Best Interest Rates for Savings Accounts and CDs – Updated August 2015

percentage2Our family keeps a year’s worth of expenses (not income) put aside in cash reserves; it provides financial insurance with the side benefits of lower stress and less concern about stock market gyrations. In my opinion, emergency funds can actually have a better return on investment than what you see on your bank statement.

I don’t chase rates nearly as much as I used to, but it still pays to shop around. Too many places are paying ZERO or close to it – the Megabanks, short-term US Treasuries, and money market sweep funds. Do you know what Chase offers on a 1-year CD? 0.02% APY. Bank of America on their 10-year CD? 0.15% APY. Meanwhile, the rates below vary from 1% up to over 3% annualized.

Best Currently Available Interest Rates
Here is a brief roundup of the best interest rates available on deposits backed by the full faith and credit of the US government (FDIC-insured, NCUA-insured, US Treasury Bonds, US Savings Bonds). I will try to sort them from the shortest to longest maturities.

    High-yield savings accounts

  • It seems every bank has their own online savings account, with the best accounts with long-term competitive rates earning around 1% APY. These savings accounts can change their interest rate at any time, so if you’re going to just pick the highest one, be ready to move your money.
    Short-term guaranteed rates (under 1 year)

  • Everbank Yield Pledge Money Market and Interest Checking account both offer 1.60% APY guaranteed (balances up to $150k on the Money Market) for the first 6 months for new accounts. Since it is fixed, this is essentially a 6-month CD with a higher rate than any other 6-month CD rate out there and with no early withdrawal penalty to worry about.
    Flexible Savings Bonds

  • “Series I” US Savings Bonds offer rates that are linked to inflation. Unfortunately, “I Bonds” bought right now will earn nothing for the first six months, and then a variable rate based on ongoing inflation after that. For new money, I would wait until mid-October when the next rate adjustment is announced. More info here.
    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 5.09% APY on up to a $20k balance, although 3.09% APY is easier to achieve unless you satisfy a long list of requirements. I list this one because the rate is guaranteed until December 31, 2015.
    Certificates of deposit

  • If you have a large cushion, it’s quite likely to just sit there for years. Why not put some money in longer-term investments where you can still take it out in a true emergency and pay an early withdrawal penalty. Synchrony Bank (formerly GE Capital Retail Bank) is offering a 5-year CD paying 2.25% APY $25k+ balances (2.20% APY for $2k+) with an early withdrawal penalty of 180 days interest. For example, if you withdraw from this CD after 2 years and pay the penalty, your effective rate earned will still be 1.69%. Capital One 360 also has a similar 5-year CD.
  • Other notable CDs… USAlliance FCU has a limited-time, callable 25-month CD paying 2.27% APY (anyone can donate to eligible charitable organization to gain membership). E-Loan Bank has a 5-year CD paying 2.45% APY but with a big early withdrawal penalty of two years of interest.
    Longer-term Instruments

  • 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 CD maturing 8/12/2025 that pays 3.05% APY. Prices will vary regularly.
  • How about two decades!? “Series EE” US 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 0.50% APY). Think of it as a huge early withdrawal penalty. You really want to be sure you’ll keep it for 20 years.

How about my money? In terms of the opportunities above, I have opened an account at Everbank in the past for the promo rate and I have usually try to buy the max in US Savings I Bonds each year (no EE bonds, too long of a commitment). I don’t currently juggle any rewards checking accounts nor do I have any deposits with any other banks mentioned above. It’s just not worth it me to switch right now.

Besides some older CDs at higher rates, I keep a good chunk of my money at Ally Bank because right now they are the all-around “good enough” bank for me. Sure I could eek out 1.05% in a savings account somewhere, but Ally Online Savings is paying a 0.99% APY (as of 8/6/15) which serves as a no-fee overdraft companion to my Ally Interest Checking with ATM fee rebates. Along the same lines, I could get 2.25% in an outside bank’s 5-year CD, but Ally has 2.00% APY on their 5-year CDs and a relatively short 150-day early withdrawal penalty. A rate difference of 0.25% on $10,000 over a year is $25, and I’m not sure that’s enough to open a CD at another bank when my current Ally CDs mature.

All rates were checked as of 8/6/15.

Ally Bank Savings Account Review

allyreview_logoUpdated. I’ve done a significant amount of my banking with Ally for years (checking, savings, and multiple CDs), but the “gateway drug” for me and probably most people will be their Ally Online Savings Account. This is a review specific to using the savings account as a companion account to your existing checking account. Check out my Ally Interest Checking Account Review for more about using their checking and savings products together.

The Ally Online Savings Account has no minimum balance, no monthly fees, and currently pays 0.99% APY (as of 7/14/15). Their interest rates may not be the absolute highest, but they have consistently been within 0.10% of the temporarily top banks, making it not worthwhile to move my money. (See my rate chaser calculator). Let’s go through the important factors.

User Interface. Below is a screenshot of the main page after logging in (click to enlarge). I can see all of my accounts and their balances at a glance. The overall design is clean and minimalist, and it was recently updated to be more mobile-friendly.

