Small thrifts find the revised Community Reinvestment Act rules difficult to follow but praised examiners for spending less time in their institutions.

These are among the findings released Monday by America's Community Bankers, which surveyed 186 small thrifts and 86 large ones about their experiences with the new CRA rules.

Fifty-one percent of small thrifts said they had a hard time extending credit in all the neighborhoods within their communities, while 43% said they had difficulty convincing examiners that they were extending credit to borrowers at all income levels.

Fewer than 20% of large thrifts, by contrast, said they had trouble proving that they met the credit needs of consumers, regardless of census tract or income.

Nearly half of the small thrifts said they had significant trouble finding and keeping demographic data on their communities. Only 37% of large thrifts reported similar difficulties.

Large thrifts had their own gripes. Nearly 60% said they had difficulty convincing the government they are making enough CRA loans. "Demand for loans is less than the regulators think it is," said Brian P. Smith, the trade group's director of policy and economic research.

Rural institutions complained that they were "forced ... to manufacture special activities geared toward low- and moderate-income families that did not make good business sense or meet any realistic customer or community need," the report said.

Despite these troubles, the survey found that thrifts consider the new CRA rules an improvement. "It was not as negative a response as we would have thought originally," said Charlotte M. Bahin, the trade group's regulatory counsel.

Exams are less burdensome, respondents said. Nearly 72% of small institutions said examiners finish their work faster than under the old rules, while 83% said regulators are more efficient under the new system. Large institutions reported similar findings.

The number of examiners visiting the institutions has dropped under the new rules, respondents added.

Still, nearly two-thirds of large institutions said examiners were less familiar with the new rules than the old rules, and most respondents complained that compliance costs have not fallen as expected.

Regulators revised the CRA rules in 1995 to focus more on lending and less on paperwork. The rules took effect in July for banks and thrifts that have more than $250 million of assets or are part of holding companies with more than $1 billion of assets. Smaller institutions were subject to a streamlined version of the rules in January 1996.

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