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DEPOSIT INSURANCE RECONSIDERED

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The federal deposit insurance system, which has protected United States nest eggs since the Great Depression, may be due for an overhaul. Congress and the Treasury Department are seeking ways to reduce risks to taxpayers in the aftermath of the savings and loan crisis. The Senate Banking Committee is holding hearings, and Congress is expected to take up the issue next year.

Currently depositors are insured for up to $100,000 in each bank. In 1980 the deposit insurance ceiling was increased from $40,000.

Critics of the higher ceiling say it has encouraged abuses by deposit brokers who move large deposits looking for the highest rates. Because the deposits are federally insured, the risks in effect do not matter.

Administration officials say they will examine changes within the context of broad deregulation of the banking industry, which is seen as necessary to help US banks compete internationally.

One proposal under consideration is rolling back the deposit insurance ceiling to $50,000. But bankers oppose lowering the ceiling or limiting insurance coverage per person.

``If there is a cutback we could have more failures of banks'' and thrifts, says Kenneth Guenther of the Independent Bankers Association of America. Depositors might move money from small banks into large banks the government considers too big to fail, he says.

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