The Types of Savings Accounts: Which Is Right For You?
Stashing money into a savings account isn’t a whole lot of fun, especially with today’s interest rates barely registering a pulse. However, we all need money set aside as an emergency fund and for short-term goals, so here are your options. (See also: 37 Savings Changes You Can Make Today)
Traditional Savings Account Options
In the past, when most people thought about places to park their savings, they thought about these four options.
Basic Savings Account
This type of savings account typically requires the least of you — just a small opening deposit and a low daily balance. In return, of course, it typically gives you the least. For example, Chase is currently paying one one-hundredth of a percent interest no matter what your balance. No, that isn’t a typo. On a $1,000 balance, you’ll earn a whopping 10 cents after a year.
Money Market Account
This type of account may require a bit more from you, such as a slightly higher opening deposit and daily balance. In return, it pays slightly higher interest, but we’re still talking about super small amounts. Sticking with Chase as an example, its money market account is currently paying five one-hundredths of a percent on balances below $10,000. Sure, that’s five times better than its basic savings account, but you’ll still only earn 50 cents on your $1,000 after a year.
Money Market Fund
This is a mutual fund, offered by brokerage companies such as Fidelity and Vanguard. Such funds usually have fairly hefty minimum initial investment requirements, such as $2,500 for Fidelity's Cash Reserves money market fund and $3,000 for Vanguard's Prime money market fund. While money market funds are typically very safe, they do come with some slight risk of loss since they have no FDIC protection.
You would think that with a higher opening balance requirement and more risk would come more return, and that has been the case with money market funds in the past. However, today’s money market funds are paying pretty much the same as the most basic bank savings accounts. In fact, Fidelity’s Cash Reserves money market fund is paying exactly what Chase’s basic savings account is paying, so right now there is no advantage to a money market fund.
Certificate of Deposit
CDs are less liquid than money kept in a savings or money market account since you usually have to opt for at least a one-year term in order to beat the rates offered by savings accounts. If you take the money out before the term is up, most CDs charge a fee equal to a number of months’ interest. While the interest rates on CDs are a little more favorable than savings accounts right now, they’re not much more favorable. Consider a CD only if you truly won’t need to access the money before the term is up.
Options for Better Rates
If you’re intent on earning a little more on your savings, here are some options to consider.
Their lower cost of doing business is one key reason why online banks are able to offer better interest rates. Bankrate.com lists some online banks offering one percent interest with no minimum balance requirement. After a year, a $1,000 balance would earn you a more respectable $10.
Most online banks are FDIC insured (but check to be sure), and some offer another key benefit for savers — the ability to specify goals for your savings. In most cases, you only need one actual account, but you can earmark portions of the money in the account for specific purposes such as an upcoming vacation.
Because credit unions are not-for-profit organizations, they, too, usually offer better rates than brick-and-mortar banks. While membership is often restricted to employees of certain organizations, an increasing number of credit unions are loosening their membership requirements. The Credit Union National Association can help you find a credit union near you that you may be able to join.
High-Interest Checking Accounts
These accounts are all the rage right now since savings account interest rates are in the tank. Just be sure to read the fine print. You will probably have to use your debit card a certain number of times each month and maintain a relatively high minimum balance.
And here’s the main watch-out — keeping savings in a checking account can defeat the purpose. It’s just too easy to spend money sitting in a checking account. It’s usually better to keep emergency fund or short-term goal money in a separate savings account.
While there isn’t much money to be made from your savings these days, keep in mind that the main benefits you need from a savings account are safety and accessibility. At least those benefits are still readily available.