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Customer Service. Ally Bank differentiates itself with their customer service. First of all, they are available 24/7 at 1-877-247-ALLY (2559). When you use their smartphone app or log into their website, you can see the wait time beforehand. Even better, if you don’t want to call them you can just use their Live Chat feature.

Security. Ally Bank supports two-factor authentication with security codes sent via either e-mail or text message. They ask for a security code when you log in from a computer they don’t recognize. However, if you’ve logged into that computer before with a security code, they may not ask you again and you can’t choose to have two-factor authentication to always be in effect.

Awards. Ally Bank has won “Best Online Bank” from Kiplinger’s Personal Finance magazine in 2014 and “Best Online Bank” from Money Magazine from 2011-2014.

FDIC Insurance. Ally Bank is a member of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, FDIC Certificate #57803. As with other FDIC-insured banks, this means your Ally deposits are insured by the FDIC up to $250,000 per depositor, for each account ownership category.

Funds Transfers. With no physical branches, online savings accounts should have maximum flexibility as they are often secondary accounts (given most megabank checking accounts pay either no interest or a sad 0.01% APY). Ally Bank allows you to link any other external bank account using the standard routing number and account numbers. As long as you initiate the transfer before 7:30 pm Eastern Time, the transfer will take 2 business days. You can link up to 20 different accounts (it used to be unlimited; but other banks limit to 3; I have 7 myself).

So if I initiate a transfer on Monday afternoon by 7:30pm ET, the money will be debited first thing on Tuesday, and credited to the destination account first thing Wednesday. But know that if you initiate on a Saturday, you’ll get the same result. Even bank computers really don’t like working weekends, it seems. Overall, free transfers within 2 business days during the week is about as good as it gets for online banks.

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The transfer limits are also relatively high. On my accounts, I see that I have a $150,000 daily limit outbound and $250,000 daily limit inbound, with a total monthly limit of $600,000 outbound and $1,000,000 inbound. Keeping in mind that all savings accounts from any bank are limited to six withdrawals per month.

ATM Debit Card. You don’t get a debit card with their Online Savings Account. You can get a debit card with either their Checking or Money Market accounts, but note that those have lower interest rates.

Mobile check deposit. You can use the Ally smartphone app to deposit checks using your smartphone camera. (This is in addition to using your computer scanner and/or free postage-paid deposit envelopes.) I’m not sure if this is the same for everyone, but my deposit limit is $50,000 which is higher than many other electronic deposit programs. I’ve used the app to deposit multiple checks without issue. Screenshot below.

allyreview_echeck1  allyreview_echeck2

Mobile app. Available for iOS and Android… you can do all the important stuff – see transactions, transfer funds, deposit checks, pay bills. It can remember your username, but you must type in your password every time. I usually just use my Mint app for checking balances, as that only requires a 4-digit PIN. The overall design is acceptable, and the ATM locator is helpful if you have the Ally Checking account with free AllPoint ATMs and $10 in fee rebates each statement cycle for any ATM.

The Stats

  • Current interest rate: 0.99% APY (last checked 7/14/2015)
  • Interest Compounding: accrued daily, compounded daily, credited monthly
  • Minimum to open: $0
  • Minimum requirements to avoid monthly service charge: None
  • Number of external bank account links allowed: 20
  • Routing Number: 124003116

Bottom line. The Ally Online Savings Account is a solid offering with with no monthly fees, no minimum balance requirement, and a historically competitive interest rate. Additional features like a flexible funds transfer system and solid 24/7 customer service help differentiate themselves from the competition. It works fine on its own as a “piggyback” or companion account to your existing checking account.

You can also combine it with the Ally Interest Checking Account (my review) which offers ATM fee rebates (up to $10 per statement cycle), free online billpay, and the ability to use the savings account as a free overdraft source. Ally also has certificates of deposit which offer competitive rates at times.

Ally Bank Interest Checking Account Review

allyreview_logoUpdated. If you are looking for a flexible alternative to a megabank account with tiny interest but convenient ATM network, here is my review of the Ally Interest Checking Account which I use in conjunction with the Ally Online Savings Account and also Ally CDs. I think they represent a reasonable compromise from your neighborhood credit union with only a few ATMs sprinkled across town. I’ve used this combo for years, and here are my experiences:

User Interface. Below is a screenshot of the main page after logging in (click to enlarge). I can see all of my accounts and their balances at a glance. The overall design is clean and minimalist, and it was recently updated to be more mobile-friendly.

allyosa1

Customer Service. Ally Bank differentiates itself with their customer service. First of all, they are available 24/7 at 1-877-247-ALLY (2559). When you use their smartphone app or log into their website, you can see the wait time beforehand. Even better, if you don’t want to call them you can just use their Live Chat feature.

Security. Ally Bank supports two-factor authentication with security codes sent via either e-mail or text message. They ask for a security code when you log in from a computer they don’t recognize. However, if you’ve logged into that computer before with a security code, they may not ask you again and you can’t choose to have two-factor authentication to always be in effect.

