Government Services Savings and Loan Inc. Maryland's largest publicly owned saving institution, will become the area's first savings and loan to offer checking accounts, starting today.

A law passed this year by the Maryland legislature allows state-chartered S&Ls to offer checking accounts, said James M. Haynes Jr., the firm's vice president.

All financial institutions will be able to offer interest on checking accounts (called NOW accounts, for negotiable orders of withdrawal) as of next Jan. 1 under federal legistlation passed earlier this year.

But Government Services is getting a head start on many savings and loan institutions across the nation, which won't be able to offer checking accounts until next year. Leaders of thrift institutions hope that by offering checking services, they will gain more savings funds to meet the anticipated demand for home mortage loans.

In addition to allowing savings and loans to offer checking accounts, the new federal law will allow them to make consumer loans and renegotiated-rate mortages and to issue mortage-backed securities.

The federal law was a catalyst for enactment of the Maryland law, Haynes said.

"Ninety-nine percent of our customers have checking accounts at some other institution," said Alexander R.M. Boyle, the firm's president. "We'd like them to have the convenience of having everything under one roof."

The new accounts will require a $100 initial deposit with no charge per check. However, if the balance falls below $100, a $2 monthly fee will be charged.