Cash Reserves & Best Interest Rates Update – November 2014

percentage2Our family keeps a full year of expenses put aside in cash reserves; it provides us with financial stability with the additional side benefits of lower stress and less concern about stock market gyrations. Emergency funds can actually have a better return on investment than what you see on your bank statement.

Interest rates are still depressingly low, and I haven’t made any changes to how I hold my cash reserves since my last update in June. However, there are still better options out there for cash stuck in a too-big-to-fail megabank savings account paying 0.000001%.

Best Currently Available Interest Rates

If I wasn’t already invested as outlined at the bottom of this post, here are the FDIC-insured or government-backed opportunities that I would be looking into based on my needs.

  • 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.
  • “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 still likely to be competitive with top 1-year CD rates. More info here.
  • Rewards checking accounts pay above-average interest rates, but only if you to jump through many hoops. Make a mistake and you’ll forfeit your interest for that month. Rates can also drop quickly, leaving a “bait-and-switch” feeling. If you’re up for it, a recent example is Consumers Credit Union where you can earn 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. Good news is the rate is guaranteed until August 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 2.30% APY for $25k+ balances (2.25% 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 1.72%.
  • Willing to lock up your money for 7 years? Tobyhanna Federal Credit Union has a 7-year CD paying 3.04% APY, however the early withdrawal penalty is a full 2 years of interest. More info at DepositAccounts.com.
  • 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). You really want to be sure you’ll keep it for 20 years.

Where’s My Money At?

Here’a quick recap of how I have our cash reserves split up. Keep in mind that most of the rates that I locked in are no longer available, but I did blog about them at the time.

  • Ally Bank Online Savings paying 0.90% APY (as of 11/3/14) which also serves as a no-fee overdraft option to my Ally Interest Checking, that way I can keep a minimal balance in checking. Ally checking also has unlimited ATM fee rebates and no fees. I know there are some savings accounts paying a tiny bit more, but not worth the trouble for less than 0.1% difference on $10,000.
  • Ally Bank CDs earning between 1.84% and 3.09% APY. These are old 5-year CDs with a short 60-day interest penalty. Current Ally CD rate of 11/3/14 is 2.00% APY for 5-Year CD with 150-day early withdrawal penalty.
  • PenFed CDs earning 5% APY. Long gone, although earlier this year PenFed did offer 5-year CDs at 3% APY (no longer available). Current rates are only so-so.
  • I also bought several US savings bonds that I now consider part of my retirement portfolio as opposed to cash reserves, as I don’t think I’ll ever want to cash them in before full maturity. More info below.

All rates are believed current as of writing, 11/3/14.

Big List of Free Consumer Reports (1/2): See Your Confidential Credit, Banking, and Payday Lending Data

magThere are many companies out there that make money by collecting and selling data – your personal data. In the past, it was often difficult if not impossible to see what they were telling prospective lenders, landlords, even employers about you. Under the FCRA and/or FACT Acts, many consumer reporting agencies (CRAs) are now legally required to send you a free copy of your report every 12 months, as well as provide a way to dispute incorrect information. There are more CRAs every time I try to compile these lists, such that this time I split it into two parts:

Some have an online request form, but many require snail mail with proof of identity. You may not want to bother checking all of them (for example if you rarely write checks or use payday loans), but if you’ve experienced any sort of rejection or adverse reaction in these areas the cause might be found inside one of these databases. Keep in mind that you may not have a file with all of these places.

Credit-Related

Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. The three major credit bureaus track your credit accounts, payment history, and other related information like bankrupts and liens. Free copy of each once every 12 months.

CoreLogic Credco. One of the largest credit-related CRAs and often used by mortgage lenders, your CoreLogic Credco Consumer File can contain: previous homeownership and mortgage info, rental payment history, any reported delinquencies, and other debt obligations like child support. Free copy once every 12 months.

LexisNexis. One of the largest personal information databases that includes public records, real estate transaction and ownership data, lien, judgment, and bankruptcy records, professional license information, and historical addresses on file. Free copy, must mail in form.

Innovis. A supplementary credit report and identity verification provider. Free copy once every 12 months.

IDA, Inc. Per their site, they are a “credit reporting agency that produces credit reports and scores from our repository of consumer information contributed by a wide array of companies including leading financial services organizations, wireless providers, utilities, retailers, auto lenders and many others.” Free copy, must mail in form.

