Figuring in the charges, you may not gain from high-interest accounts
For some people, saving money in the new high-interest accounts offered by banks and savings-and-loans could be an expensive proposition. Although the first of these accounts, the so-called money market deposit account, is credited with taking away some of the assets in money market mutual funds since it was introduced Dec. 14, there is still a good deal of confusion about the various fees and charges different banks impose.
The second of these accounts, the ''Super NOW'' (negotiable order of withdrawal), is laden with even higher fees and charges to offset the banks' high costs of offering and managing them. Some banks, in fact, are not bothering to offer the Super NOW; even with higher fees, 8 or 9 percent interest on an account with unlimited checking and a 12 percent reserve requirement is just too expensive.
For both accounts, customers must make a minimum deposit of $2,500 (though some banks require a minimum initial deposit of $5,000), and the banks can pay whatever interest rate they can afford. Only the withdrawals vary: A total of just six checks or transfers can be made each month from the money market accounts, while the Super NOW account permits unlimited checking.
Anyone considering putting $2,500 or more in either of these accounts should take the time to compare fees, charges, and the method used to figure those advertised interest rates at several banks and thrifts in your area.
One place where some of this work has been done is the Bank Rate Monitor, a publication of the Advertising News Service Inc. in Miami Beach. By calling banking institutions in some of the largest markets in the United States, editor Gail Liberman said, she found some surprising rules for the new accounts.
* One institution was advertising a 12.5 percent interest rate, but that was only for balances over $2,500. So if a customer deposited $4,000, only $1,500 would earn 12.5 percent interest. The rest of it paid just 5 percent.
* Another not only charges 25 cents for checks, withdrawals, and transfers, as many banks do, but also charges 15 cents for every deposit.
* While banks are required to pay no more than 5 1/4 percent (5 1/2 percent at S&Ls) if the average monthly deposit falls below $2,500, some institutions are paying less; 5 percent is common.
* At many institutions, the advertised rate has no basis that customers can use as a guide; the rate is simply changed monthly by the bank, based on what it feels it can afford and what the competition is paying. Many banks, however, are ''pegging'' their rate to an index, such as the Donoghue Money Fund Average. Rates at these institutions may range from one-half to two percentage points above the Donoghue figure.
One bank Ms. Liberman called said its rate would be an average of the rates given by the five largest banks in the city. She suggests customers ask what the index for the rate is, if any, and stick with a bank that uses one.
Whatever the basis for the advertised rate, ''people should also be aware that come February or March these rates are going to be much lower than they are now,'' predicts Robert Wool, co-author of ''All You Need to Know About Banks,'' recently published by Bantam Books. Many banks will not be able to afford the high rates more than a few weeks, he believes.
While a $5 monthly charge may not seem like much, an examination of what it does to your return shows it can be costly. If you have $2,500 in an account yielding 10 percent, a $5 charge reduces the effective annual return to 7.6 percent. Of course, the more money you have in the account, the less effect a $5 charge has, but if there are banks that have no monthly charges in your area, it might pay to look for one.
Sometimes, however, it may not pay to switch banks just to get the very highest rate and the lowest charges, Mr. Wool says. ''If you've got a bank offering a reasonable return, but it's 1 percent below the one down the street, it's not worth it to switch,'' he says. Maintaining a good relationship with your local bank could save you much more in the long run - on interest for an auto or home improvement loan, for example - than you would earn by moving your money market account, he notes.
If you haven't already opened a money market or Super NOW account, don't rush it, says Robert Person, a partner and banking specialist at Coopers & Lybrand, the accounting firm. ''Take a month or six weeks to look around and make your decision,'' he recommends. ''It won't make that much difference and you'll come out ahead in the long run.'' Stocks from an estate
Recently, my wife received shares of stock, in odd lots, from an estate trust settlement. As we are considering selling some of the shares, we wondered if the capital gains should be computed on the original cost of the stocks when purchased or on the market value of the stocks on the date the trust was liquidated.
If it is on the date of liquidation, are the capital gains long or short term? We expect to sell the stock within a year from the date of the liquidation of the trust.
- C. S.
The time basis for capital gains is neither the date of purchase nor the date of liquidation, but you are close. The value of stocks received in an estate is generally figured from the date of death. There are a few exceptions to this, so you should check with a tax or estate lawyer.
Capital gains on these stocks would always be figured on a long-term basis.
If you would like a question considered for publication in this column, please send it to Moneywise, The Christian Science Monitor, One Norway Street, Boston, Mass. 02115. No personal replies can be given by mail or phone. References to investments are not an endorsement or recommendation by this newspaper.