WASHINGTON - A expanded individual retirement accounts program would boost personal saving rates, benefiting banks and other financial institutions, two economists said Monday.
"Both IRA plans and 401(k) plans have very significant positive effects on national saving as well as household saving," said R. Glenn Hubbard, co- author of a study sponsored by the Securities Industry Association and Columbia University.
The study comes as Congress is considering whether to lift restrictions that limit the contributions individuals can make to tax-exempt retirement accounts.
Mr. Hubbard, an economics professor at Columbia, added that both savings plans offer "a very large bang for the buck, with many dollars of accumulated capital stock per dollar of revenue forgone."
Jonathan Skinner, an economics professor at the University of Virginia and co-author of the study, said that IRAs benefit banks in ways that traditional deposits cannot.
"They are cold, locked-in assets, and you can move them around to an extent inside the bank, which is good because banks can earn commissions," Mr. Skinner said.
However, in order for IRA programs to make a meaningful contribution to the national savings rate, stable long-term implementation of the program is a necessity, Mr. Hubbard said. In the short term, depositors may just be rolling over money into IRAs from non-IRA accounts in order to receive tax benefits, he added.
"Sooner or later most American households will exhaust assets available for shuffling into targeted saving accounts (if in fact they do shuffle), at which point the savings incentives can potentially increase overall saving," the report said.
The on-again, off-again path that the IRA has traveled in the past 14 years has been ineffective in encouraging "the habit of saving," the report said.
Tax-deductible IRAs originally became available to all working Americans in 1982 in order to encourage savings, but were scaled back in 1986.
Currently, there is an assortment of proposals introduced by lawmakers and the administration to reinstate the tax-deductibility of contributions to IRAs. Bills proposed by Sens. William V. Roth, R-Del., and John Breaux, D-La., as well as the Clinton administration, would allow penalty-free withdrawals of IRA savings in certain circumstances, such as the purchase of a first home.
These types of IRAs would be of less benefit to banks than a traditional IRA that includes penalties for any early withdrawal, Mr. Skinner noted.
"Although this may attract more young people to IRAs, it would also be much less long-term for the bank," Mr. Skinner said. "It would be more like a plain deposit."