WASHINGTON -- The Consumer Federation of America charged Tuesday that low interest rates on bank deposits have yanked $3 billion from savers over the last year.

Stephen Brobeck, the federation's executive director, urged bank customers to complain and shift savings to money market funds or government securities.

"If only several thousand savers were to complain ... and to threaten to shift funds to nonbank accounts, banks would face enormous pressure to raise savings rates," Mr. Brobeck said.

The federation of 250 consumer groups nationwide studied interest rates paid on various investments from April 1991 to April 1994. It found that rates on six-month certificates of deposit had fallen 51%, to 2.93% from 5.98%, during the three years. However, the rate paid on six-month Treasury bills fell just 29.7%, to 4.03% from 5.73%.

Money Market Yield Variance

A gap exists as well between bank money market accounts and nonbank money market funds, the federation said. Money market account yields averaged 2.3% in April 1994, down 57% from 5.31% in April 1991. Money market fund yields fell 47.8%, to 3.04% in April from 5.82% in April 1991.

Banks are paying about one percentage point less on CDs than the yield on government bills of the same maturity and nearly three-quarters of a percentage point less than nonbanks, the CFA study found.

"Differences of savings rates by only one percentage point or less may not seem significant," it said. "But given the sums ... involved, the aggregate losses to savers are ... substantial."

On the $1 trillion in savings held by individuals, the federation estimated the interest income lost in the past year exceeds $3 billion.

The American Bankers Association released a statement Tuesday noting that bank accounts are more expensive because they are government-insured. The industry paid $6 billion for deposit insurance in 1993, the ABA noted.

The federation "seems to have completely overlooked the fundamental difference between bank deposits and uninsured investment products," the ABA said. Banks, it added, have other costs not imposed on nonbank companies, like the expense of Community Reinvestment Act compliance.

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