Calling all savers
If Americans feel slightly confused about the plethora of ads now bombarding them for their savings dollars, they have ample reason.
Thanks to what has become a headlong de-regulation of the financial industry during the past several years, the types and terms of new savings accounts have become diverse enough to force even the most savvy investor into keeping a portable calculator in the coat pocket - and small change handy to call the nearest broker or banker as market conditions shift. In just the past few weeks alone, federal regulators have authorized two new ''money market'' accounts - one with limited and one with unlimited checking privileges - as well as reducing minimum deposits on savings certificates.
For a nation that was accustomed, until just a few years ago, to salting its spare cash away in old-fashioned passbook savings accounts, the very proliferation of new savings instruments is something to welcome. The timing, in fact, could hardly be more opportune, since Americans - largely because of a falling inflation rate and concerns about unemployment - are now socking away dollars at a rate similar to the period before inflation hit double-digit levels in the late 1970s. The savings rate has shot up to around 8 per-cent of disposable income from a low of 5.8 percent back in 1980. And for an economy that needs savings dollars to underwrite new investment in plants and products - not to mention the huge federal borrowing that will take place during the next several years to finance massive deficits - the increase in savings is particularly important.
At the same time, the very multiplication of savings instruments raises both warning signals for investors and genuine public policy concerns. For persons now saving money, or planning to do so, this is clearly a time when alertness and maximum information are absolutely necessary. Should spare dollars go into one of the new bank savings accounts? To a money market mutual fund? Into the stock market?
For federal regulators, meanwhile, there is also a question as to whether it might not have been better to deregulate the financial industry a bit more slowly - both to enable institutions to better adjust to the new accounts and to enable savers to absorb the details of the many programs now available. Did federal regulators really hear out industry spokesmen such as Fritz Elmendorf of the American Bankers Association who is quoted as saying that ''our industry wanted to see (regulators) move slower than they moved . . .'' He adds: ''Tremendous marketing is involved in these new accounts and it could create tremendous operational problems and that creates a crunch for our people.''
Whatever the merits in such concerns, the new accounts are coming into place - or are already there. So, for those Americans able to put away some savings dollars in this time of economic difficulty, the rule would seem to be to shop carefully - and read the fine print.