Best Interest Rates on Cash Savings – July 2017

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Interest rates are slowly waking up from their multi-year slumber, so I am paying a bit more attention to the various changes each month. Don’t let a megabank pay you 0.01% APY or less for your idle cash. Here is my monthly roundup of the best safe rates available, roughly sorted from shortest to longest maturities. Rates checked as of 7/4/17.

High-yield savings accounts
While the huge brick-and-mortar banks rarely offer good yields, the online banks with a history of competitive rates offer online savings accounts clustered around 1% APY. Remember that with savings accounts, the interest rates can change at any time.

  • As I’ve been “bait-and-switched” a few times, I try to stick with savings accounts that have a consistent history of competitive rates and a good user experience. My favorite is currently Ally Bank Online Savings, which recently bumped their rate to 1.15% APY.
  • The Mega Money Market accounts of both Redneck Bank and All America Bank (they are affiliated) are paying 1.50% APY on balances up to $35,000. Note that amounts over $35,000 earn only 0.50% 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 inching upwards. It may be worth the effort to move your money into a higher-yielding money market fund or ultrashort-term bond ETF.

  • The Vanguard Prime Money Market Fund has increased their SEC yield now to 1.07%. The default sweep option is the Vanguard Federal Money Market Fund, which only has an SEC yield of 0.87%. You can manually move the money over to Prime if you meet the $3,000 minimum investment.
  • The following bond ETFs are not FDIC-insured, but if you want to keep “standby money” in your brokerage account and have cheap/free trades, it may be worth a look. The PIMCO Enhanced Short Maturity Active Bond ETF (MINT) has a 1.49% SEC yield and the iShares Short Maturity Bond ETF (NEAR) has a 1.53% SEC yield while holding a portfolio of investment-grade bonds with an average duration of ~6 months. More info here.

Short-term guaranteed rates (under 1 year)
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, inheritance). Honestly, I wouldn’t get fancy or take unnecessary risk. Just keep it safe in a short-term CD or online savings account that in insured under the FDIC limits until you have a plan.

  • The Ally Bank No-Penalty 11-Month CD is now paying 1.50% APY for $25,000+ balances and 1.25% APY for $5,000+ balances. The lack of early withdrawal means that you can your interest rate can never go down for 11 months, but you can still jump ship if rates rise.
  • Salem Five Direct is advertising 1.25% APY on balances up to $500,000. The good news is that this rate is guaranteed until 7/1/18 – more than a year away – and since it is a savings account you can still move your money in and out without penalty. The bad news is that this rate is for new customers only.

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 and October 2017 will earn a 1.96% rate for the first six months, and then a variable rate based on ongoing inflation after that. While that next 6-month rate is currently unknown, at the very minimum the total yield after 12 months will around 1% with additional upside potential. More info here.
  • In mid-October, 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 high interest rates. The risks are that balances are capped, and there are many fees that you must be careful to avoid (lest they eat up your interest). The other catch is that these good features may be killed off without much notice. My NetSpend card now only has an eligible balance up to $1,000.

  • 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. Rates can also drop quickly, leaving a “bait-and-switch” feeling. But the rates can be high while they last.

  • Consumers Credit Union offers up to 4.59% APY on up to a $20k balance, although 3.09% APY on a $10k balance is more realistic unless you satisfy a long list of requirements. Note that the 4.59% APY requires you to apply and get approved for an additional credit card through them (other credit cards offer $500+ in sign-up bonuses) and also spend $1,000 on it every month. 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 on after-tax benefit). Find a local rewards checking account at DepositAccounts.

Certificates of deposit
If you have a large cushion, it’s quite likely to just sit there for years. One option is to keep your money in longer-term investments where you can still take it out in a true emergency and pay a reasonable early withdrawal penalty. Alternatively, you could create a 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 1.50% APY (90-day early withdrawal penalty) and a 3-year Share Certificate (180-day early withdrawal penalty) at 2.00% 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.
  • Hanscom Federal Credit Union is offering a 4-year Share Certificate at 2.50% APY (180-day early withdrawal penalty) if you also have Premier Checking (no monthly fee if you keep $6,000 in total balances or $2,000 in checking). HFCU also offer a 3% APY CU Thrive “starter” savings account. HFCU membership is open to active/retired military or anyone who makes a one-time $35 donation to the Nashua River Watershed Association.
  • Ally Bank also has a 5-year CD at 2.25% APY with a relatively short 150-day early withdrawal penalty and no credit union membership hoops. For example, if you closed this CD after 18-months, you can get a 1.64% effective APY even after accounting for the penalty.

Longer-term Instruments
I’d use these with caution, 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 the same FDIC-insurance. As of this writing, Vanguard is showing a 10-year non-callable CD at 2.60% APY (2.70% if you log into Fidelity). (Unfortunately, current long-term CD rates do not rise much higher even as you extend beyond a 5-year maturity.) Prices will vary daily.
  • 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). You could view 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. Too long for me.

