Under special exemptions granted by Congress, 10 small thrifts will not have to ante up Nov. 27 when the rest of the industry pays billions to bolster the Savings Association Insurance Fund.

Good deal, right?

Raw deal is more like it.

While most thrifts will pay 65.7 cents on every $100 of deposits held March 31, 1995, to capitalize the thrift fund, they will pay nothing for deposit insurance next year.

But these 10 thrifts, while paying nothing up-front, face annual premiums of at least 23 cents per $100 for the next three years.

This came as a surprise to executives at some institutions.

"We just thought we were totally exempt from everything, but then we found out we weren't," said Tommy K. Ross, president of South Central Bank in Edmonton, Ky. "A newly chartered thrift should not have to do either."

Three more years of record-high premiums based on current deposits will cost more than paying the special assessment on March 1995 deposits, according to thrift officials.

Take Natbank in Pompano Beach, Fla. It had $6 million of deposits in March 1995 but has $30 million now and expects to reach $45 million in1997.

"The one-time assessment would be cheaper," said Raymond Gelinas, Natbank's president. Paying the high premium "will be very costly."

"It isn't the advantage or the help that we thought it would be originally," agreed Jon Hippler, president of Mountain West Savings in Coeur D'Alene, Idaho. "When the opportunity arises, we'll probably go back and pay the special assessment."

That opportunity will occur next summer. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. has told these 10 thrifts that, while they must pay the higher premiums for at least the first six months, they may pay a pro rata share of the assessment July 1. After covering the special assessment, these thrifts also would get deposit insurance for free.

The deposit insurance fund rescue law exempted thrifts chartered after Jan. 1, 1993, from paying the special assessment.

"We had no way of being part of the problem," said Jim Poole, president of River Valley Savings Bank in Ozark, Ark. "We weren't even chartered until May of '93."

Some thrifts are planning simply to pay the high premiums.

Gerald Sprong, president of First Savings Bank, a $130 million-asset thrift in Manhattan, Kan., said the benefit is that the premiums will be paid over several years.

"It's not a one-time hit to capital" as the special assessment is, he said. "It's a plus in terms of the timing."

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