Awards. Ally Bank has won “Best Online Bank” from Kiplinger’s Personal Finance magazine in 2014 and “Best Online Bank” from Money Magazine from 2011-2014.

FDIC Insurance. Ally Bank is a member of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, FDIC Certificate #57803. As with other FDIC-insured banks, this means your Ally deposits are insured by the FDIC up to $250,000 per depositor, for each account ownership category.

Funds Transfers. With no physical branches, online savings accounts should have maximum flexibility as they are often secondary accounts (given most megabank checking accounts pay either no interest or a sad 0.01% APY). Ally Bank allows you to link any other external bank account using the standard routing number and account numbers. As long as you initiate the transfer before 7:30 pm Eastern Time, the transfer will take 2 business days. You can link up to 20 different accounts (it used to be unlimited; but other banks limit to 3; I have 7 myself).

So if I initiate a transfer on Monday afternoon by 7:30pm ET, the money will be debited first thing on Tuesday, and credited to the destination account first thing Wednesday. But know that if you initiate on a Saturday, you’ll get the same result. Even bank computers really don’t like working weekends, it seems. Overall, free transfers within 2 business days during the week is about as good as it gets for online banks.

allyosa2

The transfer limits are also relatively high. On my accounts, I see that I have a $150,000 daily limit outbound and $250,000 daily limit inbound, with a total monthly limit of $600,000 outbound and $1,000,000 inbound. Keeping in mind that all savings accounts from any bank are limited to six withdrawals per month.

ATM Rebates. As of August 15, 2015, Ally Bank will no longer offer unlimited ATM rebates in the US. Here is the new structure:

  • Ally Bank continues to not charge ATM fees on their side of the transaction.
  • Ally Bank has added the Allpoint ATM network, with locations such as CVS and Walgreens pharmacies, Target stores, and 7-11 convenience stores. (Certain other online banks like Capital One 360 Checking also partner with Allpoint).
  • Ally Bank will now limit ATM fee reimbursements to $10 per statement cycle for fees charged by other institutions or ATM owners nationwide.

This is definitely a reduction in the benefit, but honestly I was surprised that it lasted so many years. Ally eliminated their international ATM rebates in August 2011. I used it a few times at a Las Vegas casino at $5 a pop; can you imagine their annual cost if someone did that every few days? For me, if I can find convenient ATMs that charge around $2.50 each, that means I can still go 4 times a month. Their online app also has an ATM locator that works pretty well (see below) .

I’ve made a few ATM withdrawals at random ATMs, and the surcharges have been credited at the end of the month as promised. (I wish they were credited immediately.) International ATMs are not eligible.

Free Overdraft Transfers from Savings. The checking account pays less interest than savings, so it is best to open both and keep as much money as you can in the savings. The Ally Online Savings account pays 0.99% APY as of 7/14/15, and is one of the places I keep my emergency cash reserves.

With their free Overdraft Transfer Service, Ally will automatically transfer the required funds from savings if your checking goes negative. I usually use this service whenever I write a relatively big check or make a large transfer:

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Ally transferred an amount equal to a round number near the overdraft amount plus $100. Alternatively, you can set it to auto-transfer a preset amount over if your checking balance dips to a certain threshold. Remember, you can only do 6 withdrawals from savings each money due to banking regulations.

Mobile check deposit. You can use the Ally smartphone app to deposit checks using your smartphone camera. (This is in addition to using your computer scanner and/or free postage-paid deposit envelopes.) I’m not sure if this is the same for everyone, but my deposit limit is $50,000 which is higher than many other electronic deposit programs. I’ve used the app to deposit multiple checks without issue. Screenshot below.

allyreview_echeck1  allyreview_echeck2

Mobile app. Available for iOS and Android… you can do all the important stuff – see transactions, transfer funds, deposit checks, pay bills. It can remember your username, but you must type in your password every time. I usually just use my Mint app for checking balances, as that only requires a 4-digit PIN. The overall design is acceptable, and the ATM locator is helpful to find those free AllPoint ATMs or stores that allow cash back with purchase with no fees.

Paper checks. Even though they are an online-only bank, Ally still provides free paper checks. You get a set of 50 to start, but you can always order more online for free. Cashier’s checks are free as well.

Paper statements. If you prefer physical statements via snail mail, you’ll be happy to know that Ally still offers those free of charge. Of course, you have the option of paperless statements as well.

Ally Perks. Ally discontinued their Ally Perks Debit Card Rewards program in 2013.

The Stats

  • Current interest rate: 0.60% APY for daily balance $15,000 or more, 0.10% APY for daily balances under $15,000 (last checked 7/14/2015)
  • Interest Compounding: accrued daily, compounded daily, credited monthly
  • Minimum to open: $0
  • Minimum requirements to avoid monthly service charge: None
  • Number of external bank account links allowed: 20
  • Routing Number: 124003116

Bottom line. The Ally Interest Checking Account is a solid offering with with no monthly fees, no minimum balance requirement, ATM fee rebates (up to $10 per statement cycle), free online billpay, and the ability to use the savings account as a free overdraft source. Additional features like a flexible funds transfer system and solid 24/7 customer service help differentiate themselves from the competition.