All rates were checked as of 7/4/17.

Does Cash Make You Happier Than Income or Paying Down Debt?

happyfaceThe growing appreciation of behavioral psychology in investing is basically us admitting that we aren’t perfectly rational. When you make people automatically opt-in to 401(k) plans and make their contributions increase automatically, they save more. We value stocks more simply because we own them (“endowment effect”). We hate losing money more than we enjoy winning (“loss aversion”).

A recent research paper tells us (in my own words) that having liquid cash has a stronger correlation effect to happiness than having a bigger retirement portfolio, a higher income, or paying down your debt. This is coming from the NYT article Yes, Numbers Matter in Money Decisions, but So Do Emotions linking to the Kitces post Buying Happiness And Life Satisfaction With Greater Cash-On-Hand Reserves linking to academic paper How Your Bank Balance Buys Happiness: The Importance of “Cash on Hand” to Life Satisfaction. Here’s the abstract:

Our results suggest that having a buffer of money available in checking and savings accounts confers a sense of financial security, which in turn is associated with greater life satisfaction. The strength of this association was comparable to the effect of investments—which may themselves be liquid assets (e.g., money market accounts)—and slightly greater than the effect of debt status. By contrast, higher income and spending—the amounts going into or out of a person’s bank account—were not associated with increased financial well-being after liquid wealth was included in the model. This finding suggests that people with low liquid account balances may feel more economically distressed—and thus less satisfied with their lives—than their peers with higher balances, even if their incomes and spending, considered separately from their account balances, would predict high financial security.

Michael Kitces took the numbers from the paper and created this useful graphic:

cashlife

I dug up some more specific numbers from the paper:

To put our results into context, we found that going from having £1 to having £1,000 (a 3-log increase) in one’s bank accounts each month—not rags-to-riches, but merely rags-to-sufficiency—is associated with an average gain of 2 points (10% of a 20-point scale) in life satisfaction by virtue of feeling more secure about one’s finances. However, because liquid wealth was log transformed, further increasing liquid assets from £1,000 to £10,000 (a 1-log increase) was associated with an expected increase of just 0.7 further points on the same scale.

There are diminishing returns with accumulating cash reserves past a certain size. Going from $1 to ~$1,500 in your bank account improves your life satisfaction more than twice as much as going from ~$1,500 to ~$15,000.

This is similar to the findings that happiness increases with higher income until $60,000 to $75,000 per year. Above that level, happiness still increases but at a much lower rate.

On a certain level, this is common sense. Having a hunk of cash available for emergencies should make you feel more secure. However, in purely mathematical terms you should feel the same if you put $1,500 into your retirement account or if you paid down $1,500 of debt. Money is fungible. But your mind doesn’t necessarily agree, and perhaps it is better to work within that bias rather than fight it.

Bottom line. It may not be rational, but putting money towards a modest cash cushion can make you happier than putting every last penny towards paying down debt or your 401(k) retirement account. After a certain point this “cash is king” effect diminishes. (I might carve out an exception for 401(k) matches that effectively double your money at no risk.)

Ally Bank 11-Month No Penalty CD at 1.50% APY for $25k+, 1.25% APY for $5k+

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Ally Bank raised the rate on their 11-month No Penalty CD. Here are the new interest rates under their tiered structure:

  • 1.50% APY at $25,000 minimum opening deposit
  • 1.25% APY at $5,000 minimum deposit
  • 1.00% APY at no minimum deposit.

The 11-month No Penalty CD is unique in that while the 1.50% APY rate is locked in at deposit, you can still withdraw your principal and interest without penalty at any time (well, you do have to wait at least 6 days from the deposit date). In other words, your interest rate can never go down, but you can still jump ship if rates rise or if there is a better promo elsewhere.

1.50% APY for $25k+ is higher than any other liquid savings account rate, while there are a handful of banks that beat the 1.25% rate for $5k balances. However, the rates on savings accounts can change at any time. Here the the top banks right now:

  • DollarSavingsDirect at 1.30% APY
  • BankPurely at 1.30% APY

What’s notable about these banks is that they are both “clones” of existing banks (Emigrant Direct and iGoBanking, respectively) which have lower interest rates. So they have a history of enticing new customers with high rates, and then lowering the rates on existing customers while hoping that they are too lazy or forgetful to move away. If you move funds over, be vigilant and ready to move out.

1.50% APY is also right at the top for most 12-month CDs that do come with early withdrawal penalties, although some have lower minimum deposit requirements in the $5k range.

This can be a great companion acount with the Ally Bank Online Savings and Interest Checking accounts, which are my primary bank accounts. I’ll have to decide quickly how much to move over into this 11-month CD as the rate may not last.

Rates as of 6/20/17.

