The Senate last night voted overwhelmingly to authorize nationwide interest-on-checking accounts and to phase out interest rate ceilings on savings accounts. The vote was 76-9.
The bill now goes to conference where House conferees have promised a stiff fight to eliminate the phase-out provisions.
If the Senate version survives, it would be the first time since the Depression that banks and thrift institutions across the country have been premitted to pay interest on checking accounts. The popularity of these accounts, called NOW for Negotiable Order of Withdrawal, has increased since they were first allowed in New England and New York several years ago.
Likewise, the bill authorizes the continued use of share drafts, a form of interest-bearing checking account offered by federal credit unions, as well as automatic transfers from savings to checking accounts and remote service units or point-of-sale terminals that allow a customer to get access to his savings and loan account. These practices had been outlawed last spring by the D.C. Court of Appeals, pending congressional approval.
The gradual termination of interest-rate controls, called Regulation Q, over a decade was supported strongly by the administration and Senate Banking Committe Chairman William Proxmire (D-Wis.) It survived many challenges in committee and on the floor from Sen. Robert Morgan (D-N.C.) who claimed it would affect adversely the financial well-being of small savings and loan associations.
According to a mandated, but also flexible, formula, interest rates, which are now set at 5.25 percent for savings accounts at banks and 5.5 percent for those at thrifts, would be allowed to rise to market rates. At the same time, thrifts are allowed to pay customers, as a means of assuring adequate capital for housing, would also disappear.
In the end, despite long and numerous challenges by Sen. Morgan, the Proxmire bill survived basically the way it came out of committee.
Among the changes that were made included votes not to reduce the minimum denomination of money market certificates from $10,000 to $1,000, and not to impose the same reserve requirements on all financial institutions deciding to offer NOW accounts.
This last move could, if upheld, mean a slight advantage for those state chartered or non-member associations that do not have to meet Federal Reserve System requirements.