Savin Corp. yesterday settled a Securities and Exchange Commission complaint by taking a drastic write-off of nearly $49 million for costs incurred in its long struggle to build its own office copiers.

The SEC complaint alleged that Savin, an office-equipment firm based in Stamford, Conn., had significantly overstated its assets and net worth and understated its losses on its 8000 series copier project in its financial statements since 1981.

Savin improperly listed $42 million in expenses on the 8000 project as "start-up" costs, counting them as assets when they should have been counted as research and development costs and subtracted from revenue, the SEC complaint said. An additional $6.5 million also was listed improperly as assets, the SEC said.

Without admitting or denying the SEC allegations, Savin agreed to restate its financial results for the fiscal years that ended in April 1983 and April 1984, as well as for the balance of calendar 1984.

Since the 1981 fiscal year, Savin's reported losses totaled $129 million. The SEC said the total should have been $178 million.

As a result, Savin's shareholders' equity, or net worth, is reduced from $73.5 million on June 30, 1985, to $1.9 million as of Sept. 30.

Serge Gouin, Savin vice chairman and chief executive officer, said that the agreement "will not adversely affect our plans," particularly the company's hopes for finally introducing a high-speed model of the 8000 office copier series. "It does not affect cash flow," Gouin said.

The company said it is not in default on any of its loan agreements, but will not be able to pay dividends on one of its stock issues, Series A $1.50 cumulative convertible stock, because its net worth has dropped below levels agreed to with lenders.

Savin, which has suffered a succession of financial losses since 1981, has not yet righted itself. It announced yesterday that it lost $20.4 million on operating revenue of $102.8 million during the third quarter.

Savin's principal business is selling office copiers manufactured by Ricoh Corp. of Japan.

In the late 1970s, Savin embarked on a campaign to manufacture its own full line of copiers, permitting it to drop its relationship with Ricoh. It picked a plant site in Binghamton, N.Y., and launched design and research and development operations.

But in 1982, Canada Development Corp. purchased a major interest in Savin -- it now owns 68 percent of Savin's outstanding stock. Canada Development persuaded Savin to continue buying Ricoh machines for the lower ends of the copier market, while continuing work on advanced, high-speed models of the 8000 series.

But the development efforts lagged, resulting in "big promises" and "years and years of disappointment," according to one Wall Street analyst who follows the firm, but who spoke on condition that he not be identified.

Savin says the 8000 series will be introduced next year.

The SEC complaint said that Savin adopted an accounting policy for the 8000 project in fiscal 1981 providing that, once a working model was built, all costs on the 8000 project at the Binghamton facility would be capitalized, or counted as assets to be amortized in future years, as revenue from the 8000 came in. The SEC said that Savin's work on the 8000 project cited in the complaint was research and development, as defined by customary financial accounting standards, and, as such, the costs could not be deferred.