CIT Bank High Yield Savings Account Bonus: 1.15% APY + $125/$250/$425

cit_logoCIT Bank has a Spring Savings Account promotion that stacks a flat bonus of $125 to $425 on top of their current interest rate of 1.15% APY. Here are the bonus amounts based on the minimum average balance that you maintain over 3 full monthly cycles. The $125 bonus is the best “value” in terms of percent of balance. In my opinion, the $425 number only best at getting your attention.

cit425

Here are the terms highlights:

  • Account must be opened with Promotional Code BONUS17 by July 14, 2017.
  • Account must be funded within 30 days of account opening. Minimum deposit $100.
  • Funds used to qualify for bonus must be new funds, not already or recently on deposit with CIT Bank or One West.
  • Must maintain a minimum $15,000 average monthly balance for the first 3 full monthly statement cycles.
  • Any bonus for which the customer qualifies will be deposited to the account within 45 days of the end of the third full monthly statement cycle.

A full statement cycle is defined as beginning the first day of a month and ending the last day of that same month, e.g., 6/1/17 to 6/30/17. The average monthly balance for each full statement cycle is calculated as follows: at the end of each day, the Spring Savings Account balance is recorded. When the statement cycle ends, these end-of-day balances are added together and then divided by the number of days in the statement cycle to determine the average monthly balance.

Let’s run the numbers for $15,000. Let’s assume you open this account in June and fund with $15,000 right before June 30, 2017. That would mean you can maintain the minimum $15,000 average monthly balance for the first 3 full monthly statement cycles of July, August, and September 2017. The bonus would then be deposited within 45 days of 9/30/17, so let’s say 11/15/17.

As the account has no minimum balance requirement, technically you can take your money out at the end of September and as long as you keep it open you should get the $125 bonus. For the sake of simplicity, let’s just say you keep all your money in there for 4.5 months until you get the bonus on 11/15/17 and then take it all out at once.

So from 7/1 to 11/15, assume you’ve earned 1.15% APY (call it a 1.14% rate without the compounding) the entire time and then the $125 bonus on a $15,000 balance. That would leave an ending balance of $15,000 + $64 interest + $125 bonus = $15,189. That works out to $189 in interest and ~3.36% annualized return over 4.5 months.

If you wanted simplicity and kept your $15,000 in there for a full 12 months, you’d end up with $15,000 + $172.50 interest + $125 bonus = $15,297.50 That works out to $297.50 in interest and ~1.98% annualized return over 12 months. So you could look at like a 12-month CD paying nearly 2% APY if you had $15,000 to put aside.

Let say you put in $50,000. From 7/1 to 11/15, assume you’ve earned 1.15% APY the entire time and then the $125 bonus on a $50,000 balance. That would leave an ending balance of $50,000 + ~$213.75 interest + $125 bonus = $50,338.75. That works out to ~$338.75 in interest and ~1.81% annualized return over 4.5 months.

If kept your $50,000 in there for a full 12 months, you’d end up with $50,000 + $575 interest + $125 bonus = $50,700. That works out to $700 in interest and ~1.40% annualized return over 12 months. Not looking as good.

Let say you put in $100,000. From 7/1 to 11/15, assume you’ve earned 1.15% APY the entire time and then the $250 bonus on a $100,000 balance. That would leave an ending balance of $100,000 + ~$427.50 interest + $250 bonus = $100,677.50. That works out to ~$677.50 in interest and ~1.81% annualized return over 4.5 months.

If kept your $100,000 in there for a full 12 months, you’d end up with $15,000 + $1150 interest + $250 bonus = $101,400. That works out to $1,400 in interest and ~1.40% annualized return over 12 months.

Bottom line. I wouldn’t call this is a screaming deal but if you wanted to put aside around $15,000 to $30,000 for the next 3 to 12 months, this promo makes it one of the highest effective APYs for an FDIC-insured account out there. (I’d run specific numbers if significantly more than $15,000.) You wouldn’t be able to move your money for at least 3 months to get the bonus, though you would still earn the 1.15% APY if you did withdraw early. You’d have to decide for yourself if the effort is worthwhile. Reportedly, CIT Bank does not perform a “hard” credit check when opening a new account.

Best Interest Rates on Cash Savings – June 2017

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Over the past month, short-term interest rates have inching upwards while the overall yield curve flattened slightly. The value in chasing interest rates continues to rebound ever so slowly, especially if you have idle cash in a megabank paying 0.01% APY or less. Here is my monthly roundup of the best safe rates available, roughly sorted from shortest to longest maturities. Rates checked as of 6/5/17.

High-yield savings accounts
While the huge brick-and-mortar banks rarely offer good yields, the online banks with a history of competitive rates offer online savings accounts clustered around 1% APY. An important feature to note with savings account is that their interest rates can change at any time.

  • As I’ve been “bait-and-switched” a few times and there are no lucrative rates that make it worth taking another risk, I am currently sticking with Ally Bank Online Savings for their reliably competitive rates and overall good user experience. Their online savings is currently at 1.05% 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 inching upwards. It may be worth the effort to move your money into a higher-yielding money market fund or ultrashort-term bond ETF.

