An estimated 1.9 million Americans of the 35 million to 40 million eligible to participate established Individual Retirement Act pension plans in 1976, investing approximately $1.93 billion, according to the Internal Revenue Service.

Of the 7 million to 8 million eligible Keogh plan participants, only 600,000 are estimated to have opened accounts, according to the Treasury department. The Federal Reserve Board provides slightly different estimates of both IRA and Keogh plans.

While the figures seem low, IRA and Keogh are on target, according to Floyd Reeves of the Treasury Department. Reeves said the government expected only 1.4 million individuals to participate in IRA the first year because of the startup problems which accompany any new program.

The educational and marketing difficulties of the new and, to many, complicated programs are the reasons for the lag in participation, according to George Morvis, president of Financial Shares Corp. of Chicago.

"How do we expect the public to understand and comprehend a service when those who offer the service do not fully understand it?" Morvis asked in an article he wrote for MidContinent Banker.

He suggests that the average American, particularly blue-colder-standing the need to supplement Social Security benefits and tend to see IRA plans as another bank savings certificate offering rather than insurance for their retirement years.