In a previous post, we described some reasons why it is beneficial to pay interest on required reserve balances. Here we turn to arguments in favor of paying interest on excess reserve balances. Former Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke and former Vice Chairman Donald Kohn recently discussed many potential benefits of paying interest on excess reserve balances and some common misunderstandings, including that paying interest on reserves restricts bank lending and provides a subsidy to banks. In this post, we focus primarily on benefits related to the efficiency of the payment system and the reduction in the need for the provision of credit by the Fed when operating in a framework of abundant reserves.
The Federal Reserve has paid interest on reserves held by banks in their Fed accounts since 2008. Why should it do so? Here, we describe some benefits of paying interest on required reserve balances. Since forcing banks to hold unremunerated reserves would be akin to levying a tax on them, paying interest on these balances is a way to eliminate or greatly reduce that tax and its negative effects.
Reserve requirements—a critical tool available to Federal Reserve policymakers for the implementation of monetary policy—stipulate the amount of funds that banks and other depository institutions must hold in reserve against specified deposits, essentially checking accounts.