Northern Bank Direct Money Market Review – 2.26% APY Guaranteed Through June 2019

Here comes another new “Direct” bank leapfrogging the current competition for some attention. The Northern Bank Direct Money Market account is offering 2.26% APY on average daily balances up to $250,000, and the rate is guaranteed through June 30, 2019. Of course, another bank could take the throne tomorrow, but at least this one comes with a rate guarantee. Other highlights:

  • $5,000 minimum to open.
  • Includes limited checkwriting and ATM debit card access.
  • No minimum balance requirements or monthly service charges.
  • Interest is compounded monthly and credited monthly. If you close your account before the interest is credited, you will not receive the accrued interest.
  • Read full review for notable quirks.

Northern Bank Direct is the online division of Northern Bank, a community bank in the New England area. You must open accounts online, but you can do transactions in their branches and use the NBTC Mobile Banking apps. They also offer various certificates of deposit, including currently a 30-month CD at 3.01% APY ($500 minimum to open, 12-month early withdrawal penalty). Their routing number is 011303097. You can contact them at 844-348-8996 EST Monday-Friday: 9a-6p, or via email to nbdirect@nbtc.com.

Money Market features. This is a money market account, which is similar to a savings account but adds limited checkwriting and an ATM debit card. You are still limited to 6 withdrawals per month, whether via online electronic funds transfer, check, wire, or ATM machine.

ACH limitations. Northern Bank Direct has a somewhat weird rule that if you initiate a electronic transfer from your Northern Bank Direct account, there is a maximum daily limit of $5,000.00 (or the available balance in your account, whichever is less) for Interbank (external) transfers per transaction; $5,000 in aggregate per day; and $25,000 in aggregate per calendar month. If you initiate the electronic transfer from an external financial institution, Northern Bank Direct does not impose a limit on the amount of the transfer.

Notable fees. According to their full Deposit Account Agreement, there are a few other fees that caught my eye:

  • Account closure (by mail): $10
  • Dormant Accounts fee (per month– starting in the 13th month for account balances less than $500.00): $4.00
  • External Transfer Fee (per transfer): $3
  • New account closure within 120 days: $25

It appears that not only do they limit your transactions to $5,000 per day ($25,000 per month), they will also charge you $3 if you initiate the transfer from your Northern Bank Direct account. There are some reports that they are removing the $3 fee, but I still see it on their online fee schedule. Hopefully, you already have a favorite “hub” bank account with free, fast transfers and high dollar limits (mine is Ally Bank).

These fees are notable as other online savings accounts have all of the following: no minimum opening balance, no minimum balance requirement, no early closure fee, and/or no inactivity fee.

Smartphone app. It’s amazing how much I bank from my phone these days, from checking balances to mobile check deposit. Based on the app store screenshots, it looks like Northern Bank also outsourced their back-end software to Fidelity National Information Services (subdomain ibanking-services.com). In my experience, the app is basic but functional. Mobile check deposit and Touch ID are supported.

Bottom line. The Northern Bank Direct Money Market account is offering 2.26% APY on average daily balances up to $250,000, with the rate guaranteed through June 30, 2019 ($5,000 minimum to open). In terms of liquid savings accounts, this is the highest rate currently available (with a few quirks noted above). There are a few short-term CDs with higher rates (and withdrawal penalties), but this is more like a no-penalty CD plus you can also add funds at any time. If you have a large cash balance and you want to preserve your liquidity options, this is something to consider. Act fast though, as previous similar accounts have closed to new applications after a few weeks.

Check out my Ultimate Rate-Chaser Calculator to estimate how much additional interest you’d earn if you switched over and make an informed decision.

Best Interest Rates on Cash – June 2018

Here is my monthly roundup of the best safe rates available, roughly sorted from shortest to longest maturities. Check out my Ultimate Rate-Chaser Calculator to get an idea of how much additional interest you’d earn if you are moving money between accounts. Rates listed are available to everyone nationwide. Rates checked as of 6/3/18.

High-yield savings accounts
While the huge brick-and-mortar banks rarely offer good yields, there are a number of online savings accounts offering much higher rates. Keep in mind that with savings accounts, the interest rates can change at any time.

  • VirtualBank has a special rate of 2.01% APY (guaranteed for first year) for new money ($100 min to open). After the first year, it goes back to the “normal” rate (currently 0.80% APY). CIT Bank Money Market recently raised to 1.85% APY (no min, $100 to open).
  • My “hub” bank account is the Ally Bank Savings + Checking combo due to their history of competitive savings/CD rates, 1-day external bank transfers, and overall user experience. The free overdraft transfers from savings allows to me to keep my checking balance at a minimum. Ally Savings is no longer at the very top anymore, with a current rate of 1.60% APY. I’ve moved some money into 12-month CDs, right now they have a 12-month CD at 2.25% APY ($25k min).

Money market mutual funds + Ultra-short bond ETFs
If you like to keep cash in a brokerage account, you should know that money market and short-term Treasury rates have been rising. The following money market and ultra-short bond funds are not FDIC-insured, but may be a good option if you have idle cash and cheap/free commissions.

  • Vanguard Prime Money Market Fund currently pays an 1.91% SEC yield. The default sweep option is the Vanguard Federal Money Market Fund, which has an SEC yield of 1.72%. You can manually move the money over to Prime if you meet the $3,000 minimum investment.
  • Vanguard Ultra-Short-Term Bond Fund currently pays 2.32% SEC Yield ($3,000 min) and 2.42% SEC Yield ($50,000 min). The average duration is ~1 year.
  • The PIMCO Enhanced Short Maturity Active Bond ETF (MINT) has a 2.3% SEC yield and the iShares Short Maturity Bond ETF (NEAR) has a 2.32% SEC yield while holding a portfolio of investment-grade bonds with an average duration of ~6 months.

Short-term guaranteed rates (1 year and under)
I am often asked what to do with a big wad of cash that you’re waiting to deploy shortly (just sold your house, just sold your business, legal settlement, inheritance). My usual advice is to keep things simple. If not a savings account, then put it in a flexible short-term CD under the FDIC limits until you have a plan.

  • As noted above, VirtualBank has a 1-year guarantee at 2.01% APY on their eMoney Market, where you can take out money at any time. Another alternative is the CIT Bank 11-Month No-Penalty CD at 1.85% APY with a $1,000 minimum deposit and no withdrawal penalty seven days or later after funds have been received. The lack of early withdrawal penalty means that your interest rate can never go down for 11 months, but you keep full liquidity. Full review. You can open multiple CDs in smaller increments if you want more flexibility.
  • Connexus Credit Union is offering a 1-year Share Certificate at 2.50% APY (90-day early withdrawal penalty) and a 3-year Share Certificate (180-day early withdrawal penalty) at 2.75% APY. Both have a $5,000 minimum deposit. Anyone can join this credit union via partner organization Connexus Association for a one-time $5 fee.
  • Several other banks have 12-month CDs at 2% APY and above. Watch the early withdrawal penalties. For example, Synchrony Bank has a 2.35% APY 14-month CD, but the early withdrawal penalty is 180 days of interest. Meanwhile, Ally Bank has a 9-month CD at 2% APY and a 12-month CD at 2.25 APY with $25,000 minimum deposit and early withdrawal penalty of 60 days interest.

