Decades have passed since Christmas clubs peaked in popularity, but many local banks still offer the specialized savings accounts.

And they still have a loyal following — albeit a smaller one — of customers who make deposits throughout the year and receive a lump sum to buy gifts for the holidays.

“When I get the check, I really do use it for Christmas spending,” said Jodie DiEduardo, who has used Christmas clubs for more than 30 years and is also senior vice president/branch administrator at Crest Savings Bank. “It’s money I have earmarked. It was habit for me, something I’ve always known.”

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Crest Savings Bank is one of the local institutions with a holiday savings plans — it has about 130 accounts, down 14 percent in the past four years, DiEduardo said.

How these savings clubs work varies by bank. Crest Savings Bank debits an amount of the customer’s choosing from checking or savings accounts every two weeks, she said.

Savings and checking accounts — including Christmas clubs — offer minimal interest, often less than a few tenths of 1 percent.

Federal policy has been keeping borrowing costs at historic lows to spur the economy, which drives down interest rates.

DiEduardo said the holiday accounts work better for an individual’s budgeting than for interest.

“It disciplines you that every two weeks, X amount of dollars is going to be set aside for you,” she said.

Holiday savings clubs have changed from their earlier roots, when banks often issued coupon books and customers would pre-select the denomination to set aside each week, said Charles “Chick” Pinto, chief marketing officer for Cape Bank.

“The coupon was a placebo, but a reminder to the person they made this commitment,” he said.

Then in late September or early October, the bank would cut a check to the customer for the year’s savings.

Now there are no coupon books, no prescribed contribution amounts, and most people get the money automatically transferred to their checking accounts now, Pinto said.

Cape Bank has several hundred holiday savings accounts, compared to thousands decades ago, Pinto said.

Sun National Bank has a similar savings program but under a different name, called an “automatic club” that lets customers designate money from checking or savings into the specialized account, spokeswoman Heather Hardwick said.

“I think people still call it the holiday club and Christmas club and we do see people come in this time of year to open it,” she said.

Overall, holiday clubs have dropped in popularity from the 20th century — in part due to cultural changes as well as banking changes, Pinto said.

It is much easier now for someone to automatically direct portions of a paycheck to checking accounts, savings accounts, 401(k)s and college funds all at the same time.

But Pinto said the concept of saving money for a specific purpose will always have a place, regardless of what it is called.

“That will always be there, and with technology individual consumers will be able to come up their own way of doing it,” he said. “Maybe the holiday club might disappear as a term, but saving with a purpose won’t disappear. It might have a renaissance as we come out of the recession-the concept of putting money aside for certain things with discipline may become more in vogue.”

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