Microbilt and subsidiary Payment Reporting Builds Credit (PRBC). Microbilt is a credit reporting agency, per their site a “leading provider of alternative credit data to businesses that want to offer credit and other financial services to the approximately 110 million underserved and underbanked consumers in the United States.” Free copy once every 12 months.

L2C, Inc. A credit reporting agency, appears focused on the underbanked or unbanked population. Limited further details.

Banking-Related

Chexsystems. A consumer information database used by an estimated 80-90% of all banks to help determine the risk of opening new accounts. Think of it as the banks’ version of a credit bureau. If a person commits check fraud or overdraws their account, it will be listed here. In addition, the simple act of opening or closing a bank account may be recorded in their database. Having a negative ChexSystems record can leave you blacklisted from opening bank accounts at most major banks. Free copy once every 12 months. Must order by phone, mail, or fax.

TeleCheck. Per their site, they provide “industry-leading check acceptance, check processing and risk analytics services to merchants and financial institutions.” One of the major companies that protect businesses and banks from bad checks. Must order by phone or mail.

Certegy Check Services. Per their site, a “check risk management company that provides verification, guarantee and risk analytics to thousands of businesses that choose to accept checks as a form of payment for goods or services.” Clients include check-cashing stores and casinos. Free copy once every 12 months. Must order by phone or mail.

Early Warning Services. A collaboration between a group of big banks including Bank of America, BB&T, Capital One, JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo. Provides fraud prevention and risk management in relation to bank accounts and payment transactions. Must order by phone.

Subprime-Related (Payday Lending)

The following companies focus on subprime customers with clients including payday lenders, title loan lenders, rent-to-own stores, and subprime auto loan providers.

Teletrack (affiliated with CoreLogic).

FactorTrust. Free copy once every 12 months.

Clarity Services, Inc. Must mail or fax form.

DataX Ltd. Must mail form.

Reminder: Also see Part 2: Big List of Free Consumer Reports with Your Confidential Housing, Insurance, & Employment Data.

This should serve as a mid-year notice, but I will refresh this post as a reminder around January 1st (that’s when I like to pull all my reports).

Sources: ConsumerFinance.gov, FTC.gov, Wikipedia

Pentagon Federal Credit Union Free FICO Credit Score (NextGen)

Pentagon Federal Credit Union (PenFed) now offers a free credit score to select members. It may be offered only to members with a credit account with them (auto, checking overdraft, mortgage, etc.). I was offered the free FICO score and only have their Thrifty Credit Service which is just a $500 line of credit in case of an overdraft from my checking account. You can find access via a banner on the main page after logging in:

penfedfico1

The score formula is called the FICO NextGen, which has a range of 150-950 as opposed to the traditional FICO range of 300-850. FICO tried to roll out this new “improved” score several years ago but it never really took off. So while this is a “FICO score”, the number may not be as easy to understand. However, PenFed does state that this score is the actual score that they use when making credit decisions. Also included are the top two “key factors” affecting your score:

penfedfico2

As usual, some of the advice these services offer don’t make much sense. So what if I don’t have an outstanding auto or student loan? I pay cash for my cars and worked hard to paid off my student loans. Why would I voluntarily go into debt again just to bump up my credit score a few ticks? They should know that my credit is already good enough that I’ve never had a problem getting any sort of loan product.

Capital One 360 Financial Independence Day Promo 2014

13045000Capital One 360 is running their annual Financial Independence Day promotion, with what is traditionally the best bonus of the year for their 360 Savings and 360 Checking accounts. (Formerly known as ING Direct.) These online bank accounts offer no monthly fees and no minimum balance requirements, all with a decent interest rate. As a result, the savings account makes a great “online piggy bank” where you can make free transfers from your existing checking accounts from any bank into the 360 Savings account on a regular basis. Promo details:

360 Savings $76 Bonus

  • Grab $76 when you open a 360 Savings® account.
  • This has to be the primary account holder’s first 360 Savings account and it needs a $500 minimum deposit.
  • The bonus starts earning interest on day 1, but you can’t take it out for at least 30 days.