  • The Vanguard Prime Money Market Fund has increased their SEC yield now to 0.97%. The default sweep option is the Vanguard Federal Money Market Fund, which only has an SEC yield of 0.75%. You can manually move the money over to Prime if you meet the $3,000 minimum investment.
  • The following bond ETFs are not FDIC-insured, but if you want to keep “standby money” in your brokerage account and have cheap/free trades, it may be worth a look. Both the PIMCO Enhanced Short Maturity Active Bond ETF (MINT) and the iShares Short Maturity Bond ETF (NEAR) have a 1.43% SEC yield while holding a portfolio of investment-grade bonds with an average duration of ~6 months. More info here.

Short-term guaranteed rates (under 1 year)
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, inheritance). Honestly, I wouldn’t get fancy or take unnecessary risk. Just keep it safe in a short-term CD or online savings account that in insured under the FDIC limits until you have a plan.

  • Palladian Private Bank has a 6-month promotional rate of 1.30% APY guaranteed (maximum initial deposit of $100k) for new accounts. After the first 6 months, the rate reverts back to their normal rate (currently 0.90% APY). Since the initial promo rate is fixed, this makes it the highest guaranteed 6-month CD rate available.
  • Salem Five Direct is advertising 1.25% APY on balances up to $500,000. The good news is that this rate is guaranteed until 7/1/18 – more than a year away – and since it is a savings account you can still move your money in and out without penalty. The bad news is that this rate is for new customers only.

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 and October 2017 will earn a 1.96% rate for the first six months, and then a variable rate based on ongoing inflation after that. While that next 6-month rate is currently unknown, at the very minimum the total yield after 12 months will around 1% with additional upside potential. More info here.
  • In mid-October, 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 high interest rates. The risks are that balances are capped, and there are many fees that you must be careful to avoid (lest they eat up your interest). The other catch is that these good features may be killed off without much notice. My NetSpend card now only has an eligible balance up to $1,000.

  • 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 over 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. Rates can also drop quickly, leaving a “bait-and-switch” feeling. But the rates can be high while they last.

  • Consumers Credit Union offers up to 4.59% APY on up to a $20k balance, although 3.09% APY on a $10k balance is more realistic unless you satisfy a long list of requirements. Note that the 4.59% APY requires you to apply and get approved for an additional credit card through them (other credit cards offer $500+ in sign-up bonuses) and also spend $1,000 on it every month. 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 on after-tax benefit). Find a local rewards checking account at DepositAccounts.

Certificates of deposit
If you have a large cushion, it’s quite likely to just sit there for years. One option is to keep your money in longer-term investments where you can still take it out in a true emergency and pay a reasonable early withdrawal penalty. Alternatively, you could create a 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 1.50% APY (90-day early withdrawal penalty) and a 3-year Share Certificate (180-day early withdrawal penalty) at 2.00% 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.
  • Hanscom Federal Credit Union is offering a 4-year Share Certificate at 2.50% APY (180-day early withdrawal penalty) if you also have Premier Checking (no monthly fee if you keep $6,000 in total balances or $2,000 in checking). HFCU also offer a 3% APY CU Thrive “starter” savings account. HFCU membership is open to active/retired military or anyone who makes a one-time $35 donation to the Nashua River Watershed Association.
  • Ally Bank Savings also has a 5-year CD at 2.25% APY with a relatively short 150-day early withdrawal penalty and no credit union membership hoops. For example, if you closed this CD after 18-months, you can get a 1.64% effective APY even after accounting for the penalty.

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

  • Willing to lock up your money for 10+ years? Did you know that you can buy certificates of deposit via Vanguard’s bond desk? These “brokered CDs” still offer the same FDIC-insurance. As of this writing, you can get a 10-year non-callable CD that pays 2.75% APY. Fidelity has a new Model CD Ladder tool that will construct a ladder for you, but you need an account to see it in full action. (Unfortunately, current long-term CD rates do not rise much higher even as you extend beyond a 5-year maturity.) Prices will vary daily.
  • 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). You could view 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. Too long for me.

All rates were checked as of 6/5/17.

Ally Bank vs. Goldman Sachs Bank CD Interest Rate Comparison

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After last week’s WSJ article about interest rates, I noticed that both Goldman Sachs Bank USA (GS Bank) and Ally Bank have both been hiking rates on their CDs. Competition is good and I like that they both still show the desire to stay at the top as rates start rising again. (GS Bank is formerly GE Capital Bank, which also had a good history of maintaining high rates.) I’ll still chase a good limited-time CD rate if it’s high enough, but I like not having to move my cash around constantly.

