2009 comebacks: The savings account

Piggy bankI don't know about the rest of you, but my savings account is due for a comeback in 2009, and I have a feeling that I'm not alone -- many Americans are rediscovering the value of a savings account.

I've had a savings account for most of two decades--I'm 39--but it's taken a beating in the last several years, with the last several months being the final insult. I can't blame all my woes on the economy. I chose a type of profession where it isn't easy to accumulate wealth. Never mind that I've written three books, one of which you can actually buy in stores, and thousands of magazine and newspaper articles. When you're a freelance writer, there is no steady paycheck. Accounts payable pays you when they can, and lately, they can't, or not in a timely manner.

But never mind. My point is that healthy savings accounts could, in theory, insulate us from the type of economic climate that fell upon us last September. According to The Wall Street Journal, economists expect the savings rate to rebound to 3% to 5% and possibly higher, which would be the most we've been saving since World War II. And we're due. The same article that says that in recent years, as we spent more than we were making, the average savings rate among Americans had "dipped below zero."

Of course, there's a contrarian argument that we're making things worse by saving more money, that if we were spending it on TVs, computers, new cars and the like, then our economy would be doing better. That may be true, but it's also true that we got into this mess because we weren't saving. It's also true that collectively, we're going to be much better off years from now if we all have some extra money in the bank when the economy takes another downturn.

Incidentally, several days ago, I was extremely happy to read a Motley Fool post about the worst savings accounts out there. Some mentioned as the worst of the worst were a regular Bank of America savings accounts, as were Chase, Wachovia and U.S. Bank.

Why did this make me happy? Because it advised readers to go to their local credit union, which my wife and I had done just several weeks before. We opened up a checking account that we may or may not use to replace our regular bank checking account, as well as a savings account and a Christmas club fund.

It's a different world we live in.

Geoff Williams is a freelance journalist and the author of C.C. Pyle's Amazing Foot Race: The True Story of the 1928 Coast-to-Coast Run Across America (Rodale).

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