The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. voted Tuesday to exempt 27 financial institutions from a special $4.5 billion assessment to rebuild the Savings Association Insurance Fund.

Sixteen of them were considered too weak to pay the assessment. The other 11 benefited from a special break written into the thrift rescue law passed by Congress last week.

None of the institutions were identified. Others may ask to be exempted if they can prove that paying the one-time fee- about 67.5 cents for each $100 of SAIF-insured deposits - will put them at risk.

The FDIC today will send letters explaining the assessments, which are to be paid by Nov. 27. Recipients have until Nov. 1 to ask for exemptions.

According to FDIC guidelines, exemptions would be given if an institution demonstrates that the payout would threaten its capital adequacy.

But FDIC Chairman Ricki Helfer, FDIC vice chair Andrew C. Hove Jr., and Jonathan L. Fiechter, acting director of the Office of Thrift Supervision, all urged that the guidelines be revised to take other factors into account, such as an institution's Camel rating.

The rating system evaluates capital, asset quality, management, earnings, and liquidity.

Forcing an adequately capitalized but troubled institution to pay the assessment could pose a risk to the SAIF, Mr. Fiechter said.

If there are problem assets and there are going to be writeoffs in the future, Ms. Helfer said, "that has a direct impact on capital" and should be considered.

FDIC director Joseph H. Neely wanted the agency to hear appeals from weak institutions that want to pay the assessment to avoid the perception that they are shaky. If an undercapitalized thrift comes up with a plan to raise the money to pay the special assessment, the FDIC should seriously consider it, he argued.

The FDIC board also proposed reducing the fourth-quarter SAIF assessment rate to adjust for the recapitalization of the thrift fund. The fourth- quarter bill was based on thrifts having to pay 23 basis points more than banks for deposit insurance because their fund was undercapitalized.

But 18 of those 23 basis points are for interest on Financing Corp. bonds, so thrifts would get refunds of only five basis points under the plan, which will be published Oct. 17 in the Federal Register.

The 740 banks and thrifts with deposits insured by both the thrift and Bank Insurance Funds will do better. Because these so-called Oakar and Sasser banks don't have to pay Fico interest, they would be getting a full refund totaling about $180 million, FDIC officials said.

With a fully capitalized insurance fund, most thrifts next year will gain parity with most banks and pay nothing for deposit insurance. But both thrifts and banks will be paying the $780 million annual interest on Financing Corp. bonds.

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