A Cleveland thrift executive told a House subcommittee yesterday how his savings and loan association had offered small savers interest rates comparable to those for big savers, only to be stopped by the Federal Home Loan Bank Board for violating "the spirit and intent of the objective of rate control."
Gregory Zimmerman, president of Superior Savings Association, said regulators had halted a pooling arrangement whereby customers with as little as $1,000 were able to benefit from the same interest rates offered to customers with $10,000.
During the nine weeks before it was shut down, the plan increased Superior's deposits by one third, or $11.5 million. Said Zimmerman, "If implemented industry-wide, (the plan) would help millions of small savers make ends meet."
Zimmerman testified before the House subcommittee on commerce, consumer and monetary affairs, which has been examining the restrictive federal interest rates allowed on small savings accounts.
On Tuesday, the panel learned that controls are costing small savers more than $17 billion a year. Nine out of 10 Americans are small depositors, many of them elderly and living on fixed incomes. Most of them receive no more than the passbook rate, 5 or 5 1/4 percent, compared to the 9.5 percent return savers with $10,000 get on money market certificates.
Robert Gnaizda, testifying for the Gray Panthers, a group of elderly activists, called for $500 certificates with interest rates increased over a two-year period until they reach money market rates. He hinted that if regulators do not act quickly to aid small savers, major organizations of consumers and retired persons may seek to issue their own money market certificates.
Other suggestions voiced by or on behalf of small savers included raising passbook rates immediately to 80 percent of Treasury bill rates, removing penalties for early withdrawal of certificates of deposit, creating mortgage-backed mutual funds at thrift institutions, and extending variable rate ceilings to passbook accounts.
Industry representatives expressed regret that small savers are subsidizing big savers but said it was economically unfeasible to offer the same high rate to all immediately. Many thrifts still have mortgages in their portfolios that pay them only 5 percent or so while they have to pay 9.5 percent on money market certificates. (Zimmerman conceded the reason Superior was able to offer a single high rate to all savers was because virtually all its loans were recent, high-interest loans.)
Among the measures proposed by the industry were lowering the minimum denominations of long-term savings accounts and instituting a rising rate account. The representatives also urged incentives like tax deferral for small savers and expansion of variable rate mortgages to allow thrifts to increase their yields on existing loans.
Kenneth Thygerson of the U.S. League of Savings Associations testified that the minimum on savings certificates of one to eight years could be lowered from the current $1,000 to $100. Such a move would help one third of S&L customrs to get higher rates without unmanageable costs for the thrifts, he said.
Saul Klaman, president of the National Association of Mutual Savings Banks, suggested rewarding the saver by providing an increased rate of interest the longer the funds are held on deposit.