New Ways To Bond With Uncle Sam

Take heart, investors.

Uncle Sam now offers the financial equivalent of a chair and whip to those anxious about protection from a stock-market bear.

The Treasury Department recently slashed the minimum purchase required for Treasury bills and short-term notes. The minimum shrank from $10,000 to $1,000.

The lower threshold, plus easier ways to buy Treasuries, means small investors and savers can more easily buy one of the world's safest and most liquid investment vehicles.

Investors who open a Treasury Direct account with the department can sidestep a broker's commissions and buy US bills, notes, and bonds via the Internet (www.publicdebt. starting Sept. 21, and via touch-tone phone in late October (800-943-6834).

"This is part of the effort ... to promote savings in America ... and make Treasuries available to Americans of modest means," says Gary Gensler, assistant Treasury secretary for financial markets. Currently, $82 billion is invested in 800,000 accounts in the Treasury Direct program, he says.

With inflation at a 25-year low, government securities offer an attractive haven from Wall Street's wild winds, investment experts say.

Previously, small investors, unable to meet the minimum purchase requirement, could find sanctuary only in a fee-charging bond mutual fund. Those who met the minimum had to go through a private broker or directly to the Treasury, but without touch-tone or mouse-click ease.

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