I would highly recommend pairing this account with the Ally Online Saving Account, as you can keep the majority of your fund in the savings account at a higher interest rate. You can then set up the savings account as a free overdraft source, allowing you access to all your funds with no fees to worry about. Ally also has certificates of deposit which offer competitive rates at times.

Capital One 360 Savings Promo – Earn Up to a $500 Bonus

Capital One 360 Savings has a new sign-up bonus for up to $500 for new customers, tiered depending on your opening deposit. Limited-time offer. Here’s a quick recap of the features of 360 Savings accounts:

  • No monthly fees or minimum balance requirements.
  • No minimum deposit required to open an account.
  • Free electronic fund transfers to a linked checking account.
  • 24/7 online and mobile access, or talk to a real person 7 days a week 8AM-8PM.
  • % APY as of 8.13.2015

Bonus instructions.

  1. You must open your first 360 Savings Account by the promotion expiration date, 09/30/2015 at 11:59 PM EST. (If you’ve had a Savings product with Capital One 360 or ING DIRECT before, you won’t be eligible for the bonus.)
  2. To qualify for a bonus, your account must be funded within the first 10 days of account opening. Deposits from an existing Capital One 360 account will not qualify for the bonus.
  3. The amount of your bonus will be determined based on the highest amount you deposit within the first 10 days of account opening and maintaining that balance on a daily basis for the next 90 days following the 10 day period. You must deposit a minimum of $5,000 and maintain a daily balance of $5,000 for 90 days after the initial 10 day period to qualify for any bonus. The amount of the bonus you actually earn will be determined based on the following balance tiers during the initial 10 day period and the 90 day period after that: $5,000+ earns a $50 bonus, $10,000+ earns a $100 bonus; $20,000+ earns a $200 bonus; $30,000+ earns a $300 bonus; $40,000+ earns a $400 bonus; and $50,000+ or more earns a $500 bonus. The maximum bonus you can earn is $500.

Essentially, if you deposit an amount exactly on the tier level, you will earn 1% of your deposit (i.e. $50 on $5,000 or $500 on $50,000) with a minimum holding period of 90 days following the 10-day deposit window. This is in addition to the existing interest rate.

For more details on the account interface and such, please check out my 360 Savings account review.

Capital One Bonus Banner

Disclosure: I will receive a referral if you open an account via one of the links above, as a paid endorsement. To my knowledge, this is also the best publicly-available 360 Savings bonus offer out there. I won’t be participating myself because I’ve had an account (ING Direct) since 2005. Please refer to my full advertising disclosure.

Hanscom Federal CU Thrive Review: 3% APY High Interest Starter Account

savebuttonbank(Update: It has been almost exactly a year since I posted about this unique savings account, and I just cashed out my CU Thrive funds with interest. I initially wrote about this account during a limited-time 6% APY promotion, but the rate is now 3% APY and has been steady for the last year. I have updated this review to reflect current conditions and my own experience holding this CD until maturity.)

Hanscom Federal Credit Union (HFCU) has a CU Thrive account, which works like a certificate of deposit that rewards consistent saving. The rate is set for 12 months, and during those 12 months you can transfer up to $500 every month from a HFCU checking account. No monthly fees. However, you cannot make any withdrawals during those 12 months, or you will be subject to an early withdrawal penalty of 90 days interest.

This product is not meant for big balances, it is meant to encourage a modest savings habit. The interest rate of 3% APY is triple what the top high-yield savings accounts offer right now, and more than double what the top 1-year bank CDs are offering. NCUA-insured!

A bit o’ math… At 3% APY, if you maxed out this account and set aside $500 a month for 12 months, at the end you’d have put in $6,000 and earned about $90 in interest (~$97 if you made every transfer on the 1st of the each month by my quick calculations). Not life-changing, but again federally-insured and triple what you could get at another bank. $6,000 also happens to be just about the same amount as a full Roth IRA contribution. Hint, hint.

At the end of the 12 months, all accrued savings plus earned dividends will be transferred into your primary savings account. Each member can only have one CU Thrive account open at one time, but after one 12-month period ends you can open up another one (assuming it is still offered). Full disclosure (PDF).

Eligibility details. To open a CU Thrive account, you must first open an HFCU checking account. HFCU offers a free checking account with no direct deposit and no minimum balance requirement. To open a checking account, just must be a member. Like most credit unions, membership is open by family, employer, or by membership in a partner organization (which makes it open to nearly everyone). You must also keep $25 in a share account as long as you are a member.

However, if you are referred by an existing member, you can also join without any other affiliation and you can currently get an additional $30 bonus after being an active member for 90 days, and the referring member gets $30 as well. If you’d like, here is my referral link.

