Thrifts are demanding a full refund of fourth-quarter premiums paid to the Savings Association Insurance Fund.

Industry trade groups claim the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. had no authority to levy premiums following an Oct. 1 special assessment that capitalized the thrift fund at $1.25 in reserves for every $100 in insured deposits.

"At the moment SAIF reached 1.25 basis points, there was no discretionary power to do anything other than set risk-based premiums," said Louis H. Nevins, president of the Western League of Savings Institutions.

The FDIC proposed on Oct. 8 to refund most of the $438 million collected for fourth-quarter premiums, but to keep enough to pay off Financing Corp. bonds used to bail out the thrift industry in the late 1980s.

Thrifts will get back about 20% of the premiums they paid in, but the FDIC wants to retain $198 million for the Fico obligation.

What has the thrift industry really mad is the FDIC's plan to give full refunds to the 740 banks that own deposits insured by the thrift fund. These so-called Oakar and Sasser institutions will get back $180 million while thrifts will only get back only $60 million. That's because the FDIC has decided premiums from Oakars and Sassers may not be used to make Fico payments.

Robert R. Davis, director of government relations for the thrift tradegroup America's Community Bankers, said additional favors for the Oakar and Sasser banks are unjustified because these institutions already won a big break when Congress voted to cut their share of the special assessment 20%.

The healthiest members of the thrift insurance fund paid premiums of 23 cents per $100 in insured deposits on Sept. 30. Under the FDIC's plan, the healthy thrifts would receive a refund of 5 cents.

The agency is soliciting comments on the proposal until Nov. 15 and a final ruling is expected in late December.

FDIC spokesman Robert M. Garsson said the agency "will look very carefully at the comments and take them into consideration when making a decision."

Mr. Davis said that to pay for the Fico interest, the FDIC should tap a $250 million escrow fund generated by past fees charged to institutions that exited or entered the thrift insurance fund.

Another solution, he said, would be to pay the Fico interest from the thrift insurance fund itself. Following such a move, Oakar premiums could be tapped to replenish the thrift fund.

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