360 Checking $100 Bonus

  • Earn $100 when you open a 360 Checking® account. Sign up for fee-free 360 Checking®, make 5 Debit Card purchases or 5 mobile deposits with CheckMateSM within 45 days and snag a cool $100 on day 50.
  • This has to be your and your joint account holder’s (if you have one) first 360 Checking account.
  • Open 360 Checking from June 30th – July 3rd and make a total of 5 Debit Card purchases or 5 CheckMateSM deposits or any combination of the two within 45 days.
  • Your $100 bonus will be automatically deposited into your account on day 50.

Applying for Multiple Bank Accounts: Can You Apply For Too Many?

multibanksUpdated. If you open multiple bank accounts in order to take advantage of higher interest rates or sign-up bonuses, you may be concerned about any potential consequences from all that activity. In my experience, there are two main factors to be aware of when you open a bank account:

Banks pulling your ChexSystems report. ChexSystems is a consumer information database used by an estimated 80-90% of all banks to help determine the risk of opening new accounts. Think of it as the bank’s version of a credit bureau. If a person commits check fraud or leaves their account with a negative balance, it will be listed here. In addition, the simple act of opening or closing a bank account may be recorded in their database.

One thing that may raise a red flag is opening up several bank accounts in a very short period of time. This is because of the connection of multiple bank accounts to a form of fraud called ‘check kiting‘. Kiting usually involves sending several checks between different banks to create an temporary surplus of money from the bank’s funds availability policies, and then cashing that out before all the checks fully clear. In the end, one of the banks is left holding the bag.

But for the most part, as long as you haven’t left any accounts in bad standing you shouldn’t run into any problems with opening up new bank accounts. I’ve opened up accounts at over 30 different banks over the last several years, sometimes two or three in one week, and have never been rejected by any of them. However, having a negative ChexSystems record can leave you blacklisted from all the major banks (even if you make $100k a year). Information generally stays on your ChexSystems report for five (5) years.

As with credit reports, you can get a free copy of your ChexSystems report once every 12 months.

Banks pulling your credit report. Yes, it is legal for banks to pull your credit report. According to the consumer help site HelpWithMyBank.gov, per the Fair Credit Reporting Act, a bank can obtain a consumer report for any legitimate business need, including the following:

  • credit transactions
  • review or collection of an account
  • opening a deposit or savings account
  • underwriting of insurance

There are a couple reasons they do so. First, this is another way for them to identify you and measure the risk of giving you a new account. Second, they may use this information to market other financial products like credit cards or home equity loans to you.

I’ve talked about the difference between hard and soft credit pulls. Usually, bank will just perform a soft credit check, which doesn’t affect your credit score. (All those “pre-approved” credit card applications in the mail are from soft credit checks.) However, some banks also perform hard credit checks, which do hurt your credit score slightly. Some banks do offer a line of credit in lieu of overdraft protection, but in general there doesn’t appear to be a rhyme or reason as to which ones do hard pull and which ones don’t. I personally suspect that it may just be unintentional and they don’t know the difference. (More importantly, most people don’t know the difference so they don’t really get any pushback.)

You can get a free copy of each of your credit reports (which lists all your hard pulls and which financial instituation did the pull) once every 12 months at AnnualCreditReport.com.

To summarize, I usually try to find out first if the bank will perform a hard credit check based on the reported experiences of other consumers online. This isn’t an exact science, as the banks can often change their practices. If it is likely they will, then I want to make sure that I am getting enough value from the new account because I know I can already trade a hard pull for $200-$500 of value from a credit card application. Otherwise, I don’t really worry about the number of bank accounts I have, although I do close them as soon as I don’t foresee any future benefit.

Cash Reserves & Best Interest Rates Update – June 2014

percentageOur family keeps a full year of expenses put aside in cash reserves; it provides us with financial stability with the additional side benefits of lower stress and less concern about stock market gyrations. Emergency funds can actually have a better return on investment than what you see on your bank statement.

Interest rates are still depressingly low, and I haven’t made any changes to how I hold my cash reserves in the past 12 months. However, I figured an update is in order as some of you may not be aware of the many options besides your too-big-to-fail megabank savings account paying 0.000001%.

My Cash Reserves
First, a quick recap of how I have our cash reserves split up. Keep in mind that most of the rates that I locked in are no longer available, but I did blog about them at the time.