Account opening process. I started the online application and said I would join the Nashua River Watershed Association for a one-time $35 fee (I didn’t know about the refer-a-friend option at the time). I had to provide the usual personal information and then answer questions based on my credit report to verify my identity. Based on my free credit monitoring, they did not perform a hard pull on my credit report. You can fund with an online bank transfer but they also gave me the option to fund with credit card up to $2,000. They didn’t mention if this would be considered a cash advance or not, but it showed up as a purchase on my American Express card. Finally, you must print out, sign, and mail in a signature card. You can also open an account in-person. All of their physical branches appear to be located in Massachusetts.

One-year update. Over the past year, I had set the maximum $500 to be transferred every month to my CU Thrive account from my HFCU Checking account. I made 11 transfers but missed one because my checking balance was too low on the date of automatic transfer. When that happens, the account basically just skips the transfer. There is no penalty, you just don’t get to earn interest on that money. I called them but they said there was no way to replace that transfer, even if I moved more money into the checking account a day later. Other than that, everything went very smoothly and I was paid my interest as promised. At the 1-year maturity date, the funds were automatically transferred to my HFCU savings account and the CU Thrive no longer shows up on my online account page. I guess now I can open up another one if I wanted to.

(Side note: I discovered that Hanscom Federal has paid a “Loyalty Dividend” to its Credit Union members for over 15 consecutive years. For 2014, they paid a 2% bonus on dividents earned and consumer finance charges paid over the year. So on top my my $78.46 of interest earned in 2014, I earned another $1.57 in bonus loyalty dividends.)

I think this account is nice for people looking to build up a savings habit, but it really works best if you use HFCU as your primary checking account. Juggling it as an additional piggy-back account is do-able but you have to keep on top of your transfers to avoid idle cash earning zero interest.

When it comes to paying a one-time fee to join a credit union, I like to see that the credit union has a history of offering member-friendly products. In addition to the CU Thrive and free checking options, HFCU also has a competitive Home Equity Line of Credit (HELoC) with no application fee, no annual fee, and no closing costs if you keep it open for 24 months. I’m thinking of opening one just to have around, does anyone have experience with this HELoC?

Chase Total Checking $150 + Chase Savings $100 Bonus

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Here’s a Chase Bank Total Checking + Savings account promotion offering up to $250 total for new customers, broken up into the following two bonuses:

Chase Total Checking $150 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 $150 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 $100 Bonus details. To receive the $100 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 $10,000 or more in new money into the new savings account within 10 business days of account opening;
  3. Maintain at least a $10,000 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. The Annual Percentage Yield (APY), for Chase SavingsSM effective as of 4/14/15, is 0.01% for all balances in all states.

Chase SavingsSM 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 CheckingSM, Chase Premier Platinum CheckingSM, or Chase Private Client CheckingSM account.

Earning $100 on $10,000 for 90 days is the equivalent of 4% annualized return. The bonuses are considered interest and will be reported on IRS Form 1099-INT. You will need to provide your e-mail address and bring the unique coupon code they send you into a physical branch.

“Disclaimer: This content is not provided or commissioned by the issuer. Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of the issuer, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the issuer. This site may be compensated through the issuer’s Affiliate Program.  “The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.”

Navy Federal Credit Union Youth Week $100 Bonus

navyfedlogoNavy Federal Credit Union has solid bank and loan products, including checking accounts with ATM rebates, competitive mortgage rates, and limited-time 0% balance transfer promotions. Membership eligibility for NavyFed is primarily restricted to Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, and Coast Guard regular Active Duty and reservists, and Army and Air National Guard personnel, but also includes family and household members of existing NavyFed members and some civilian employees in the Department of Defense.

If you’re a member, the exclusive perks mean that you should sign up your kids sometime… and right now you can get $100 for doing so! As part of their Youth Week 2015 promotions, you can get:

  • $25 for signing up your child (under 18) for membership.
  • $25 for opening a Campus Checking Account for your child (age 14-17), which has no minimum balance requirements and up to $10 in ATM fee rebates per statement period.
  • $25 for opening a SaveFirst Account for your child (under 18) with as little as $5.
  • $25 for opening a reloadable prepaid Visa® Buxx Card for your child (age 10-17).

Expires soon on April 18th, 2015. Thanks to reader Charles for the tip.

American Express Personal Savings Account Review (Updated)

AMEX LOGO

Updated 2015. American Express has a banking division called Personal Savings through their FDIC-Insured bank American Express Bank, FSB. There are currently just two products – a high yield savings account and certificates of deposit. This is a review from my own experiences with the American Express Personal Savings Account. You don’t need to have an American Express credit or charge card to open a bank account with them.

The Basics
The savings account has no minimum balance requirement, no inactivity fees, and no monthly fees. Their current interest rate is 0.90% APY (as of 4/13/15).

As with all savings accounts, the rate is subject to change. Their rate history for the last few years has been that they consistently pay a competitive interest rate but usually not the very highest. They are usually in the mix with their competitors like Capital One Consumer Bank (0.75% APY) and Ally Savings (0.99% APY as of 4/13/15).

