The family of a potential credit union member may join the institution even if the eligible relative doesn't have an account there, according to federal regulators.

A potential member's family can join a credit union as long as the institution's charter allows family members to join, which is a common practice, according to a ruling by Richard S. Schulman, associate general counsel for the National Credit Union Administration.

Mr. Schulman's Aug. 9 opinion was requested by Colette L. Mooney, deputy superintendent of the Maine Bureau of Banking.

"It doesn't really matter if the potential primary member doesn't belong to the credit union," Mr. Schulman said in an interview.

Mr. Schulman said the agency's interpretation of membership eligibility rules, or "common bond" rules, continues to evolve and may be expanded further. "We're looking into whether immediate family members of immediate family members can join," he said.

Not surprisingly, bankers are unhappy about the opinion.

"It's more of the same," said Michael Crotty, deputy general counsel at the American Bankers Association. "No one has paid attention to common bond since 1982, so why should we be surprised?"

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