  • Ally Bank Online Saving (0.87% APY of 6/24/14) as a no-fee overdraft backup to my Ally Interest Checking (0.10% APY on balances under $15k, 0.60% APY over $15k of 6/24/14), that way I can keep minimal balance in checking. Ally checking also has unlimited ATM fee rebates and no fees. I know there are some savings accounts paying a tiny bit more, but not worth the trouble for less than 0.1% difference on $10,000.
  • Ally Bank CDs earning between 1.84% and 3.09% APY. These are old 5-year CDs with a short 60-day interest penalty. Current CD rate of 6/21/14 is 1.60% APY with 150-day early withdrawal penalty.
  • PenFed CDs earning 5% APY. Long gone, although earlier this year PenFed did offer 5-year CDs at 3% APY (no longer available). Current rates are yawn-tastic.
  • I also have several US savings bonds that I now consider part of my retirement portfolio as opposed to cash reserves, as I don’t think I’ll ever want to cash them in before full maturity. More info below.

Best Currently Available Interest Rates
If I wasn’t already invested as outlined above, here are the FDIC-insured or government-backed opportunities that I would be looking into based on my needs.

  • Everbank Yield Pledge Money Market and Everbank 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.
  • “Series I” US Savings Bonds offer rates that are linked to inflation. “I Bonds” bought right now will earn 1.94% 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 higher than any 1-year CD. More info here.
  • Rewards checking accounts pay above-average interest rates, but only if you to jump through many hoops. Make a mistake and you’ll forfeit your interest for that month. Rates can also drop quickly, leaving a “bait-and-switch” feeling. If you’re up for it, a recent example is Consumers Credit Union where you can earn up to 5.09% APY on up to a $10k balance, although 3.09% APY is probably a more reasonable expectation (there are a lot of hoops).
  • 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 2.30% APY for $25k+ balances (2.25% APY for $2k+) with an early withdrawal penalty of 180 days interest.
  • Willing to lock up your money for even longer? Tobyhanna Federal Credit Union has a 7-year CD paying 3.04% APY, however the early withdrawal penalty is a full 2 years of interest. More info here.
  • Even looooonger? “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). You really want to be sure you’ll keep it for 20 years.

All rates are believed current as of writing, 6/24/14.

Citibank Checking Billpay and Mobile Check Deposit $100 Promotion

Citibank is running a $100 bonus promotion good for existing checking account customers. You have to first enroll in the offer by 7/31/14, and then you can earn $10 per month for doing each of the following activities from 6/1/14-12/31/14:

  • Online bill payment
  • Mobile check deposit
  • Outgoing Popmoney person-to-person money transfer

So you could technically get $30 a month, but the total possible bonus over the entire 7 month period is only $100. I don’t think this promotion is juicy enough to warrant opening a new Citi checking account, but it’s a pretty easy $100 if you already have one. Bonuses arrive within 60 days after a month with qualifying activity, and will only get reported on a 1099-MISC if you earn over $600 in miscellaneous taxable income from Citibank in a year.

Cash Is Still King, But Most People Prefer Debit Cards Over Credit Cards

The Federal Reserve recently released a report about about consumer payments [pdf], and it had some interesting results (at least to me). Via Business Insider. Here are the distilled highlights.

Cash is still the most frequently used form of payment, as measured by number of transactions. This is partly due to the fact that cash totally dominates for payments less than $10. In terms of value, electronic payments (online billpay and ACH payments using bank account numbers) have the largest share.

realdebitcards5

This next chart shows that debit card use is actually growing faster than any other form of payment:

realdebitcards6

Overall, debit cards are also the most preferred form of payment… but it does vary with income. 55% of consumers with household incomes less than $25,000 per year prefer cash over anything else, while 66% of households making more than $200,000 per year prefer credit cards over anything else.

realdebitcards4

People seem to have an either/or relationship with debit cards and credit cards. You either use one or the other predominantly.

realdebitcards3

Initially, I was surprised by the popularity of debit cards. (I prefer credit cards and am one of those people who haven’t used a debit card in years.) My hunch is that people think of debit cards as the closest thing to electronic cash. The money gets zapped out of your checking account and your balance decreases instantly. As long as you decline overdraft “protection”, if you hit zero your purchase will be declined. I admit it does have the appeal of simplicity.

Although I treat my credit card purchases the same as cash and always pay in full each month, credit cards do come with more complexity and the knowledge that the credit card company is lying in wait in case you feel like taking on a little debt. But in return I earn cash back rewards, get better consumer protection against fraud, and enough sign-up bonuses to fly me around the world once in a while.