Is Ally or Goldman Sachs a better overall place to keep your cash? Here is a direct rate comparison at various terms (as of 5/15/17). Both have hikes rates already this month.

allygs1705

In terms of side-by-side rate comparison, GS Bank is either the top or tied for the top at all the term lengths as of 5/15/17. Things could change with future rate changes. However, I would point out that their early withdrawal penalties are slightly different, with Ally being more lenient across the board.

Ally Bank Early Withdrawal Penalty Schedule

  • Terms less than 24 months = 60 days of interest
  • Terms 25 months to 36 months = 90 days of interest
  • Terms 37 months to 48 months = 120 days of interest
  • Terms 39 months and longer = 150 days of interest

Goldman Sachs Bank Early Withdrawal Penalty Schedule

  • Terms less than 12 months = 90 days of interest
  • Terms of 12 months to 5 years = 270 days of interest
  • Terms of more than 5 years = 365 days of interest

Both offer fast transfers between external bank accounts as quickly as one business day. I have not opened a Goldman Sachs Bank account (yet) so I haven’t done a side-by-side comparison of transfer speeds.

Bottom line. Both Ally Bank and Goldman Sachs Bank are solid, all-around online banks and offer least highly competitive rates across all term lengths. Goldman has slightly higher rates at certain terms lengths, but Ally has smaller early withdrawal penalty. Alliant Credit Union is another worthy all-around competitor that I also considered, but Alliant’s certificate rates are lower across the board other than their 1.05% APY savings account which is tied. I hope to continue to take regular rate snapshots.

Best Interest Rates on Cash Savings – May 2017

percentage2

The WSJ article Bank of America Pays Peanuts for Deposits, but the Money Keeps Flowing In (paywall) outlines how BofA gets away with paying less interest on its deposits than nearly any other US bank (not that the other mega-banks are that much better). BofA only pays an average of 0.08% on $796 billion of cash deposits, including certificates of deposit:

bofa_int450

Keep your savings somewhere else! Even if you have a BofA account for the ATM network, you can avoid fees on their basic checking accounts with either a monthly direct deposit, a minimum balance of $1,500 with no direct deposit, or by keeping $20,000 in stocks/ETFs at Merrill Edge with no direct deposit and no minimum balance. Anything above that can easily earn more interest with a companion account like Ally Bank Savings that now has 1-day transfers between linked accounts.

On that note, here is my monthly roundup of the best safe rates available, roughly sorted from shortest to longest maturities. Rates checked as of 5/11/17.

High-yield savings accounts
While the huge brick-and-mortar banks rarely offer good yields, the online banks with a history of competitive rates offer online savings accounts clustered around 1% APY. An important feature to note with savings account is that their interest rates can change at any time.

  • As I’ve been “bait-and-switched” a few times and there are no lucrative rates that make it worth taking another risk, I am currently sticking with Ally Bank for their reliably competitive rates and overall good user experience. Their online savings is currently at 1.05% APY.

Money market mutual funds
If you like to keep cash in a brokerage account, you should know that money market and short-term Treasury rates have been inching upwards. It may be worth the effort to move your money into a higher-yielding money market fund.

  • The Vanguard Prime Money Market Fund has increased their SEC yield to a half-decent 0.95%. The default sweep option is the Vanguard Federal Money Market Fund, which only has an SEC yield of 0.69%. You can manually move the money over to Prime if you meet the $3,000 minimum investment.

Short-term guaranteed rates (under 1 year)
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, inheritance). Honestly, I wouldn’t get fancy or take unnecessary risk. Just keep it safe in a short-term CD or online savings account that in insured under the FDIC limits until you have a plan.

  • Palladian Private Bank has a 6-month promotional rate of 1.30% APY guaranteed (maximum initial deposit of $100k) for new accounts. After the first 6 months, the rate reverts back to their normal rate (currently 0.90% APY). Since the initial promo rate is fixed, this makes it the highest guaranteed 6-month CD rate available.

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 through the end of April 2017 now will earn a 1.96% rate for the first six months, and then a variable rate based on ongoing inflation after that. While that next 6-month rate is currently unknown, at the very minimum the total yield after 12 months will around 1% with additional upside potential. More info here.
  • In mid-October, 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 high interest rates. The risks are that balances are capped, and there are many fees that you must be careful to avoid (lest they eat up your interest). The other catch is that these good features may be killed off without much notice. My NetSpend card now only has an eligible balance up to $1,000.

  • 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.

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. Rates can also drop quickly, leaving a “bait-and-switch” feeling. But the rates can be high while they last.

  • Consumers Credit Union offers up to 4.59% APY on up to a $20k balance, although 3.09% APY on a $10k balance might be easier to achieve unless you satisfy a long list of requirements. Note that the 4.59% APY requires you to apply and get approved for an additional 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 on after-tax benefit). Find a local rewards checking account at DepositAccounts.

