On Feb. 25 the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 to require credit union members to share a single, common bond. The case was filed in 1990 by several North Carolina banks against AT&T Family Federal Credit Union, which had accepted members from more than 100 unrelated companies.

The fight over credit union membership limits is now being fought in Congress, where a number of bills have been introduced. The leading legislation is HR 1151, with nearly 200 co-sponsors, including House Speaker Newt Gingrich. That bill would essentially overturn the Supreme Court decision and allow credit unions to serve multiple common bonds.

The banking industry opposes that bill and has offered an alternative that would require larger credit unions to pay taxes and comply with bank- like safety and soundness and consumer regulations, including Community Reinvestment Act rules.

To avoid this a credit union would have to have "limited" assets, though a number has not been set; a single common bond, though existing small credit unions would be grandfathered; and no commercial accounts, neither loans nor deposits. Credit unions set up solely to serve low-income neighborhoods would also be unaffected.

In addition, all community credit unions, even those that meet these criteria, would be subject to CRA requirements.

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