Federal financial regulators yesterday voted not to put any interest rate ceilings on new Keogh and Individual Retirement Accounts that can be started Jan. 1.

The Depository Institutions Deregulation Committee did vote, however, to penalize savers who attempt to transfer money from existing low-yield IRA and Keogh accounts before maturity to new, higher yielding accounts authorized this year by Congress.

The U.S. League of Savings Associations, which had proposed an interest rate ceiling, immediately labeled the DIDC action "irresponsible and arrogant." The American Bankers Association, which opposed the interest ceilings, hailed the decision as a "major victory for the public."

Starting next January, millions of Americans already covered by pension plans will be eligible to open new IRA accounts. The maximum amount one can put into an IRA will be raised from the current $1,500 or 15 percent of annual compensation to $2,000 or 100 percent of annual compensation, whichever is less.

An IRA is a savings account that allows people who do not have a pension plan at their work to put away money for their future. The money is allowed to accumulate, tax free, in the account until it is withdrawn at retirement, when the account holder will presumably be in a lower tax bracket.

After Jan. 1, individuals with pension plans also will be able to participate within the limits of the new law.

A Keogh account is for the self-employed and has similar features but different permissible contribution levels.

The nation's financial institutions, from major banks and savings and loans to brokerage houses and insurance companies, are vying for a share of the estimated $25 billion that is expected to be pumped into new 18-month savings accounts and other retirement funds.

Richard Pratt, chairman of the Federal Home Loan Bank Board, which regulates savings and loans, was the only person on the five-member DIDC to vote for the proposed interest rate ceilings.

Technically the commission voted 4 to 1 not to change a decision made last Sept. 22 to allow so-called "wild cards," accounts with no lid on interest rate payments. Pratt had voted for the wild card accounts at that time because the only alternative was no special IRA account at all. He then supported an industry proposal to link the IRA rate to interest rates paid on Treasury securities.

However, commission members Treasury Secretary Donald T. Regan, Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker, Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. Chairman William Isaac and National Credit Union Administration chief Edgar Callahan reversed themselves on the question of penalties.

By a 3-to-2 vote, the commission decided not to permit penalty-free transfers from existing certificates of deposits to higher yielding certificates before they mature. Callahan and Regan voted against the penalty provision.

The penalty for early rollover on a certificate of one year or more is forfeiture of six months' interest. For certificates of less than one year, the penalty is three months' interest loss. In addition, if the money is withdrawn, an account holder under age 59 can incur a 10 percent income tax penalty. Therefore, persons who have IRA/Keogh money in certificates of deposit that have not matured should calculate how much interest penalty they will incur when contemplating a rollover to a higher yielding account.

If it is more than would be earned on the new account, it would be better to leave the money in the first account until maturity and open a second account. In the future, individuals will be able to add to their IRA accounts. For now, a saver can open any number of accounts so long as the total IRA amount does not surpass the IRA maximum of $1,500 this year, and $2,000 next year.