Like those other online savings banks, this one is designed to piggyback onto your existing checking account through online transfers. There are no checks, no ATM cards, and no online bill-pay with this account. If you really want, you can withdraw your money by having them send a check payable to you. Interest is compounded daily, and credited monthly. Interest begins to accrue on the business day the deposit is received, as long as it is by 5pm Eastern.

Application Process
The application process can be done completely online. You provide the usual personal information, as well as the routing number and account number of the checking account you wish to link and fund your account with. There is no minimum opening amount. AMEX Bank will then send two small verification deposits of under $1 to your checking account (and then withdraw them as). They’ll also send a verification code to your e-mail address. With this information, you can activate your account and initiate the funding transfer. They’ll send you a welcome packet in the mail, but there is no paper to sign or send in.

Website User Interface
In the beginning, AmEx used a 3rd-party backend service but now the entire bank website is hosted at personalsavings.americanexpress.com. Here are some screenshots of my bank account after logging in with some captions (click to enlarge).

The overall interface is pretty minimalist and straightforward. Here is the main page:

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Here is the Transfer tab:

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Here is the Alerts tab:

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Funds Transfers, Customer Service, E-mail Alerts, and Statements
You can link up to 3 external bank accounts, and you can remove and add accounts online as needed. Online transfers to/from your external accounts take the usual couple of business days to complete. However, I wasn’t thrilled about this note on the transfer page: “Funds from electronic deposits to your account that you have initiated through us will generally be available for withdrawal on the sixth business day after the deposit is initiated.” This is likely for protection against fraud, but could be inconvenient and discourages me from using this account as a central transfer hub.

Customer service is available by phone only – no secure online message or live chat. Call 1-800-446-6307, available 24/7. Although you have to navigate the usual phone tree, once you do reach a human they are as courteous as the reps from AmEx credit cards, which is to say very courteous.

You can set up free, automated e-mail alerts in case of your balance reaching a certain threshold or the arrival new deposits and/or withdrawals. Text messages are not directly supported but you can usually find an e-mail version of your cell number (ex. 5551234567@txt.att.net).

Finally, one unique thing about American Express Personal Savings is that they give you free paper, snail-mail, monthly statements. Many online savings accounts only include you electronic statements and will charge you for paper statements. Of course, you can opt out and just stick to e-statements, but I can see paper statements as being attractive for some folks. A commenter below noted that if you elect paper statements, then AmEx limits the amount of transactions you can view online to the last 30 days.

Other Handy Stuff
American Express Bank, FSB Routing Number: 124085066
Customer Service: 1-800-446-6307, available 24 hours a day. I haven’t had to call in yet, but American Express does have good customer service on their credit cards in my experience.

Best Interest Rates for Cash Reserves – Updated April 2015

percentage2Our family keeps a year’s worth of expenses (not income) put aside in cash reserves; it provides financial insurance with the side benefits of lower stress and less concern about stock market gyrations. In my opinion, emergency funds can actually have a better return on investment than what you see on your bank statement.

I don’t rate-chase nearly as much as I used to, but it still pays to shop around. Too many places are basically paying ZERO – the Megabanks, short-term US Treasuries, and money market sweep funds. Do you know what Chase offers on a 1-year CD? 0.02% APY. Bank of America on their 5-year CD? 0.15% APY. The highest money market mutual fund in the country yields 0.06%. My Vanguard Prime is at 0.01%.

Best Currently Available Interest Rates
Here is a brief summary of the best interest rates available on deposits backed by the full faith and credit of the US government. I will try to sort them from the shortest to longest maturities.

  • High-yield savings accounts. There are a variety of online savings accounts out there nowadays, with the highest ones earning around 1% APY. GE Capital Bank has an FDIC-insured Online Savings account paying 1.05% APY with no maintenance fees, no minimum balance, and no minimum to open.
  • Short-term guaranteed rates. Everbank Yield Pledge Money Market and Interest Checking account both offer 1.40% APY guaranteed (up to $50k each) for the first 6 months for new accounts. Since it is fixed, this is essentially a 6-month CD with a higher rate than any other 6-month CD rate out there and with no early withdrawal penalty to worry about. Salem Five Direct has an eSavings account that pays 1.10% guaranteed until 1/1/16 (~8.5 months left) but the rate is only available to new customers.
  • “Series I” US Savings Bonds offer rates that are linked to inflation. “I Bonds” bought right now will earn 1.48% total for the first six months, and then a variable rate based on ongoing inflation after that. You must hold them for a year, and if you redeem them within 5 years you lose the last 3 months of interest. While future rates are unknown, the net rate after a year is likely to be competitive with top 1-year CD rates at a minimum, while offering upside if inflation spikes. More info here.
  • Rewards 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 all 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 5.09% APY on up to a $20k balance, although 3.09% APY is easier to achieve unless you satisfy a long list of requirements. I list this one because the rate is guaranteed until December 31, 2015.
  • Certificates of deposit. If you have a large cushion, it’s quite likely to just sit there for years. Why not put some money in longer-term investments where you can still take it out in a true emergency and pay an early withdrawal penalty. Synchrony Bank (formerly GE Capital Retail Bank) is offering a 5-year CD paying 2.25% APY for $25k+ balances (2.20% APY for $2k+) with an early withdrawal penalty of 180 days interest. For example, if you withdraw from this CD after 2 years and pay the penalty, your effective rate earned will still be 1.69%.
  • 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 CD maturing 4/22/2025 that pays 2.95% APY. Prices will vary regularly.
  • How about two decades!? “Series EE” US 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 0.50% APY). Think of it as a huge early withdrawal penalty. You really want to be sure you’ll keep it for 20 years.
  • Finally, how about something out-of-the-box? You can earn up to 2.25% APY within a 529 college savings plan (which can be opened with you as the beneficiary for now). FDIC-insured, and the rate is still pretty good even after a 10% penalty for non-qualified withdrawals.