US Savings Bonds
Series I Savings Bonds offer rates that are linked to inflation and backed by the US government. You must hold them for at least a year. There are annual purchase limits. If you redeem them within 5 years there is a penalty of the last 3 months of interest.

  • “I Bonds” bought between May 2018 and October 2018 will earn a 2.52% rate for the first six months. The rate of the subsequent 6-month period will be based on inflation again. More info here.
  • In mid-October 2018, the CPI will be announced and you will have a short period where you will have a very close estimate of the rate for the next 12 months. I will have another post up at that time.

Prepaid Cards with Attached Savings Accounts
A small subset of prepaid debit cards have an “attached” FDIC-insured savings account with exceptionally high interest rates. The negatives are that balances are capped, and there are many fees that you must be careful to avoid (lest they eat up your interest). The offers also tend to disappear with little notice. Some folks don’t mind the extra work and attention required, while others do.

  • The Insight Card used to offer 5% APY on up to $5,000, but as of June 2018 is no longer accepting new accounts. Current cardholders will cease earning 5% APY at the end of June. The only notable card left in this category is Mango Money at 6% APY on up to $5,000, but there are so many hoops and restrictions that in my opinion make it not worth the troubl (especially when it likely won’t last much longer either).

Rewards checking accounts
These unique checking accounts pay above-average interest rates, but with unique risks. You have to jump through certain hoops, and if you make a mistake you won’t earn any interest for that month. Some folks don’t mind the extra work and attention required, while others do. Rates can also drop quickly, leaving a “bait-and-switch” feeling. For example, Northpointe Bank was mentioned for several months here but later dropped to 1% APY. That’s just how it goes with these types of accounts.

  • Consumers Credit Union offers up to 4.59% APY on up to a $20k balance, although getting 3.09% APY on a $10k balance has a much shorter list of requirements. The 4.59% APY requires you to apply for a credit card through them (other credit cards offer $500+ in sign-up bonuses). Keep your 12 debit purchases small as well, as for every $500 in monthly purchases you may be losing out on 2% cashback (or $10 a month after-tax). Find a local rewards checking account at DepositAccounts.

Certificates of deposit (greater than 1 year)
You might have larger balances, either because you are using CDs instead of bonds or you simply want a large cash reserves. By finding a bank CD with a reasonable early withdrawal penalty, you can enjoy higher rates but maintain access in a true emergency. Alternatively, consider a custom CD ladder of different maturity lengths such that you have access to part of the ladder each year, but your blended interest rate is higher than a savings account.

  • Connexus Credit Union is offering a 1-year Share Certificate at 2.50% APY (90-day early withdrawal penalty), a 3-year Share Certificate (180-day early withdrawal penalty) at 2.75% APY, and a 5-year Share Certificate (365-day early withdrawal penalty) at 3.25% APY. All have a $5,000 minimum deposit. Anyone can join this credit union via partner organization Connexus Association for a one-time $5 fee.
  • You can buy certificates of deposit via the bond desks of Vanguard and Fidelity. These “brokered CDs” offer FDIC insurance, but they don’t come with predictable fixed early withdrawal penalties. As of this writing, Vanguard and Fidelity are showing a 3-year non-callable CD at 3.00% APY and a 5-year non-callable CD at 3.25% APYfrom a few banks including Goldman Sachs and Wells Fargo. Watch out for higher rates from callable CDs listed by Fidelity.
  • Ally Bank has a 5-year CD at 2.60% APY ($25k minimum) with a relatively short 150-day early withdrawal penalty. For example, if you closed this CD after 2 years you’d get a 2.07% effective APY after accounting for the penalty.

Longer-term Instruments
I’d use these with caution due to increased interest rate risk, but I still track them to see the rest of the current yield curve.

  • Willing to lock up your money for 10+ years? You can buy certificates of deposit via the bond desks of Vanguard and Fidelity. These “brokered CDs” offer FDIC insurance, but they don’t come with predictable fixed early withdrawal penalties. As of this writing, Vanguard is showing a 10-year non-callable CD at 3.40% APY (Watch out for higher rates from callable CDs from Fidelity.) Unfortunately, current CD rates do not rise much higher even as you extend beyond a 5-year maturity.
  • How about two decades? Series EE Savings Bonds are not indexed to inflation, but they have a guarantee that the value will double in value in 20 years, which equals a guaranteed return of 3.5% a year. However, if you don’t hold for that long, you’ll be stuck with the normal rate which is quite low (currently a sad 0.10% rate). I view this as a huge early withdrawal penalty. You could also view it as long-term bond and thus a hedge against deflation, but only if you can hold on for 20 years.

All rates were checked as of 6/3/18.


CIT Bank No-Penalty CD

CIT Bank Review: Money Market 1.85% APY, 11-Month No Penalty CD 1.85% APY

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Rate update. CIT Bank (not to be confused with Citi Bank) is an online-only bank with a multi-year history of competitive rates. They don’t offer a checking account, so they focus on savings products with high interest rates. Here is their current line-up:

  • 11-Month No-Penalty CD at 1.85% APY. $1,000 minimum to open. 11-month CD with a fixed rate, but no withdrawal penalty seven days or later after funds have been received. This means that your interest rate will never go down, but you can still move out if interest rates go up.
  • Money Market Account at 1.85% APY, currently available on all tiers ($0+) with no max. $100 minimum to open, but $0 minimum balance requirement. Pay individuals with People Pay.
  • Premier High Yield Savings at 1.55% APY, currently available on all tiers ($0+) with no max. $100 minimum to open, but $0 minimum balance requirement.

As of 5/28/18, both the 11-month No Penalty CD and the Money Market are at 1.85% APY. The No-Penalty CD has a rate that can’t go down, but also has a $1,000 minimum balance. The Money Market rate could drop, but has more flexibility as you can easily make more deposits and also make 6 withdrawals every month. (There is really no reason for anyone to open a new Premier High Yield Savings.)

Check out my rate chaser calculator to see if it makes sense for you to move money over. They also have traditional term CDs as well as fancy CDs that allow add-on deposits and rate-bumps. Currently, I don’t find those rates especially interesting.

Existing savings customer? Upgrade now! Honestly, the only reason I can think of for them to create this new account is to avoid raising the interest rate on idle cash in their older accounts. If you already have an existing savings account, take a minute and upgrade yourself to the better interest rate. Click on “Open an Account” here, then “I have a CIT Bank account”, and then login with your username/password. You can do everything online and even fund your new Money Market account with an instant transfer from your existing Premier High Yield Savings. I wish I didn’t have to do this, but at least it literally only took a minute to complete.

citmm

New customer? Opening process overview. Here’s my review of the opening process if you are a new customer.

  • The application process was completely online. You provide the usual personal information.
  • You must submit to a credit check, but in my experience it was a “soft” pull which did not harm my credit. None of my various credit monitoring services showed it was a hard pull.
  • You may fund via (1) electronic ACH transfer, (2) wire transfer, (3) mobile check deposit via CIT Bank mobile app (iOS and Android), and (4) mailing in a paper check. There was no option for credit card funding. I picked online ACH funding and you need to provide routing and account numbers, followed by manual verification via micro-deposits after a day or two. There was no instant linking option via login information.

After deposit verification, then your funding will go through.