Certificates of deposit
If you have a large cushion, it’s quite likely to just sit there for years. One option is to keep your money in longer-term investments where you can still take it out in a true emergency and pay a reasonable early withdrawal penalty. Alternatively, you could create a 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 1.50% APY (90-day early withdrawal penalty) and a 3-year Share Certificate (180-day early withdrawal penalty) at 2.00% 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.
  • Hanscom Federal Credit Union is offering a 4-year Share Certificate at 2.50% APY (180-day early withdrawal penalty) if you also have Premier Checking (no monthly fee if you keep $6,000 in total balances or $2,000 in checking). HFCU also offer a 3% APY CU Thrive “starter” savings account. HFCU membership is open to active/retired military or anyone who makes a one-time $35 donation to the Nashua River Watershed Association.

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

  • Willing to lock up your money for 10+ years? Did you know that you can buy certificates of deposit via Vanguard’s bond desk? These “brokered CDs” still offer the same FDIC-insurance. As of this writing, you can get a 10-year non-callable CD that pays 2.75% APY. (Unfortunately, current long-term CD rates do not rise much higher even as you extend beyond a 5-year maturity.) Prices will vary daily.
  • 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). You could view 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. Too long for me.

All rates were checked as of 5/11/17.

Best Interest Rates on Cash Savings – April 2017

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Our family keeps a year’s worth of expenses (not income) put aside in cash reserves. Even if you think that’s too much, you still need something. There are many ways that the ROI on emergency funds can be higher than simply the interest rate on your bank statement.

If you have cash, it pays to shop around for the most highest interest rates since they are all equally “safe” as long as they are backed by the US government (FDIC-insured, NCUA-insured, US Treasury Bonds, US Savings Bonds). Chase Bank on a 1-year CD? 0.02% APY. Bank of America on a 10-year CD? 0.15% APY. Seriously, who buys these things?!? As of 4/2/2017, below is a roundup of the best safe rates available, roughly sorted from shortest to longest maturities.

High-yield savings accounts
While the huge brick-and-mortar banks rarely offer good yields, the online banks with a history of competitive rates offer online savings accounts clustered around 1% APY. An important feature to note with savings account is that their interest rates can change at any time.

  • As I’ve been “bait-and-switched” a few times and there are no lucrative rates that make it worth taking another risk, I am currently sticking with Ally Bank for their reliably competitive rates and overall good user experience. Their online savings is currently at 1.05% APY.

Short-term guaranteed rates (under 1 year)
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, inheritance). Honestly, I wouldn’t get fancy or take unnecessary risk. Just keep it safe in a short-term CD or online savings account that in insured under the FDIC limits until you have a plan.

  • Palladian Private Bank has a 6-month promotional rate of 1.30% APY guaranteed (maximum initial deposit of $100k) for new accounts. After the first 6 months, the rate reverts back to their normal rate (currently 1.10% APY). Since the initial promo rate is fixed, this makes it the highest 6-month CD rate available.

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 through the end of April 2017 now will earn a 2.76% rate for the first six months, and then a variable rate based on ongoing inflation after that. While that next 6-month rate is currently unknown, at the very minimum the total yield after 12 months will be competitive with the best current 1-year CD rates. More info here.
  • In mid-April, the CPI will be announced that factors into the new fixed rate in May, which would give you 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 high interest rates. The risks are that balances are capped, and there are many fees that you must be careful to avoid (lest they eat up your interest). The other catch is that these good features may be killed off without much notice. My NetSpend card now only has an eligible balance up to $1,000.

  • 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.

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. Rates can also drop quickly, leaving a “bait-and-switch” feeling. But the rates can be high while they last.

  • Consumers Credit Union offers up to 4.59% APY on up to a $20k balance, although 3.09% APY on a $10k balance might be easier to achieve unless you satisfy a long list of requirements. Note that the 4.59% APY requires you to apply and get approved for an additional 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 on after-tax benefit). Find a local rewards checking account at DepositAccounts.

Certificates of deposit
If you have a large cushion, it’s quite likely to just sit there for years. One option is to keep your money in longer-term investments where you can still take it out in a true emergency and pay a reasonable early withdrawal penalty. Alternatively, you could create a 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 1.50% APY (90-day early withdrawal penalty) and a 3-year Share Certificate (180-day early withdrawal penalty) at 2.00% 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.
  • Mountain America Credit Union is offering a 5-year Share Certificate at 2.75% APY (365-day early withdrawal penalty). You are even allowed a one-time rate bump if the rates on this certificate rise. $500 minimum deposit. Anyone can join this credit union via partner organization American Consumer Council for a one-time $5 fee.

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

  • Willing to lock up your money for 10+ years? Did you know that you can buy certificates of deposit via Vanguard’s bond desk? These “brokered CDs” offer the same FDIC-insurance and are often through commercial banks like Goldman Sachs. As of this writing, you can get a 10-year non-callable CD that pays 2.85% APY. (Unfortunately, current long-term CD rates do not rise much higher even as you extend beyond a 5-year maturity.) Prices will vary daily.
  • 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). You could view 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. Too long for me.

