Summers: Better Savings Rate Is 'Critical'

WASHINGTON - Treasury Secretary Lawrence H. Summers was to announce on Tuesday a new initiative aimed at boosting the national savings rate."It is critical to our economic health that we raise personal saving," according to the text of a speech Mr. Summers planned to deliver Tuesday night.

The Clinton administration is creating the National Partners for Financial Empowerment, a coalition including Chase Manhattan Bank, Bank of America, and Fidelity Investments, to spearhead a campaign to educate people about saving and managing their money. The group plans to hold conferences around the country and create a Web site.

"There are no shortcuts here," Mr. Summers' speech says. "You need to shop for the best mortgage lender, search for the best credit card deals, and look for investment opportunities that make sense for you."

Mr. Summers urges employers to join the effort by informing employees and making it easy for them to participate in 401(k) plans. The personal savings rate hit a record low in February, falling to 0.8%, or less than a dime for every $100 of after-tax income.

Increasing savings has been a familiar refrain among administration officials, including President Clinton, who proposed new retirement accounts in his State of the Union address in January.

- Barbara A. Rehm

Ways-Means to Vote on Applicant Tax Data

WASHINGTON - The House Ways and Means Committee is scheduled to vote today on legislation that would toughen restrictions on how banks use tax return information from loan applicants.Committee Chairman Bill Archer released an outline over the weekend that said the bill would require lenders to get applicants to sign and date a detailed consent form before reviewing their tax records. Any third party receiving tax data would be required to keep the data secret.

The goal, according to a committee spokesman, is to prevent banks from using the information for cross-marketing or other purposes unknown to the customers. Rep. Archer said in the Republican national radio address April 1 that authorizations today are typically unsigned and incomplete, which he complained gives lenders carte blanche with applicants' private information.

"Our plan will deal with privacy abuses that occur when banks ask taxpayers to sign undated forms authorizing the release of tax information," the Texas lawmaker said. "In many cases, the forms do not even say who is to receive the information. We are going to shut down that practice once and for all."

Officials at the American Bankers Association said Tuesday that they would withhold comment until they finish studying the bill.

- Dean Anason

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