You have successfully verified your external account. Please allow up to 5 business days for your funds to appear in your CIT Bank account.
No further action is required for this account. Thank you!

citnewcd

How to transfer your money from an existing No Penalty CD into an new, higher-rate No Penalty CD. Let’s say you opened up a No Penalty CD at 1.55% APY, but then the rate for a new CD has risen to 1.85% APY. You have the option of moving the funds (with no penalty of course) over to a new CD with a new 11-month holding period. I just did this, and here’s the easiest way to do so:

  • Start a new online application for the 11-Month No-Penalty CD at 1.85% APY. Click on “Get Started”, and you will have the option to sign-in as an existing CIT customer.
  • After signing in, go through the opening process but choose to fund via “Mail in Check”. Your personal details should be filled in already to save time. Again, I did not observe any hard credit check. This will get you access to your new account number for the new No Penalty CD on the final “Congrats! Your account has been opened” page. Save/print this new account number!
  • Call CIT Bank on the phone at 855-462-2652, open M-F 8a-9p ET, Sat 9a-5p ET, Sun 11a-4p ET. Press “0” for operator. Tell them you opened up a new No Penalty CD and you wish to fund it by closing out your old No Penalty CD. They will verify your identity, ask for the new account number, and complete the transfer instructions while you are on the phone. My customer service rep was pleasant and helpful. I timed my call at under 8 minutes from start to end.
  • That’s it. The phone rep told me the entire process should take 1-3 business days to complete. Your new accounts will show up online. You can have the entire previous balance (including accrued interest) moved over, or another amount.
  • It would be nice if you could do this all online, but I don’t see an option to close the CD early online. Let me know if you know how.

User interface. While the front-facing website is pretty slick, after you login the backend is run by Fidelity National Information Services (subdomain ibanking-services.com). This is a popular backend software system used by many smaller banks who don’t want to create their own software from scratch. As of 3/3/18, the user interface was upgraded to be look more appealing and be more user-friendly. Two-factor authentication is available using voice or SMS.

There is also an app available (iOS/Android) provided by the same company. It is similarly functional and includes mobile check deposit. Here are some screenshots:

citapp

Bottom line. CIT Bank is a lean bank offering targeted products for folks looking to get higher interest rates on their cash balances. I have an account with them due to their low minimums (easy to move in and out) and their current aggressive rate-hiking. They don’t do physical bank branches, checking accounts, or fancy apps. However, I have been pleasantly satisfied with their customer service. Their most compelling products are their Money Market account ($100 minimum to open, no ongoing minimum) and their 11-month No Penalty CD which combines a competitive interest rate with a $1,000 minimum deposit. The lack of a penalty means you are always able to move out to a higher rate, even within CIT bank itself.

Best Interest Rates on Cash – May 2018

cream225Interest rates are rising. Rate-chasing is becoming more worthwhile again. Here is my monthly roundup of the best safe rates available, roughly sorted from shortest to longest maturities. Check out my Ultimate Rate-Chaser Calculator to get an idea of how much additional interest you’d earn if you switched over. Rates listed are available to everyone nationwide. Rates checked as of 5/1/18.

High-yield savings accounts
While the huge brick-and-mortar banks rarely offer good yields, there are a number of online savings accounts offering much higher rates. Keep in mind that with savings accounts, the interest rates can change at any time.

  • Popular Direct is at 2% APY with a $5,000 minimum opening deposit. SalemFiveDirect is at 1.85% APY, albeit for new money only/not valid for existing customers. DollarSavingsDirect is at 1.80% APY (no min). CIT Bank Money Market is at 1.75% APY (no min, $100 to open).
  • My “hub” bank account is the Ally Bank Savings + Checking combo due to their history of competitive savings/CD rates, 1-day external bank transfers, and overall user experience. The free overdraft transfers from savings allows to me to keep my checking balance at a minimum. Ally Savings has been raising their rates, but it still lags a bit at 1.50% APY. I’ve been keeping more money in no-penalty/short-term CDs.

Money market mutual funds + Ultra-short bond ETFs
If you like to keep cash in a brokerage account, you should know that money market and short-term Treasury rates have been rising. The following money market and ultra-short bond funds are not FDIC-insured, but may be a good option if you have idle cash and cheap/free commissions.

  • Vanguard Prime Money Market Fund currently pays an 1.82% SEC yield. The default sweep option is the Vanguard Federal Money Market Fund, which has an SEC yield of 1.58%. You can manually move the money over to Prime if you meet the $3,000 minimum investment.
  • Vanguard Ultra-Short-Term Bond Fund currently pays 2.23% SEC Yield ($3,000 min) and 2.33% SEC Yield ($50,000 min). The average duration is ~1 year.
  • The PIMCO Enhanced Short Maturity Active Bond ETF (MINT) has a 2.12% SEC yield and the iShares Short Maturity Bond ETF (NEAR) has a 2.22% SEC yield while holding a portfolio of investment-grade bonds with an average duration of ~6 months.

Short-term guaranteed rates (1 year and under)
I am often asked what to do with a big wad of cash that you’re waiting to deploy shortly (just sold your house, just sold your business, legal settlement, inheritance). My usual advice is to keep things simple. If not a savings account, then put it in a flexible short-term CD under the FDIC limits until you have a plan.

  • CIT Bank 11-Month No-Penalty CD is at 1.85% APY with a $1,000 minimum deposit and no withdrawal penalty seven days or later after funds have been received. The lack of early withdrawal penalty means that your interest rate can never go down for 11 months, but you keep full liquidity. Full review. You can open multiple CDs in smaller increments if you want more flexibility.
  • Several banks have 12-month CDs at 2% APY and above. Watch the early withdrawal penalties. For example, MidFirst Direct has a 2.25% APY 12-month CD, but the early withdrawal penalty is a fixed 1% of the amount withdrawn + $25. Meanwhile, Ally Bank has a 9-month CD at 2% APY and a 12-month CD at 2.10% APY with $25,000 minimum deposit and early withdrawal penalty of 60 days interest.

US Savings Bonds
Series I Savings Bonds offer rates that are linked to inflation and backed by the US government. You must hold them for at least a year. There are annual purchase limits. If you redeem them within 5 years there is a penalty of the last 3 months of interest.

  • “I Bonds” bought between May 2018 and October 2018 will earn a 2.52% rate for the first six months. The rate of the subsequent 6-month period will be based on inflation again. More info here.
  • In mid-October 2018, the CPI will be announced and you will have a short period where you will have a very close estimate of the rate for the next 12 months. I will have another post up at that time.

Prepaid Cards with Attached Savings Accounts
A small subset of prepaid debit cards have an “attached” FDIC-insured savings account with exceptionally high interest rates. The negatives are that balances are capped, and there are many fees that you must be careful to avoid (lest they eat up your interest). The offers also tend to disappear with little notice. Some folks don’t mind the extra work and attention required, while others do.

  • Insight Card is one of the best remaining cards with 5% APY on up to $5,000 as of this writing. Fees to avoid include the $1 per purchase fee, $2.50 for each ATM withdrawal, and the $3.95 inactivity fee if there is no activity within 90 days. If you can navigate it carefully (basically only use ACH transfers and keep up your activity regularly) you can still end up with more interest than other options. Earning 3% extra interest on $5,000 is $150 a year.

