WASHINGTON - From now on, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. will give banks and thrifts a lot less time to adjust to changes in insurance premiums.

Previously, the agency announced premium changes at least 45 days before sending out invoices. A final rule approved Tuesday by the FDIC board cuts that notice to 15 days.

After invoices are mailed out, banks and thrifts have 30 days to pay their premiums.

Steven Seelig, director of the FDIC's finance division, said the change will give the board "the greatest amount of flexibility" and allow it use more up-to-date information in setting premiums.

More immediately, it means the FDIC won't have to decide next month whether to lower premiums next year. Instead of announcing the Jan. 1 premium in two weeks, the FDIC can wait to see what happens in Congress, where a rescue for the ailing Savings Association Insurance Fund is being debated.

The legislation would force banks to pay 75% of the $800 million in interest due each year on Financing Corp. bonds. That works out to about 2.5 cents per every $100 of domestic deposits.

When the FDIC voted last month to lower premiums to an average of 4.4 cents, industry representatives complained that the agency was padding the premium in anticipation of the 2.5-cent increase.

FDIC Chairman Ricki Helfer has denied that's the case, noting the premium could go up or down in January.

Still, James McLaughlin, director of agency relations for the American Bankers Association, panned the move.

"It's significant right now as banks prepare their budgeting for the coming year," he said. "Everybody had been anticipating that they were going to do it (set premiums) Oct. 15. This now postpones it 30 days."

At a meeting of the agency's board, the FDIC tacked the notice-period change to the end of the final version of a rule that will allow banks to make their first-quarter premium payments each year either at the end of December or the beginning of January. That rule was proposed in August without any mention of shortening the 45-day notice.

"I wasn't aware they were considering doing this," said Karen Thomas, director of regulatory affairs for the Independent Bankers Association of America. She added, however, that "This was something that was in their purview anyway. I don't think they were required to go out for comment with it."

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