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Phones Could Be Jammed During Y2K Scare

Even if mutual fund investors are not going to pull their money out of mutual funds as the new millennium approaches, there is a good chance that mutual fund companies will have to handle a deluge of telephone calls at the turn of the century.

A study by the Profit Sharing/401(k) Council of America has found that over 33 percent of 401(k) participants plan to check their account balances on Jan. 1, 2000 or a few days after.

"If 15 million participants all call at once, they should be patient and be prepared for temporary delays," said David Wray, president of the council, in a statement.

The council, however, concluded that fear of the Year 2000 bug will have little effect on the savings habits of 401(k) participants. The study found that only five percent of 401(k) participants plan to reduce or stop their investments in their employers' plans.

Over 90 percent of defined contribution participants are not concerned or only slightly concerned about the Year 2000 bug, the study found.

But, other studies have shown considerable unease about the effect of the turn of the century on personal finances. Over 40 percent of people believe that they will not be able to gain access to their bank accounts when the New Year begins, according to a study conducted by Greenfield Online of Westport, Conn., an Internet consumer research firm.

Mutual fund companies are expecting an increase in calls. The Vanguard Group of Malvern, Pa. is already warning investors that its phone lines may be overloaded as 1999 comes to an end. It is telling investors to review their accounts and urging them not to wait until the end of the year to make normal year-end transactions such as IRA withdrawals or contributions, donations of securities to charities or sales of stock for tax purposes. And, it is encouraging investors to use its automated systems, including phone and Internet services, since it is expecting so much phone traffic.

"While Vanguard's telephones will be fully-staffed, we are urging shareholders to sign up now for automatic account services in case there are heavy phone volumes," the company wrote investors this month.

Vanguard is also telling its shareholders to stay calm in light of the uncertainty over the computer bug. Since it believes any problems, such as a market correction, associated with the bug may be temporary, it is telling shareholders not to change their long-term goals.

"Advanced preparation and common sense will go a long way as we approach the Year 2000," said Carol Dow, a principal with Vanguard leading its Year 2000 initiative, in a statement.