Almost $33 billion in All Savers Certificates are coming due in October, setting off a frantic scramble by banks and savings associations for the huge cache of investors' cash.
Depository institutions are offering inducements ranging from free magazine subscriptions to long-term, high yield certificates to persuade customers not to remove their deposits.
The competition for their funds is intense because the All Savers program -- a one-shot effort to draw deposits to strugging savings associations -- is not expected to be renewed when it expires at year-end.
The end of the tax-free savings provision is forcing All Savers certificate holders to sift through many offers to find another way to invest their money.
"It's a real dilemma for them," said McLean financial planner Charles R. Eisenmann. "They had a high rate of return [when the certificates were purchased a year ago]. Most people want liquidity, but money market funds are not paying much more than savings accounts now. The seven-day average is 9.6 percent for taxable funds; 6 percent for non-taxable. They are pretty eager to remain in tax-free investments, but they don't want municipal bonds."
All Savers certificates are one-year insured deposits on which an individual is allowed to earn $1,000 interest tax-free ($2,000 for couples filing a joint income tax return). The interest rate on All Savers is set by law at 70 percent of the annual yield on the most recent auction of one-year Treasury bills.
The certificates were offered a year ago at 12.61 percent. The rate through Saturday is 8.15 percent. If present trends continue, next month's rate should be even lower.
For persons who have not earned the $1,000 maximum tax-free interest, purchase of a new All Savers certificate is one possibility for reinvesting an old All Savers, albeit not a very attractive one. Banks and savings and loans are also urging customers to use the funds to complete their contributions to Individual Retirement Accounts if they have not already done so.
For most people, the question next month becomes whether to keep their funds in the same bank or thrift where they have their All Savers or to withdraw them.
By law the interest rate on All Savers reverts to the passbook rate (5 1/2 percent taxable) if the customer does nothing about the disposition of the account.
A study by the Federal Home Loan Bank Board, which regulates federal savings and loans, predicted that 70 percent of the $15 billion maturing at S&Ls in October would remain, another 10 percent would be spent and the remainder would go into other investments.
The study was done to determine whether S&Ls would have to borrow massive amounts of money in October from the Federal Home Loan Bank to make up for the loss of All Savers deposits. Federally insured S&Ls lost $2.08 billion in deposits last month. In the past year, withdrawals have exceeded deposits by $11.83 billion.
In New York and Chicago, savings industry trade associations report that their members are aggressively soliciting customers by letter and telephone to buy one of the many certificates now in existence. With very few exceptions, these accounts are available to everyone else as well.
A three-month certificate paying 7.8 percent requires a minimum deposit of $7,500; a six-months CD pays 9.737 percent on deposits of $10,000 or more; a 30-month CD pays 11 percent on $500.
In addition to fixed-rate CDs, there are a number of "wild cards," without fixed interest ceilings. According to the U.S. League of Savings Associations, the average rate on 7-to-31 day "wild card" CDs is 8 or 8.5 percent with a $20,000 minimum; on 3 1/2-year certificates, the average rate is 12 percent, with a minimum set by each institution. Uninsured retail repurchase agreements pay between 8 and 9 percent with the minimum set by the institution.
The U.S. League and the National Association of Mutual Savings Banks report no intense competition among members to outdo each other offering long-term money at high rates.
Locally, Washington Federal Savings and Loan is offering a three and a half year CD with an effective annual yield of 14 percent. Government Services Savings and Loan pays 10.24 percent on its variable rate money market fund. Continental Federal Savings and Loan pays 10 percent on a special sweep account with a minimum of $5,000. Above that amount, funds are automatically deposited into an uninsured repo paying 10 percent.
National Permanent Federal Savings and Loan Association is offering free subscriptions to Fortune or Discover magazines to reinvestors. United Savings and Loan offers fringe benefits in exchange for a deposit of $2,500 in an interest-bearing checking account. They include a free MasterCard Gold Card (the normal annual fee is $50) for those whose income qualifies.
For those seeking to invest their All Savers money elsewhere, there are a multitude of choices.
For clients willing to sacrifice some liquidity for yield, Eisenmann recommends an oil and gas income fund. It pays about 15 percent and customers can get their funds out in 60 days if necessary.
John Nuveen & Co., a municipal bond specialist, tempted All Savers holders with these words in a recent advertisement: "Now that you've had a one time taste of tax-free income, why don't you go for it all the time?"
Merrill Lynch Senior Vice President John L. Steffens also said people are now more likely to look for alternatives to taxable investments. "Unfortunately there is not much one-year, secure tax-free paper around; most people won't be satisfied with a 5 percent yield."
To accommodate those interested in yield at the expense of liquidity, Merrill Lynch, together with the Charter Life Insurance Co., offers a single premium deferred annuity that guarantees a return of 13.60 percent the first year for a minimum investment of $5,000. If the rate drops below 12.60 percent in any subsequent year, the customer can withdraw all interest and principal without penalty from the annuity manager.
However, federal regulations impose a 5 percent federal penalty for premature withdrawal if the annuity holder is under age 59 1/2 or if the money is withdrawn before 10 years. Otherwise there are no taxes on the interest until the individual receives the annuity.
This vehicle offers protection if rates go down. However, if rates go up and the investor tries to withdraw, there is a decreasing penalty, starting at 7 percent in the first year in addition to the federal tax. The minimum investment is $2,000.
Merrill Lynch also offers a tax-exempt unit trust paying a floating rate of 65 percent of the prime rate. At a 13 percent prime, that amounts to a yield of 8.5 percent tax free. A 7 percent minimum yield is guaranteed. The trust offers protection on the upside should the prime rate go back up. The trust has a life of seven to 10 years but there is no penalty for early withdrawal.
Paine Webber offers an annuity currently paying 15.75 percent for a $5,000 minimum. In years two through five, a return of 11 3/4 percent is guaranteed, thereafter, 7 1/2 percent. There is a 7 percent penalty for withdrawal at any time plus the 5 percent government penalty. In an emergency, a person can borrow 6 percent of the account, but this can be done only thrice in seven years.
Shearson American Express offers a municipal investment trust fund currently yielding 10.62 percent tax-free. The value of the fund fluctuates with the market. The company also offers tax deferred income from annuities.
A-rated Maryland bonds are currently yielding 13.46 percent tax-free. There is a $5,000 minimum.
At the last auctions, the rate on six-month Treasury bills was 9.6 percent; one-year bills, 10.54 percent; two-year securities, 11.64 percent. These are subject to federal, but not state taxes.