Rewards checking accounts
These unique checking accounts pay above-average interest rates, but with unique risks. You have to jump through certain hoops, and if you make a mistake you won’t earn any interest for that month. Some folks don’t mind the extra work and attention required, while others do. Rates can also drop quickly, leaving a “bait-and-switch” feeling. For example, Northpointe Bank was mentioned for several months here but later dropped to 1% APY. That’s just how it goes with these types of accounts.

  • Consumers Credit Union offers up to 4.59% APY on up to a $20k balance, although getting 3.09% APY on a $10k balance has a much shorter list of requirements. The 4.59% APY requires you to apply for a credit card through them (other credit cards offer $500+ in sign-up bonuses). Keep your 12 debit purchases small as well, as for every $500 in monthly purchases you may be losing out on 2% cashback (or $10 a month after-tax). Find a local rewards checking account at DepositAccounts.

Certificates of deposit (greater than 1 year)
You might have larger balances, either because you are using CDs instead of bonds or you simply want a large cash reserves. By finding a bank CD with a reasonable early withdrawal penalty, you can enjoy higher rates but maintain access in a true emergency. Alternatively, consider a custom CD ladder of different maturity lengths such that you have access to part of the ladder each year, but your blended interest rate is higher than a savings account.

  • Synchrony Bank has a 14-month CD at 2.35% APY ($2,000 min). Live Oak Bank has an 18-month CD at 2.35% APY and a 24-month CD at 2.50% APY ($2,500 min). Early withdrawal penalty for both banks is 90 days of interest.
  • Ally Bank has a 5-year CD at 2.60% APY ($25k minimum) with a relatively short 150-day early withdrawal penalty. For example, if you closed this CD after 2 years you’d still get a 2.07% effective APY even after accounting for the penalty.
  • Mountain America Credit Union has a 5-year Share Certificate at 3.00% APY (minimum deposit varies). Anyone can join via a partner organization for a one-time $5 fee, usually right on the online application. However, note the early of withdrawal penalty of 365 days of interest. You can also find a 5-year non-callable brokered CD at 3.20% APY from both Vanguard and Fidelity. More info below.

Longer-term Instruments
I’d use these with caution due to increased interest rate risk, but I still track them to see the rest of the current yield curve.

  • Willing to lock up your money for 10+ years? You can buy certificates of deposit via the bond desks of Vanguard and Fidelity. These “brokered CDs” offer FDIC insurance, but they don’t come with predictable fixed early withdrawal penalties. As of this writing, Vanguard is showing a 10-year non-callable CD at 3.25% APY (Watch out for higher rates from callable CDs from Fidelity.) Unfortunately, current CD rates do not rise much higher even as you extend beyond a 5-year maturity.
  • How about two decades? Series EE Savings Bonds are not indexed to inflation, but they have a guarantee that the value will double in value in 20 years, which equals a guaranteed return of 3.5% a year. However, if you don’t hold for that long, you’ll be stuck with the normal rate which is quite low (currently a sad 0.10% rate). I view this as a huge early withdrawal penalty. You could also view it as long-term bond and thus a hedge against deflation, but only if you can hold on for 20 years.

All rates were checked as of 5/1/18.


CIT Bank No-Penalty CD

Savings I Bonds May 2018 Interest Rate: 2.22% Inflation Rate, 0.30% Fixed Rate

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Update 5/1/18. The fixed rate will be 0.30% for I bonds issued from May 1, 2018 through October 31, 2018. The variable inflation-indexed rate for this 6-month period will be 2.22% (as was predicted). The total rate on any specific bond is the sum of the fixed and variable rates, changing every 6 months. If you buy a new bond in May 2018, you’ll get 2.52% for the first 6 months. Not bad. See you again in mid-October 2018 for the next early prediction.

Original post 4/11/18:

Savings I Bonds are a unique, low-risk investment backed by the US Treasury that pay out a variable interest rate linked to inflation. You could own them as a replacement for cash reserves (they are liquid after 12 months) or bonds in your portfolio.

New inflation numbers were just announced at BLS.gov, which allows us to make an early prediction of the May 2018 savings bond rates a couple of weeks before the official announcement on the 1st. This also allows the opportunity to know exactly what a April 2018 savings bond purchase will yield over the next 12 months, instead of just 6 months.

New inflation rate prediction. September 2017 CPI-U was 246.819. March 2018 was 249.554, for a semi-annual increase of 1.11%. Using the official formula, the variable component of interest rate for the next 6 month cycle will be 2.22%. You add the fixed and variable rates to get the total interest rate. If you have an older savings bond, your fixed rate may be very different than one from recent years.

Tips on purchase and redemption. You can’t redeem until 12 months have gone by, and any redemptions within 5 years incur an interest penalty of the last 3 months of interest. A known “trick” with I-Bonds is that if you buy at the end of the month, you’ll still get all the interest for the entire month as if you bought it in the beginning of the month. It’s best to give yourself a few business days of buffer time. If you miss the cutoff, your effective purchase date will be bumped into the next month.

Buying in April 2018. If you buy before the end of April, the fixed rate portion of I-Bonds will be 0.1%. You will be guaranteed a total interest rate of 2.58% for the next 6 months (0.10 + 2.48). For the 6 months after that, the total rate will be 0.10 + 2.22 = 2.32%.

Let’s look at a worst-case scenario, where you hold for the minimum of one year and pay the 3-month interest penalty. If you theoretically buy on April 30th, 2018 and sell on April 1, 2019, you’ll earn a ~2.04% annualized return for an 11-month holding period, for which the interest is also exempt from state income taxes. If you held for three months longer, you’d be looking at a ~2.10% annualized return for a 14-month holding period (assuming my math is correct). Compare with the best interest rates as of April 2018.

Buying in May 2018. If you buy in May 2018, you will get 2.22% plus a newly-set fixed rate for the first 6 months. The new fixed rate is unknown, but is loosely linked to the real yield of short-term TIPS, which has been rising a bit. The current real yield of 5-year TIPS is ~0.56%. My best guess is that it will be 0.20% or 0.30%. Every six months, your rate will adjust to your fixed rate (set at purchase) plus a variable rate based on inflation.

If you have an existing I-Bond, the rates reset every 6 months depending on your purchase month. Your bond rate = your specific fixed rate (set at purchase) + variable rate (minimum floor of 0%).

So, which one? Buying in April 2018 would lock in a 11-14 month return equal to the top 12-month CD rates, which isn’t bad (plus the interest is exempt from state and local income taxes). If inflation picks up in the next year, you could still keep the bond and have potential upside. I would choose this option if I was treating savings bonds as short-term CD alternatives. However, if you buy in May 2018, your (real) fixed rate may be higher. This helps in the long run if you intend to keep these savings bonds indefinitely. I am a long-term holder (see below), so I am waiting until May.

Unique features. Due to their annual purchase limits, you should still consider their unique advantages before redeeming them. These include ongoing tax deferral (you don’t owe tax until redemption), exemption from state income taxes, and being a hedge against inflation (and even a bit of a hedge against deflation). There are also potential benefits when using the proceeds for college.

Over the years, I have accumulated a nice pile of I-Bonds and now consider it part of the inflation-linked bond allocation inside my long-term investment portfolio.

Annual purchase limits. The annual purchase limit is now $10,000 in online I-bonds per Social Security Number. For a couple, that’s $20,000 per year. Buy online at TreasuryDirect.gov, after making sure you’re okay with their security protocols and user-friendliness. You can also buy an additional $5,000 in paper bonds using your tax refund with IRS Form 8888. If you have children, you may be able to buy additional savings bonds by using a minor’s Social Security Number.