All rates were checked as of 4/2/17.

Santander Bank New Checking Account $225 Bonus

sant225

sant_logoSantander Bank has a new promotion offer a $225 cash bonus for new deposit customers that satisfy the following conditions:

  • Open an eligible new checking account by 3/31/17 with the promo code WINTER225. You must not have or have had a Santander deposit account in the last 12 months.
  • Have direct deposits totaling $500 or more within the first 90 days.
  • Keep your account open for at least 90 days.
  • After you meet these conditions, the $225 bonus will be paid within 30 days. (Your account must still be open with a positive balance at time of bonus payout, so that’s a total of 120 days.)

You should be able to get this offer by visiting SantanderBank.com/winter225 and using promo code WINTER225. If you want to be extra-super-duper-sure, you can register your information here and request an “exclusive coupon” e-mail to be send to you.

There are three eligible checking types: Simply Right Checking, Basic Checking, Premier Plus Checking. Most people will probably choose the Simply Right Checking with $10 monthly fee that can be waived with at least one transaction every calendar month – a deposit, withdrawal, transfer, or payment. The Basic Checking has a fixed $3 monthly fee, but no minimum activity requirements. For both, minimum opening balance is $25 and paperless statements are free (mailed $3 each).

Note the following text regarding direct deposit. Hopefully you can split your paycheck direct deposits easily to multiple accounts.

**Direct deposits include deposits made by your employer or a federal or state government agency or retirement benefits administrator and generally payments made by corporations or other organizations. They do not include deposits to your account that are made by an individual using online banking or an Internet payment provider such as PayPal.

Here’s the rest of the Fine Print:

*Offer is not available if any account owner is a current deposit customer of Santander or had a Santander deposit account in the last 12 months prior to account opening. Cannot be combined with other offers. Eligible new account must be opened between 02/1/2017 – 03/31/2017. In order to receive the bonus, the account must remain open and in the eligible product type at the time of bonus payout. In addition, the account must have a positive balance at the time of bonus payment. Bonus is considered interest and will be reported to IRS on Form 1099-INT. If multiple accounts are opened with the same signer, only one account will be eligible for the bonus.

Ally Bank 1-Day ACH Funds Transfer Review

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Considering all of the things that can be done instantaneously nowadays, I’m rather disappointed that it still takes 3 business days to move money between most financial institutions. NACHA has been gradually working on same-day ACH transfers – apparently credits are live (like direct deposit), but not debits. Even then, banks may treat this as a “premium” service and charge a fee.

Ally Bank announced in October 2016 that they would support free 1-day ACH transfers for eligible transfers on 12/3/2016. They later announced a delay until 1/7/17. I finally got around to testing out this new feature in mid-January. Here are their own words:

We can now complete qualified transfers between your Ally Bank and non-Ally Bank accounts in 1 business day – free of charge. If 1-day delivery is unavailable, we’ll deliver your transfer in 3 business days.

Here’s their updated timing chart (note the cut-off times):

ally1day1

Here are the reasons why a transfer would be ineligible for 1-day delivery:

  • Your one-time transfer is ineligible due to account inactivity, overdrafts or transfer returns.
  • Your transfer is part of a recurring transfer plan.

In my experience playing around with the website, there may be other additional factors. Here are the results of various combinations of to/from between Ally Savings/Checking and a sample External Bank B. This is what Ally is telling me upfront, before initiating the transfer.

  • Ally Savings to External Bank B = 1-day Transfer
  • External Bank B to Ally Savings = 1-day Transfer
  • Ally Checking to External Bank B = 3-day Transfer
  • External Bank B to Ally Checking = 1-day Transfer

I’ve never had an overdraft transfer or overdraft, and I’ve done a transfer from Ally Checking to External Bank B in the last 30 days so there should be no issue with inactivity. I’ve used a few different External Banks and came up with same results; transferring from Ally Checking to External Bank consistently takes 3 business days while the other combinations only take 1 business day.

This usually isn’t a problem since I can make an instant transfer between Ally Checking to Ally Savings and then do a 1-day transfer from there, but savings accounts are only allowed six withdrawals per month. If I have a lot of transfers in any given month, I will eventually run into delays.

Ally has redesigned and improved the user interface of their funds transfer page. They now provide a a nice illustration of when your funds will be debited and when they will be deposited at the target location. It is also explicitly states whether it is a 1-day or 3-day transfer. Here’s an Expedited 1-day transfer:

ally1day2

Here’s a Standard 3-day transfer (in this case technically it will take only two days):

ally1day3

In terms of competition, I don’t know of another bank that advertises a consistent 1-day transfer speed. For example, this is what Capital One 360 has to say on their transfer times:

Capital One 360 is unable to guarantee the date a transfer to your linked account will be completed. However, depending on the date and time of your request, it should be completed in 2 business days.

