Air Force Base. The $696.3 million-asset institution had a presence in Seguin because many of the residents are military or civilian personnel of the base, said credit union spokesman Chris O'Connor.

But in the past the credit union has had to turn away people from Seguin who were not eligible for membership, he said.

"We made the decision a year ago," Mr. O'Connor said. "A number of people in the community were asking us to provide services but they couldn't join."

The credit union made its decision after it found the average income of Seguin was below the national average, which complied with the NCUA's definition of a low-income community.

Under the 1994 changes to membership rules, all credit unions are allowed to extend service to poor communities.

ASI Federal Credit Union - which originally served employees of Avondale Shipyards Inc., now called Avondale Industries - extended service to the everyone who lives in Westwego, La., where it is based. The town's population is 11,297.

"We are in the community, we are one of the few financial institutions in the community, we felt it was a natural step," said Audrey D. Cerise, chief executive of the $76.1 million-asset institution.

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