For more background, see the rest of my posts on savings bonds.

[Image: 1946 Savings Bond poster from US Treasury – source]

SaverLife Review: Starting Saving $20 a Month, Get Another $10 a Month Boost

saverlife0The importance of an emergency fund is often mentioned, but often the hardest thing is to get started. SaverLife.org is a program run by the nonprofit EARN to help working families by encouraging savings. Their idea here, essentially, is to kickstart a savings habit by paying a cash incentive for saving a least $20 each month for 6 months.

How it works. First, make sure you are age 18+ and have a US bank or credit union account. Taken from their FAQ:

  1. Join now by clicking the “Join Now” button at the top right corner of this page.
  2. Enter your name and email address.
  3. Connect your bank account to SaverLife by entering your online credentials so we can track how much you save.
  4. Save at least $20 each month for 6 months in your own bank account. We don’t touch your money, so you’ll need to move money to your linked account yourself.
  5. Earn $10 in rewards each month that you save at least $20.
  6. After 6 months, you can claim your rewards ($60 max) by completing an exit survey and entering your bank’s routing number and your account number.

You can set a goal higher than $20 a month if you’d like, they just set the bar to be encouraging to as many people as possible to start saving. You’ll receive weekly savings tips as well. SaverLife is not a bank or savings account. The money paid is not interest. If you sign up by April 13th, they promise additional “prizes”. Here’s an example of the motivation behind the nonprofit EARN:

saverlife1

Ideally, you should connect a savings account as they will basically take a snapshot every 30 days to see if your balance is $20 higher than the previous month. For example, if you join on April 10th, then they will check your balance again on May 9th. If you have a savings account, it will be easier to make sure you qualify by simply adding $20 to the account. Having a separate high-yield savings account is a better way to encourage savings anyway.

Bottom line. SaverLife is a free program designed to encourage household savings for working households. Link a bank account and earn $10 cash for every month that you save at least $20 (up to $60 total). I think this is a worthy effort, although I hope they perform some honest, long-term tracking and share if it really helps to develop a regular savings habit.

Popular Direct Exclusive Savings Account Review

(Update 5/18/18: Looks like the available rate to new applicants is now down to 1.85% APY. This is why I don’t like switching savings accounts nearly as much as locking in a good CD rate.)

popdirectThe Popular Direct Exclusive Savings account, offered under the FDIC certificate of Banco Popular North America (BPNA), is the first liquid savings account to reach 2% APY in several years. This is a big psychological threshold, so let’s take a look to see if it’s worth the hype.

Note for existing customers. This account appears to be a “new” flavor of savings account, so if you are an existing Popular Direct customer, you may need to open up a new “Exclusive Savings” account to get the higher interest rate. You might also want to leave $500 in that old account if it’s new to avoid the early closure fee… but also close that account to avoid inactivity (see fees below). Banks always be trying to take advantage of your inaction…

Piggyback-style account. This accounts follows the many other barebones online savings accounts with a higher interest rate but limited features. Deposits are only permitted through a single designated “External Account” which can’t be changed within the first 60 days, internal transfers from other Popular Direct accounts, ACH, or via Mobile Check Deposit through the Popular Direct mobile app. This is why it is good to have a “hub” bank with fast transfers and multiple linked banks allowed in order to move funds around. I use Ally Bank as my hub since it has 1-day transfers available and allows you to link up to 20 different banks.

Notable fees. This account has a few annoying “nickel-and-dime” fees that you don’t always find elsewhere, so please take a look at their fee list:

  • Minimum to open: $5,000
  • Minimum daily balance: $500, otherwise $4 monthly service fee applies.
  • Early closure fee: $25 if account closed within 180 days.
  • Inactivity fee: $5 per month if no activity for 12 months.

Many other online savings accounts have no minimum opening balance, no minimum balance requirement, no early closure fee, and/or no inactivity fee.

Smartphone app. It’s amazing how much I bank from my phone these days, from checking balances to mobile check deposit. Based on the app store screenshots, it looks like Popular Direct also outsourced their back-end software to Fidelity National Information Services (subdomain ibanking-services.com). In my experience, the app is basic but functional. Mobile check deposit and Touch ID are supported.

popdirect2

Bottom line. Popular Direct Exclusive Savings Account is notable as the first liquid savings account (back) at 2% APY. For the most part, it is like many other copycat online savings accounts, but they did add some minor niggles including a $500 minimum balance and an inactivity fee. Check out my Ultimate Rate-Chaser Calculator to estimate how much additional interest you’d earn if you switched over and make an informed decision. I believe that other banks will soon follow at 2% APY, so it may not be worth the effort for a non-guaranteed rate.

Best Interest Rates on Cash – April 2018

percentage2This WSJ article had a chart that illustrates why I run this update every month. Deposit rates at the big banks will stay low for as long as enough people don’t move their funds elsewhere. The rising Fed rate changes nothing by itself. However, if you had a top online bank account, you would have earned consistently more than the Fed rate. You need to take action. Many businesses are built to profit from your inaction.

fallingbehind

Here is my monthly roundup of the best safe rates available, roughly sorted from shortest to longest maturities. Check out my Ultimate Rate-Chaser Calculator to get an idea of how much additional interest you’d earn if you switched over. Rates listed are available to everyone nationwide. Rates checked as of 4/1/18.

High-yield savings accounts
While the huge brick-and-mortar banks rarely offer good yields, there are a number of online savings accounts offering much higher rates. Keep in mind that with savings accounts, the interest rates can change at any time.

  • SalemFiveDirect is at 1.85% APY (no min, $100 to open, new money only/not valid for existing customers). DollarSavingsDirect is at 1.80% APY (no min). CIT Bank Money Market is at 1.75% APY (no min, $100 to open).
  • My “hub” bank account is the Ally Bank Savings + Checking combo due to their history of competitive rates, 1-day external bank transfers, and overall user experience. I then move money elsewhere if the rate is significantly higher (and preferably locked in via CD rate). The free overdraft transfers from savings allows to me to keep my checking balance at a minimum. Ally Savings has been raising their rates, but it still lags a bit at 1.45% APY.

Money market mutual funds + Ultra-short bond ETFs
If you like to keep cash in a brokerage account, you should know that money market and short-term Treasury rates have been rising. The following money market and ultra-short bond funds are not FDIC-insured, but may be a good option if you have idle cash and cheap/free commissions.

  • Vanguard Prime Money Market Fund currently pays an 1.68% SEC yield. The default sweep option is the Vanguard Federal Money Market Fund, which has an SEC yield of 1.50%. You can manually move the money over to Prime if you meet the $3,000 minimum investment.
  • Vanguard Ultra-Short-Term Bond Fund currently pays 2.15% SEC Yield ($3,000 min) and 2.25% SEC Yield ($50,000 min). The average duration is ~1 year.
  • The PIMCO Enhanced Short Maturity Active Bond ETF (MINT) has a 1.89% SEC yield and the iShares Short Maturity Bond ETF (NEAR) has a 2.11% SEC yield while holding a portfolio of investment-grade bonds with an average duration of ~6 months.

