WASHINGTON - The National Association of Federal Credit Unions said a government shutdown would disrupt the credit union industry and harm its members.

If Congress doesn't raise the federal debt ceiling, either independently or as a part of a final budget agreement with the White House by mid- October, the federal government will run out of money to operate and is expected to close all but essential services.

If that happens for even a few days, credit unions that serve federal employees would suffer, industry and trade group officials said. Tun Wai, the group's chief economist, said he conservatively estimates that there are about 904 such institutions, representing 10.6 million members and $49.2 billion in assets, one-sixth of the industry's total.

"Such a shutdown - or the mere threat of a shutdown - has a particularly severe effect on credit unions that serve federal workers and the members of the credit unions," trade group president Kenneth L. Robinson wrote in an Aug. 17 letter to President Clinton, in which he referred to a government shutdown as a "train wreck."

A shutdown would hit credit unions in a number of ways, Mr. Robinson said in his letter. For example, credit unions could face a liquidity pinch as their members borrow just as their direct deposit payments are cut off.

Also, credit union members who pay their loans through payroll deductions would inadvertently go delinquent, he wrote. On a practical level, access to credit unions located in government facilities might be denied if the facility is shut down.

Department of the Interior Federal Credit Union is working on a contingency plan in case its building is closed, said Laureen Johnson, chief executive of the Washington-based credit union.

"We are in discussions with Commonwealth Federal Credit Union to share a branch where we could establish some kind of office," Ms. Johnson said.

Veterans Administration Central Federal Credit Union is prepared to extend the payment period of some loans if its members don't get paid on time, chief executive John Santarpia said.

National Aeronautics and Space Administration Federal Credit Union in Upper Marlboro, Md., plans to offer 0% to 5% loans to strapped members, said spokeswoman Jo Anne Graczyk.

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