The American Bankers Association yesterday went to court to try to block the federal government from permitting credit unions to offer accounts that are: in effect, interest-bearing checking deposits.
The National Credit Union Administration, which regulates federally chartered credit unions, this week published a final rule that would allow the nation's 22,000 credit unions to offer so-called "share-draft" accounts.
The credit union administration has run an experimental program for several years, permitting 582 credit unions to offer these interest-bearing checking accounts - although not all of these credit unions have offered the accounts.
The bankers association which represents most of the nation's 14,000 banks, asked the U.S. District Court here to grant a preliminary injunction to stop the National Credit Union Administration from permitting all credit unions to offer share drafts beginning Feb 6, 1978. Under present law checking accounts pay no interest but credit unions could offer up to 7 percent on share drafts.
Traditionally only commercial banks have been permitted to otref checking accounts, although in recent years Congress has permitted experiments with so-called NOW accounts (negotiatied orders of withdrawal) which are similar to share drafts.
Only banks, savings and loan associations and mutual savings banks are permitted to offer NOW accounts and the experiment has been confined to New England.
Traditional checking accounts pay no interest and banks have been forbidden to pay interest on checking deposits (demand deposits as they are technically called) since the depression.
Although there are legal differences between NOW accounts and checking accounts, the differences are essentially meaningless to the average bank customer. For all practical purposes NOW accounts and share drafts are checking accounts that pay interest.
The bankers association claimed in its suit that already $316 million are in share drafts that should be in checking deposits at banks because of the experimental credit union program. Banks had about $270 billion in checking deposits in September.
The bankers filed a similar suit early this year, but withdrew it when the credit union administration agreed to withdraw a similar rule and invite written comments and solicitoral testimony on permitting the nation's credit unions to offer these accounts.
The injunction request filed yesterday noted that not only have commercial banks been harmed by the experiment, they will be further harmed if all credit unions could offer share drafts' because federal credit union members would shift their funds from commercial bank checking accounts to share draft accounts.