Short-term guaranteed rates (1 year and under)
I am often asked what to do with a big wad of cash that you’re waiting to deploy shortly (just sold your house, just sold your business, legal settlement, inheritance). My usual advice is to keep things simple. If not a savings account, then put it in a short-term CD under the FDIC limits until you have a plan.

  • CIT Bank 11-Month No-Penalty CD is at 1.85% APY with a $1,000 minimum deposit and no withdrawal penalty seven days or later after funds have been received. The lack of early withdrawal penalty means that your interest rate can never go down for 11 months, but you can always jump ship if rates rise. Full review. You can open multiple CDs in smaller increments if you want more flexibility.
  • NASA Federal Credit Union has a promotional 11-month CD at 2.25% APY ($20,000 minimum). However, you should be sure to keep it in there the entire term as the Early withdrawal penalty is 182 days of interest. Ally Bank has a 12-month CD at 2.00% APY again, but with $25,000 minimum deposit and early withdrawal penalty of 60 days interest.

US Savings Bonds
Series I Savings Bonds offer rates that are linked to inflation and backed by the US government. You must hold them for at least a year. There are annual purchase limits. If you redeem them within 5 years there is a penalty of the last 3 months of interest.

  • “I Bonds” bought between November 2017 and April 2018 will earn a 2.58% rate for the first six months. The rate of the subsequent 6-month period will be based on inflation again. At the very minimum, the total yield after 12 months will be 1.29% with additional upside potential. More info here.
  • In mid-April 2018, the CPI will be announced and you will have a short period where you will have a very close estimate of the rate for the next 12 months. I will have another post up at that time.

Prepaid Cards with Attached Savings Accounts
A small subset of prepaid debit cards have an “attached” FDIC-insured savings account with exceptionally high interest rates. The negatives are that balances are capped, and there are many fees that you must be careful to avoid (lest they eat up your interest). The offers also tend to disappear with little notice. Some folks don’t mind the extra work and attention required, while others do.

  • Insight Card is one of the best remaining cards with 5% APY on up to $5,000 as of this writing. Fees to avoid include the $1 per purchase fee, $2.50 for each ATM withdrawal, and the $3.95 inactivity fee if there is no activity within 90 days. If you can navigate it carefully (basically only use ACH transfers and keep up your activity regularly) you can still end up with more interest than other options. Earning 4% extra interest on $5,000 is $200 a year.

Rewards checking accounts
These unique checking accounts pay above-average interest rates, but with some risk. You have to jump through certain hoops, and if you make a mistake you won’t earn any interest for that month. Some folks don’t mind the extra work and attention required, while others do. Rates can also drop quickly, leaving a “bait-and-switch” feeling. For example, Northpointe Bank was mentioned for several months here but recently stopped accepting new applications and a few months later dropped to 1% APY for existing customers. That’s just how it goes with these types of accounts.

  • Consumers Credit Union offers up to 4.59% APY on up to a $20k balance, although getting 3.09% APY on a $10k balance has a much shorter list of requirements. The 4.59% APY requires you to apply for a credit card through them (other credit cards offer $500+ in sign-up bonuses). Keep your 12 debit purchases small as well, as for every $500 in monthly purchases you may be losing out on 2% cashback (or $10 a month after-tax). Find a local rewards checking account at DepositAccounts.

Certificates of deposit (greater than 1 year)
You might have larger balances, either because you are using CDs instead of bonds or you simply want a large cash reserves. By finding a bank CD with a reasonable early withdrawal penalty, you can enjoy higher rates but maintain access in a true emergency. Alternatively, consider a custom CD ladder of different maturity lengths such that you have access to part of the ladder each year, but your blended interest rate is higher than a savings account.

  • Live Oak Bank has an 18-month CD at 2.40% APY and a 24-month CD at 2.55% APY ($2,500 min). Early withdrawal penalty is 90 days of interest.
  • Ally Bank has a 5-year CD at 2.50% APY ($25,000 minimum) with a relatively short 150-day early withdrawal penalty and no credit union membership hoops. For example, if you closed this CD after 2 years you’d still get an 1.99% effective APY even after accounting for the penalty.
  • Mountain America Credit Union has a 5-year Share Certificate at 3.00% APY (minimum deposit varies). Anyone can join via a partner organization for a one-time $5 fee, usually right on the online application. However, note the early of withdrawal penalty of 365 days of interest. I previously ran a Ally vs. Connexus 5-year CD comparison to show the effect of a larger early withdrawal penalty. Rates may have changed since that post was published.
  • I just wanted to mention that for one week in March, I posted that there was a 64-month CD at 4% APY at Sharonview Federal Credit Union. As forewarned, the offer was only available for a limited window of time. I hope you got in if you were interested. I opened a CD, and I felt that everything was run quite professionally. I’ll post about exceptional rates like these outside of these monthly summaries.

Longer-term Instruments
I’d use these with caution due to increased interest rate risk, but I still track them to see the rest of the current yield curve.

  • Willing to lock up your money for 10+ years? You can buy certificates of deposit via the bond desks of Vanguard and Fidelity. These “brokered CDs” offer FDIC insurance, but they don’t come with predictable fixed early withdrawal penalties. As of this writing, Vanguard is showing a 10-year non-callable CD at 3.15% APY (Watch out for higher rates from callable CDs from Fidelity.) Unfortunately, current CD rates do not rise much higher even as you extend beyond a 5-year maturity.
  • How about two decades? Series EE Savings Bonds are not indexed to inflation, but they have a guarantee that the value will double in value in 20 years, which equals a guaranteed return of 3.5% a year. However, if you don’t hold for that long, you’ll be stuck with the normal rate which is quite low (currently a sad 0.10% rate). I view this as a huge early withdrawal penalty. You could also view it as long-term bond and thus a hedge against deflation, but only if you can hold on for 20 years.

All rates were checked as of 4/1/18.


CIT Bank No-Penalty CD

Chase Total Checking $300 + Savings $200 Bonus ($500 Total)

chase500

(Update: This offer has expired. The current offer is similar, but up to $350 total.)

Here’s a Chase Bank Total Checking + Savings account promotion offering up to $500 total for new customers. The major catches are that you must switch over a “real” direct deposit to get the $300 checking bonus, and you’ll need a $15,000 deposit for 90 days to get the $200 savings bonus. Some of the language suggests you should reside near a physical Chase branch, but the link lets you apply online and it may still work (instant approval). If you already have a Chase credit card, the application can be pre-filled.

Chase Total Checking $300 Bonus details. Checking offer is not available to existing Chase checking customers, those with fiduciary accounts, or those whose accounts have been closed within 90 days or closed with a negative balance. To receive the $300 checking bonus (taken directly from their offer page):

  1. Open a new Chase Total Checking account, which is subject to approval;
  2. Deposit $25 or more at account opening;
  3. Have your direct deposit made to this account within 60 days of account opening. Your direct deposit needs to be an electronic deposit of your paycheck, pension or government benefits (such as Social Security) from your employer or the government.
  4. After you have completed all the above checking requirements, [Chase will] deposit the bonus in your new account within 10 business days.

Chase Total Checking has no monthly service fee when you do at least one of the following each statement period. Otherwise a $12 Monthly Service Fee will apply.

  • Have monthly direct deposits totaling $500 or more made to this account; OR
  • Keep a minimum daily balance of $1,500 or more in your checking account; OR,
  • Keep an average daily balance of $5,000 or more in any combination of qualifying Chase checking, savings and other balances.

