WASHINGTON -- In a move that could save thrifts as much as $204 million, Treasury Secretary Lloyd Bentsen has decided that taxpayers will pay for any savings institution failure that occurs before July 1.

The Resolution Trust Corp. could have stopped accepting failed thrifts at the end of this month. Congress gave Mr. Bentsen, as chairman of the Thrift Depositor Protection Oversight Board, the discretion to set a shutoff date anytime between Jan. 1 and July 1, 1995.

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