WASHINGTON - The Bank Insurance Fund member with the most thrift deposits isn't Bank of America or First Union.

It is, oddly enough, Home Savings of America.

The H.F. Ahmanson & Co. subsidiary, based in Irwindale, Calif., is the nation's largest thrift, with assets of more than $53 billion.

But since 1993 it has been a member of the Bank Insurance Fund - albeit a member with almost all its deposits in the Savings Association Insurance Fund.

Ahmanson accomplished this through a serious of legal maneuvers that started with its 1988 acquisition of New York's Bowery Savings Bank, a longtime member of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. and later the FDIC's Bank Insurance Fund.

Put simply, Ahmanson arranged for bank fund member Bowery to acquire much-larger savings fund member Home Savings. The new entity is based in Irwindale and named Home Savings, but it retains Bowery's bank fund membership - even as its closes the sale of its Bowery branches, and their $8.3 billion of deposits, to GreenPoint Bank this week.

Legally, Ahmanson is in the same boat as the so-called Oakar banks, which are begging the FDIC and Congress for a break on their savings fund bailout fee. (See story above.) If the FDIC or Congress gives the Oakar banks what they want, Ahmanson would - unless explicitly excluded by law or regulation - share in the bounty.

With an estimated $36.7 billion in savings fund deposits as of Dec. 31, 1994 - triple the total of the next largest Oakar, BankAmerica Corp. - Ahmanson would get a far larger share of that bounty than any other institution.

"We don't feel that's necessarily fair," said Carol Van Cleef, a Washington attorney with the firm of Katten, Muchin & Zavis who is working for several Oakar banks.

She's not alone. "Even though our crowd is no different from any one else on the block, we've got a reasonable argument and reasonable precedents," said one Oakar-bank lobbyist. "Home is off the planet as far as I'm concerned."

What does Home Savings think of all this? The thrift's executives have "not been focusing on" the Oakar debate, said spokeswoman Mary Trigg. But, she added, "We assume that whatever the outcome is for the Oakar banks that it would be applied across the board for all the Oakar banks."

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