Bottom line. Ally Bank now offers 1 business day transfers in eligible cases with an improved user experience. Overall, I’m happy with this development as it applies most of the time (see above for details). I use Ally Bank as my central hub for cash transfers with Ally Bank Savings Account (higher interest, 6 withdrawals per month) as my default location for liquid cash savings and as a free overdraft source from Ally Checking (unlimited withdrawals per month). If I find a high-interest CD that looks good, I move money to/from my Ally account to where it needs to go, so speed can matter.

Andrews Federal Credit Union 84-Month Certificate at 3.01% APY

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Updated 1/23/17. It appears that Andrews FCU has quietly added back this 7-year 3% APY CD on their share certificate rates page. I don’t know how long this will last. Thanks to FI35 for the tip. Please see my Andrews Federal Credit Union Application and Account Opening Review for more details on the opening process. As I have an active account with Andrews FCU, I verified it as an option today (1/23/17) to open directly online. (Click to enlarge.)

afcu_new3

Original post:

Let’s take a closer look at this 84-month Share Certificate at 3.01% APY. The early withdrawal penalty is a rather modest 180-days of interest. The minimum opening deposit is $1,000. No maximum balance cap. I created a spreadsheet to calculate the effective interest rate if you withdraw early, and here are the results visually:

afcu_bf2016

If you withdraw after one year, you’ve still earned 1.50% APY after paying the penalty. After 2 years, you’ll have earned 2.25% APY. After 3 years, you’ll have earned 2.51% APY. At all these intervals, you are ahead of nearly all the top rates from other banks and credit unions.

If you don’t qualify directly, anyone can join the credit union by first joining the American Consumer Council for $8. Try the promo code consumer and you should be able to save that five bucks. After that, join AFCU online, and deposit the minimum $5 to open a share account. After your share account is open, you can try to open the promotional CDs online. Alternatively, you may need to call them up directly and expedite things.

Please see my Andrews Federal Credit Union Application and Account Opening Review for more details.

I am striking out the refer-a-friend bonus text below because I no longer see it advertised on their site. This way I can keep the details in case they bring it back.

$50 Refer a Friend Bonus. As part of the holiday promotion, new members can also get a $50 cash bonus if referred by an existing member. The referrer also gets $50. However, the referred person must open a checking account and set up direct deposit of $500 or more. Here are the exact terms:

Refer a friend offer available to existing Andrews Federal members who refer a new member to the credit union. New member must open a new Free or Advantage Checking account with a direct deposit of $500 or more. Direct deposit must be initiated within 30 days of opening new Free or Advantage checking account, and must be received for at least two consecutive monthly statement cycles for both members to be eligible for reward. Account must remain open and in good standing for at least 90 days; accounts closed prior to 90 days will be ineligible. $50.00 will be credited to the referring member’s and the new member’s credit union accounts within 4 weeks after the 90- day period has ended. New member must qualify for credit union membership, which includes the opening of a Base Share Savings account with a minimum balance of $5.00.

I am not exactly sure how this works in practical terms. I believe that during the application process there is a question “Where Did You Hear About Us?” and you can pick “Family/Friend Referral” and you can leave your friend’s name and Andrews FCU membership number in the comments field. If you are looking to open up a checking account and set up direct deposit, I am a member now so if you want a referral please contact me.

Wells Fargo $250 New Checking Account Bonus

wellsfargo_logoWells Fargo has a $250 bonus offer for new checking account customers. You can open any consumer checking account except for Teen Checking. The prepaid Wells Fargo EasyPay® Card is not eligible. You must open the account from the special bonus page with a minimum opening deposit of $25 by February 17, 2017. (You can charge the opening deposit on a credit card.) Within 60 days of account opening, you must also do one of the following:

  • Make 10 debit card purchases/payments.
  • Set up a qualifying Direct Deposit of $500 to your new checking account.

Note that doing any one of these activities every month also waives the $10 monthly service fee on the Wells Fargo Everyday Checking account. Other ways to waive the monthly service fee are to maintain a $1,500 minimum daily balance or link the account to a Wells Fargo Campus ATM or Campus Debit Card.

In addition, to get the bonus you cannot be:

  • A current owner on a Wells Fargo consumer checking account
  • A Wells Fargo team member
  • A recipient of a consumer checking bonus in the past 12 months (limit 1 bonus per customer)

Thanks to Lee and Adam for the tip. The annoying part? The page is contradictory in regards to who is actually eligible. Right above the “Important things to know about the $250 offer:” it says:

This is an exclusive, nontransferable offer.

But then right below that it says:

Offer available in all Wells Fargo branches or online at wellsfargo.com/250offer.

If I had to bet, I would say that Wells Fargo will give the bonus to anyone who applies through this special link and they approve your application. However, I can’t guarantee it so proceed at your own risk. This is a pretty nice offer if you were looking for a checking account at a “Mega Bank”.