How about my money? In terms of the opportunities above, I have opened an account at Everbank in the past for the promo rate and I have usually try to buy the max in US Savings I Bonds each year (no EE bonds, too long of a commitment). I don’t currently juggle any rewards checking accounts nor do I have any deposits with any other banks mentioned above. It’s just not worth it me to switch right now.

Besides some older CDs at higher rates, I keep a good chunk of my money at Ally Bank because right now they are the all-around “good enough” bank for me. Sure I could eek out 1.05% in a savings account somewhere, but Ally Online Savings is paying a 0.99% APY (as of 4/12/15) which serves as a no-fee overdraft companion to my Ally Interest Checking with unlimited ATM fee rebates. Along the same lines, I could get 2.25% in an outside bank’s 5-year CD, but Ally has 2.00% APY on their 5-year CDs and a relatively short 150-day early withdrawal penalty. A rate difference of 0.25% on $10,000 over a year is $25, and I’m not sure that’s enough to open a CD at another bank when my current Ally CDs mature.

All rates were checked as of 4/12/15.

Ally Bank CD Maturity and Redemption Process Review

allyreview_logoIf you have money in a bank certificate of deposit (CD), you should be aware that most of them will renew automatically for the same term length upon maturity. That means if you don’t specifically tell them otherwise, your 5-year CD will roll over for another 5 years if you’re caught snoozing that week. Different banks set different grace periods and renewal instructions; the best ones in my opinion let you set the decision ahead of time (i.e. Pentagon Federal Credit Union).

I bring this up again because I have a few Ally Bank CDs coming up for renewal. I’ll miss that old 3.09% APY, ha. Here’s a quick review of the process for other Ally Bank account holders. First, here is the official policy taken from their website:

At maturity your CD will automatically renew, and you’ll have a 10-day grace period to make any of the following changes:

Change the term
Make additional deposits
Make withdrawals
Close the CD
Interest will accrue during the grace period; however, that interest will not be paid if the funds are withdrawn during the grace period.

Call us at 1-877-247-ALLY (2559) before your maturity date or before the end of your grace period if you would like to make changes to your CD. If you don’t contact us by the end of the 10-day grace period, we’ll automatically renew your CD for the same term.

  • Roughly 30 days before maturity. If you have chosen paperless documents like I have, you’ll receive a somewhat vague e-mail from Ally Bank with the subject line “You have new correspondence in online banking.” This is actually your official “Certificate of Deposit Maturity Notice”, so don’t overlook it! I’m assuming if you chose the paper option you’ll get the letter via snail mail.
  • Between 30 days before maturity to 10 days after maturity. You must call them at 1-877-247-ALLY (2559) to tell them if you want anything besides an auto-renewal of the same term at current market rates (Ally’s Ten Day Best Rate Guarantee applies). No e-mail. No website option. No online message. No smoke signals.
  • When you call them. They’ll ask you a bunch of identity verification questions, much more than other phone calls. They’ll tell you about the Loyalty Bonus where you’ll get an extra 0.05% APY if you renew your CD (as of 3/9/15). If you want to make a withdrawal or other changes, they’ll ask you why. Nothing high pressure, but they’ll softly encourage you to renew.
  • I decided to withdraw my funds this time, but I’ll probably renew some of my other CDs that a maturing soon into a CD ladder. If you have multiple CDs like I do (for minimizing penalties in case of early redemption), they will have to read you the details and disclosures for each one.

If you have to call Ally Bank as well, remember that the phone wait time is shown live on the top of their main website (I only call if it is around a minute). The call itself lasted 15 minutes.

(Also see: Ally Bank Savings Account Review. Ally is my primary banking hub.)

