Americans are socking away more of their earnings, but experts disagree on whether this change signals a new era of savings.

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Americans are socking away more of their earnings, but experts disagree on whether this change signals a new era of savings.

Any increase would provide them a cushion in tough economic times and could even trim the trade deficit. But a sustained boost could crimp consumer spending, which fuels the economy.

For decades, Americans saved more than 7 percent of their take-home pay, according to the Commerce Department. Since the mid-1990s, though, the rate has fallen close to zero.

Now, though, the credit crisis is forcing a return to a thriftier lifestyle. In September, Americans saved 1.3 percent of their after-tax earnings, up from 0.8 percent the prior month. It’s only the third time since 2004 that the rate has exceeded 1 percent, excluding this summer when the figures were skewed by government stimulus checks. Credit Suisse economist Neal Soss thinks savings is set to rise for years.

But Stephen Hoch, a marketing professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, is skeptical.

“There are just a lot of people out there who have grown up during a period of time where they had the benefit of multiple sources of liquidity,” he says, such as credit cards.

“Now, money’s tight so people who don’t have it have to spend less. Does that mean they’re (going to start) saving? I don’t think so.”