Plan ahead if you want to give a U.S. Savings Bond as a gift. Under a Treasury Department program recently begun in the Washington area, customers no longer can pick up bonds at local banks. Instead, after completing the usual application and paying for the bond, the paperwork is mailed to a regional Federal Reserve Bank for processing. Delivery is guaranteed within 15 days to the buyer or gift recipient.

Maryland and the District joined the program in May while Virginia followed last month. The changeover is expected to be in place nationwide by late 1992 or early 1993. The Treasury made the change because banks found that keeping track of savings bond stocks was costly and required keeping all denominations of bonds on hand, said Stephen Meyerhardt, manager of public affairs for the Savings Bond division of the Treasury.

If you want to give a savings bond as a present on short notice, you can request a gift certification notifying the recipient that the bond is in the mail. "From a customer's standpoint, the program is something new that they'll have to get used to," Meyerhardt said. "For people buying gifts, they'll have to do some planning."