Best 529 with FDIC-Insured High Yield Savings: Interest Rates Up to 2.25% APY

529Many people want to take advantage of the tax benefits of 529 college savings accounts, but don’t want to deal with the volatility of stocks or bonds. Perhaps the beneficiary will need the funds soon, or you want the security of FDIC insurance. Many students are now adults saving for their own educations in a few years. In this case, consider the Virginia CollegeWealth 529 Savings Account and its following features:

  • FDIC-insured through partner banks
  • $25 minimum to open
  • No annual fee
  • No monthly maintenance fees
  • No state residency requirements
  • Up to a $4,000 state tax deduction for Virginia taxpayers
  • High interest rates of up to 2.25% APY

Deposit details. The FDIC insurance coverage is $250,000 per account owner, per bank. All Virginia College Savings Plan 529 Accounts have a maximum aggregate contribution limit per beneficiary of $350,000.

Will the interest rate stay high? It is important to note that this is a savings account and not a certificate of deposit (CD), so the interest rate is subject to change at any time. If you are willing to commit to a 5-year CD, the Ohio CollegeAdvantage 529 has 5- to 12-year CDs paying 2% APY right now.

However, looking through old documents indicates that the interest rates that you see today for BB&T Bank have been the same at least as far back as June 30, 2011 (source, also checked in 2012 and 2013). That means BB&T’s rates have been the same for nearly four years during a period of historically low interest rates. I think that should provide some measure of confidence that the rates won’t drop dramatically the day after you open the account.

For Union Bank, rates have been slightly higher in the past (2.5% APY in 2011, 2.3% APY in 2012). Not a huge drop over time but interesting that Union Bank used to be higher but now BB&T is higher. I’m assuming you can also switch internally between these two banks. You can also roll over your assets into another 529 plan in the future, if you wish.

Partner banks and current rates (as of March 4th, 2015)

Union Bank & Trust

  • Balances of $1 to $9,999: 1.75% APY
  • Balances of $10,000 or more: 2% APY

BB&T

  • Balances of $1 to $9,999: 2% APY
  • Balances of $10,000 to $24,999: 2% APY
  • Balances of $25,000 or more: 2.25% APY

Best high-yield savings account, period? In a weird twist, you can put money in a 529 and take an unqualified withdrawal where you’ll be subject to income taxes and an additional 10% penalty on any earnings . But you’d have to pay income tax on interest from a normal savings account anyway. That means you could treat this account like a regular taxable savings account and get an effective rate of 1.8%+ APY even after any penalties. That is nearly a full percentage point higher than my current Ally Bank high-yield savings. I don’t know how many people have actually taken advantage of this “loophole” option, but it is interesting. One possible drawback is that it can take longer (possible weeks) to withdraw money from a 529 than from a traditional bank account.

Back to Basics: Simplify and Automate Your Savings

automateLet’s take a step back and focus on some actionable tips to simplify and automate your savings. Think of it as knocking out your New Year’s Resolution in just 10 minutes or less.

New Year’s resolutions fail because willpower is like a muscle. If you keep having to choose the “right thing” that does not provide immediate gratification, your willpower muscle starts to fatigue. Eat the healthy kale thing instead of the nachos? Yes for a few times, but after a month no no no. Take 15% of your paycheck and set it aside? You’ll forget. The key is to take away the decision = no willpower fatigue.

First, consider your paycheck. Is it bi-weekly, semi-monthly, or monthly? Let’s say it is biweekly and you get paid this Friday, January 9th. That means you know you’ll get paid on January 23rd, February 6th, and so on. You just need to schedule a transfer for 15% of your paycheck for each of those days directly into an online savings account. Here are screenshots and tips for some specific providers:

Auto-save with your 401(k) plan.
This allows you to get any company match, grow your money faster with tax advantages, and also takes the money out before it even reaches your paycheck. Our provider is TransAmerica, which like many others now offer an option for annual auto-increases as well. The only frequency option is every pay period.

save_trs

Auto-save with Ally Bank Savings Account.
This is my go-to savings account, and it has the most flexible list of frequency options: weekly, bi-weekly, every 15 days, weekly, every 2 weeks, every 4 weeks, monthly, every 2 months, every 3 months, every 6 months, every year, the first business day of each money, or the last business day of each month. With a competitive interest rate, no minimum opening balance, and no monthly fees, and other features – see my Ally Bank Savings Account Review for details.

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Auto-save with Capital One 360 Savings Account.
Formerly ING Direct, this is the original no minimums, no monthly fee online savings account. The frequency options include weekly, bi-weekly, semi-monthly, monthly, or quarterly. You can even set up special sub-accounts and name them things like “Vacation” or “Next Car”. See my Capital One 360 Savings Account Review for more details.

save_capone360

Auto-save with Vanguard IRA and mutual funds.
The best place for low-cost investing in an IRA. Under “Automatic Investments”, you can schedule investments for mutual funds in either IRA or taxable accounts. You’ll need to have the fund already established with the minimum initial investment. The frequency options include weekly, monthly, bi-weekly, or semi-monthly.

save_vanguard

What if I need the money? Well, if you put in an online savings account, if you really need the money, you can transfer it back. But even transferring back out of your savings account will take a conscious effort, so you’re less likely to do it. You can’t easily withdraw from a 401k or IRA, so you’ll just have to make the commitment.

The key here is to combat laziness. If you like this idea, take action today and you’ll be on autopilot the rest of the year!