Chase Savings $200 Bonus details. To receive the $200 savings bonus (taken directly from their offer page):

  1. Open a new Chase SavingsSM account, which is subject to approval.
  2. Deposit a total of $15,000 or more in new money into the new savings account within 10 business days of account opening;
  3. Maintain at least a $15,000 balance for 90 days from the date of deposit. The new money cannot be funds held by Chase or its affiliates.
  4. After you have completed all the above savings requirements, we’ll deposit the bonus in your new account within 10 business days.
  5. 0.01% effective APY as of 1/18/18. Interest rates are variable and subject to change.

Chase Savings has no monthly service fee when you do at least one of the following each statement period. Otherwise a $5 Monthly Service Fee will apply.

  • Keep a minimum daily balance of $300 or more in your savings account; OR,
  • Have at least one repeating automatic transfer from your Chase checking account of $25 or more. One-time transfers do not qualify; OR,
  • Have a linked Chase Premier Plus Checking, Chase Premier Platinum Checking, or Chase Private Client Checking account.

With a total opening deposit of $15,025 in new money, you can open both accounts and avoid both monthly fees. You’ll still need to change your direct deposit (any amount). I have read no reports of a “hard” credit check, and did not experience one myself either this time around or from a previous Chase offer from a couple years ago. Looks like a “soft” check to confirm your identity only (which is all banks should do…).

As reader R. Dannewitz helpfully points out:

Account Closing: If either the checking or savings account is closed by the customer or Chase within six months after opening, we will deduct the bonus amount for that account at closing.

In order to avoid monthly fees while your accounts stay open, you could take the $15,000 out and just maintain a $500 direct deposit and a $25 auto-transfer from checking to savings. Alternatively, you could leave $1,500 in checking and $300 in savings for another 3 months and have no other activity.

Bottom line. If you can switch over your paycheck direct deposit, Chase is offering $300 to try out their checking account. If you can move over $15,000 for 90 days, Chase is offering another $200 to try out their savings account (that pays 0.01% APY?). Earning $500 on $15,000 in 90 days is the equivalent of 13.3% annualized return. Not bad. The bonuses are considered interest and will be reported on IRS Form 1099-INT.

Never Worth It? Overdraft Protection, Student Loan Assistance, and Payment Accelerators

piggybank_feesA lot of financial articles are all about optimizing or finding the “best”. The best bank account, best credit card, best mutual fund, etc. However, this CurrentAffairs.org article Nothing For Money takes a different perspective. They outline three “Bullsh– Financial Products” (BFPs) that are never, ever worth the money. There is no “best” to recommend. The best advice is to simply avoid them completely.

Overdraft Protection. The banks say they only want to offer “help” with this “protection”, but then why did it require governmental intervention make it opt-in only? You may be opted-in today due to old rules or by accident (you can still call them and opt-out). The fact is that most people would probably save money overall if it didn’t exist and banks simply rejected the transactions instantly.

I would really love to hear from anyone who has had a positive experience with overdraft protection. If you exist, write in and let us know about an instance when you were glad to pay your overdraft fee in order to have your transaction processed on the spot. What was the transaction? Why was it worth the extra $35 or whatever the fee amount was? Why was that better than using a credit card if you had access to one?

Student Loan Assistance. Student loans are big business and unfortunately the long list of options can be confusing. Don’t let one of these outfits take advantage of you.

So the student loan assistance companies will literally charge you many thousands of dollars to do something that: a) is not even necessarily the right thing for you; and b) is extremely easy and fast to do yourself if it is the right thing for you.

Payment Accelerators. I am also a big proponent of DIY payment acceleration. I have never found a payment accelerator program that I would recommend to a family member.

First, they generally charge you a lot. The companies that do this for your mortgage will sometimes charge you a full mortgage payment up to $1,000 to start the program, and then a fee of $5 or so every time they withdraw a payment from you, which is usually every two weeks. If you used a payment accelerator for your whole 30-year mortgage, you’d pay almost $5,000. There are also companies that do this mainly with auto loans. They charge a little less, but it’s still a lot. Most of them will charge you $399 at the beginning and then $2-3 per withdrawal, again usually every two weeks. So for a five-year loan, even if you pay it off six months early, you’re still looking at almost $700 in fees.

Sharonview Federal Credit Union: 64-Month CD at 4% APY

(Update: As of 3/10/18, this offer is expired. If you opened a Sharonview membership by the end of business (5pm ET) on Friday 3/9, you should be able to fund your certificate if done soon. I would contact them for details, they have been quite professional and reasonable based on my own interactions with them.)

sharonview2Sharonview Federal Credit Union has a limited-time certificate special on their 64-month Share Certificate at 4% APY. NCUA-insured. Found via DepositAccounts. Here are the highlights:

  • Minimum new money deposit of $500 required.
  • Regular or IRA option.
  • Deposit up to $100,000 of existing funds.
  • Deposit up to $250,000 of new funds.
  • Penalty for early withdrawal is 365 days dividends on the amount withdrawn. The penalty will, if necessary, be taken from the principal amount of the deposit.
  • For share certificates, there is a 5 day grace period provided at maturity.
  • Hard credit pull with a new membership application (according to various reports)

Membership eligibility. Their eligibility criteria is relatively open. Anyone who lives in North Carolina, South Caroline, Georgia, Tennessee, or Virginia can join if they are a member of the Carolina Consumer Council (CCC). Use promo code SFCU and the dues will even be waived. It has been noted that the CCC falls under the American Consumer Council (ACC), of which some of you may already be a member. It is not completely clear if ACC membership alone is adequate for joining the credit union.

In any case, it appears that anyone nationwide can join Sharonview FCU by joining the Hobby Farmers of America with a one-time $20 fee.

Good deal? If you have a lot of cash that you want to park safely for 5 years, this is a top rate by a full percentage point or so. A 5-year Treasury bond currently yields about 2.6%. The hard credit pull and possible $20 entry fee make it better for high balances to make it worth the trouble. Note that the 365-day early withdrawal penalty is relatively stiff, as for example you would have to keep it in there for at least two years just to get 2% APY. If you withdraw within the first year, you’ll actually lose money.

I think the deal is good enough to worry if this deal will last until next week. This credit union is not tiny, but it isn’t huge either. It is quite possible that there will be enough new applications to overwhelm their staff (and deposit needs). You might pony up $20, start the application process, take the credit pull hit, and have the deal fall apart before you can fund the certificate. I’m not saying this will happen, but it is possible. (I suppose it is also possible that this is only the start of multiple places offering 4% APY CDs). Basically, if you’re interested, I would act immediately.

Best Interest Rates on Cash – March 2018

percentage2

We just helped an older relative renew a 12-month CD at her local bank branch for 0.30% APY. She had no need nor desire to move it elsewhere for a higher interest rate. I suppose this partially explains the piddly rates that many traditional banks can offer and still get away with it. But if you’re reading this, you have internet access and an e-mail address! Keep those big banks on their toes and shop around.

Here is my monthly roundup of the best safe rates available, roughly sorted from shortest to longest maturities. Check out my Ultimate Rate-Chaser Calculator to get an idea of how much additional interest you’d earn if you switched over. Rates listed are available to everyone nationwide. Rates checked as of 3/1/18.

