THE MONEY STORE IS THE latest trophy for the acquisitive Ed Crutchfield, CEO of First Union. After snapping up two big banks and a brokerage firm last year, Crutchfield is plunking down $2.1 billion in First Union stock, outbidding still undisclosed rivals to buy the Money Store, a company specializing in home-equity, student, and Small Business Administration loans. The consumer-finance industry has come under pressure as savvier consumers seek out low-cost credit, but First Union officials believe both the bank and the Money Store will benefit from gaining access to each other's customer lists.

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