High-yield savings accounts
While the huge brick-and-mortar banks rarely offer good yields, there are a number of online savings accounts offering much higher rates. Keep in mind that with savings accounts, the interest rates can change at any time.

  • Some familiar pre-crisis names are rising back up. Remember EmigrantDirect? Its brother DollarSavingsDirect is at 1.80% APY. Former top bank FNBO Direct is now at 1.60% APY. Redneck Bank/All America Bank is at 1.75% APY (max balance $50k).
  • My “hub” bank account is the Ally Bank Savings + Checking combo due to their history of competitive rates, 1-day external bank transfers, and overall user experience. I then move money elsewhere if the rate is significantly higher (and preferably locked in via CD rate). The free overdraft transfers from savings allows to me to keep my checking balance at a minimum. Ally Savings has been raising their rates, but it still lags a bit at 1.45% APY.

Money market mutual funds + Ultra-short bond ETFs
If you like to keep cash in a brokerage account, you should know that money market and short-term Treasury rates have been rising. The following money market and ultra-short bond funds are not FDIC-insured, but may be a good option if you have idle cash and cheap/free commissions.

  • Vanguard Prime Money Market Fund currently pays an 1.52% SEC yield. The default sweep option is the Vanguard Federal Money Market Fund, which has an SEC yield of 1.36%. You can manually move the money over to Prime if you meet the $3,000 minimum investment.
  • Vanguard Ultra-Short-Term Bond Fund currently pays 1.93% SEC Yield ($3,000 min) and 2.03% SEC Yield ($50,000 min). The average duration is ~1 year.
  • The PIMCO Enhanced Short Maturity Active Bond ETF (MINT) has a 1.82% SEC yield and the iShares Short Maturity Bond ETF (NEAR) has a 1.92% SEC yield while holding a portfolio of investment-grade bonds with an average duration of ~6 months.

Short-term guaranteed rates (1 year and under)
I am often asked what to do with a big wad of cash that you’re waiting to deploy shortly (just sold your house, just sold your business, legal settlement, inheritance). My usual advice is to keep things simple. If not a savings account, then put it in a short-term CD under the FDIC limits until you have a plan.

  • CIT Bank 11-Month No-Penalty CD is at 1.85% APY with a $1,000 minimum deposit and no withdrawal penalty seven days or later after funds have been received. The lack of early withdrawal penalty means that your interest rate can never go down for 11 months, but you can always jump ship if rates rise. Full review. You can open multiple CDs in smaller increments if you want more flexibility.
  • NASA Federal Credit Union has a promotional 11-month CD at 2.25% APY ($20,000 minimum). However, you should be sure to keep it in there the entire term as the Early withdrawal penalty is 182 days of interest. Ally Bank has a 12-month CD at 2.00% APY again, but with $25,000 minimum deposit. Early withdrawal penalty is 60 days of interest.

US Savings Bonds
Series I Savings Bonds offer rates that are linked to inflation and backed by the US government. You must hold them for at least a year. There are annual purchase limits. If you redeem them within 5 years there is a penalty of the last 3 months of interest.

  • “I Bonds” bought between November 2017 and April 2018 will earn a 2.58% rate for the first six months. The rate of the subsequent 6-month period will be based on inflation again. At the very minimum, the total yield after 12 months will be 1.29% with additional upside potential. More info here.
  • In mid-April 2018, the CPI will be announced and you will have a short period where you will have a very close estimate of the rate for the next 12 months. I will have another post up at that time.

Prepaid Cards with Attached Savings Accounts
A small subset of prepaid debit cards have an “attached” FDIC-insured savings account with exceptionally high interest rates. The negatives are that balances are capped, and there are many fees that you must be careful to avoid (lest they eat up your interest). The offers also tend to disappear with little notice. Some folks don’t mind the extra work and attention required, while others do.

  • Insight Card is one of the best remaining cards with 5% APY on up to $5,000 as of this writing. Fees to avoid include the $1 per purchase fee, $2.50 for each ATM withdrawal, and the $3.95 inactivity fee if there is no activity within 90 days. If you can navigate it carefully (basically only use ACH transfers and keep up your activity regularly) you can still end up with more interest than other options. Earning 4% extra interest on $5,000 is $200 a year.

Rewards checking accounts
These unique checking accounts pay above-average interest rates, but with some risk. You have to jump through certain hoops, and if you make a mistake you won’t earn any interest for that month. Some folks don’t mind the extra work and attention required, while others do. Rates can also drop quickly, leaving a “bait-and-switch” feeling. For example, Northpointe Bank was mentioned for several months here but recently stopped accepting new applications and a few months later dropped to 1% APY for existing customers. That’s just how it goes with these types of accounts.

  • Consumers Credit Union offers up to 4.59% APY on up to a $20k balance, although getting 3.09% APY on a $10k balance has a much shorter list of requirements. The 4.59% APY requires you to apply for a credit card through them (other credit cards offer $500+ in sign-up bonuses). Keep your 12 debit purchases small as well, as for every $500 in monthly purchases you may be losing out on 2% cashback (or $10 a month after-tax). Find a local rewards checking account at DepositAccounts.

Certificates of deposit (greater than 1 year)
You might have larger balances, either because you are using CDs instead of bonds or you simply want a large cash reserves. By finding a bank CD with a reasonable early withdrawal penalty, you can enjoy higher rates but maintain access in a true emergency. Alternatively, consider a custom CD ladder of different maturity lengths such that you have access to part of the ladder each year, but your blended interest rate is higher than a savings account.

  • Live Oak Bank has an 18-month CD at 2.30% APY ($2,500 min). Early withdrawal penalty is 90 days of interest. Both Fidelity and Vanguard have 2-year brokered CDs at 2.50% APY (see below).
  • Ally Bank has a 5-year CD at 2.50% APY ($25,000 minimum) with a relatively short 150-day early withdrawal penalty and no credit union membership hoops. For example, if you closed this CD after 2 years you’d still get an 1.99% effective APY even after accounting for the penalty.
  • Both Connexus Credit Union and Mountain America Credit Union have a 5-year Share Certificate at 3.00% APY (minimum deposit varies). Both can be joined via a partner organization for a one-time $5 fee, usually right on the online application. I previously ran a Ally vs. Connexus 5-year CD comparison to show the effect of a larger early withdrawal penalty. Ally rates have risen a bit since that post was published.

Longer-term Instruments
I’d use these with caution due to increased interest rate risk, but I still track them to see the rest of the current yield curve.

  • Willing to lock up your money for 10+ years? You can buy certificates of deposit via the bond desks of Vanguard and Fidelity. These “brokered CDs” offer FDIC insurance, but they don’t come with predictable fixed early withdrawal penalties. As of this writing, Vanguard is showing a 10-year non-callable CD at 3.05% APY (Watch out for higher rates from callable CDs from Fidelity.) Unfortunately, current CD rates do not rise much higher even as you extend beyond a 5-year maturity.
  • How about two decades? Series EE Savings Bonds are not indexed to inflation, but they have a guarantee that the value will double in value in 20 years, which equals a guaranteed return of 3.5% a year. However, if you don’t hold for that long, you’ll be stuck with the normal rate which is quite low (currently a sad 0.10% rate). I view this as a huge early withdrawal penalty. You could also view it as long-term bond and thus a hedge against deflation, but only if you can hold on for 20 years.

All rates were checked as of 3/1/18.


CIT Bank No-Penalty CD