Everbank 5 Year MarketSafe Treasury CD Review – FDIC Insured Principal, Rising Rate Participation

marketsafe2Interest rates remain very low, but at the same time we are constantly being warned that they could spike up soon. What is a conservative investor to do?

Everbank’s lineup of MarketSafe CDs are a new wrinkle on FDIC-insured bank CDs that try to take advantage of these current low interest rates. They are basically a hedged bet on something like currencies, precious metals, or commodities. If things don’t work out, the principal you put in is protected with FDIC insurance so you’ll always get that back, just with no interest in the worst case. If your selected market bet does pan out, you’ll get an interest payment based on that upside.

Their newest product is the 5-yr MarketSafe Treasury CD which bets on rising interest rates. I don’t pay much attention to gold or currency prices, but interest rates are easier to understand. Here’s the pitch:

With this latest MarketSafe CD, seek 3.3 times any upside growth in the 10-year Treasury yield during the CD term.3 Full protection of your deposited principal comes standard.1 Act by June 11, 2014 to take advantage.

Sound intriguing, but as usual let’s dig into the details.

The CD has a term of 5 years. You must fund it by 6/11/2014 and the maturity date is 6/21/2019 where you’ll get your principal plus any interest accrued (“market upside payment”). You can’t make any early withdrawals (well, technically you can but you lose the principal protection and are subject to penalties). The minimum opening deposit is $1,500. No monthly or account fees. Available for IRAs.

The market upside payment is based on the following formula using the 10-Year US Treasury yield:

(yield at maturity - initial yield) x 3.3 x deposited principal

Comments:

  • While the formula multiplies the rate difference by 3.3, this includes all the interest you’ll get for 5 years. As an example, if you had a 5-year CD paying 2% annually, that’s a 10.4% total return at the end of 5 years. (You can find a 5-year CD at 2.25% APY at GE Capital Retail Bank).
  • The current 10-year Treasury yield is roughly 2.6% (this could change by issue date). If you want a 10% return after 5 years from this MarketSafe CD, 10-year yields would have to rise by 3% to 5.6% in June 2019.
  • If the 10-year Treasury yield stays constant or drops between the initial date and maturity date, you will only get back your original principal.

I won’t make a rate prediction because I have no idea where rates are headed. Here’s a historical chart of the 10-year Treasury yield over the last 20 years (FRED):

fred10ust20yr

The last time the 10-year yield was near 5.5% was around 2002. Rates would have to go higher than that to beat a top 5-year traditional CD. However, keep in mind that with this product you are getting both upside potential and principal protection. In exchange for such risk reduction, it can’t be a slam dunk. If rates do rise up to say 5.5%, then the people who actually bought 10-year bonds today would be looking at a significant loss of principal.

Manilla Shutting Down. Online Bill Management Alternatives?

checkappA few readers e-mailed me to let me know that bill management website Manilla.com announced that they will be shutting down. Surprising, as they were just mentioned in Money magazine last month!

Manilla will be closing on July 1, 2014. This was a hard decision given that, over the past three years, Manilla has won many awards [...] but was unable to achieve the scale necessary to make the economics of the business viable.

As noted in my now-useless Manilla review, many people enjoyed having all of their bills located in a central place. It was also nice that they offered to store all your old bills forever… or in this case September 30, 2014 after which they will be destroyed.

What are good Manilla alternatives? Here are several services that offer similar features in no particular order, please feel free to add more in the comments. I haven’t gotten to try them all out yet, so share your experiences as well.

  • Finovera – “Our mission is to make the process of receiving, managing, paying and organizing household bills and documents simple, automatic and effortless.”
  • Enfold – “Enfold is a free-for-life virtual filing cabinet where you can safely store and organize all your important documents and account information.”
  • MoneyStream – “Not just an organizer or bill-payer, MoneyStream brings everything together in one secure place—and then shows you a future view of your money so you can see at a glance where you stand and where you’re going.”
  • Check (formerly PageOnce) – A free smartphone app that both organizes and tracks balances, with the added feature of letting you pay your bills through the app. I don’t think it stores past statements past a certain time period.
  • Mint – Owned by Intuit, Mint is more budget-centric and tracks all of your transactions. You can’t pay bills through the software (although it will send you bill reminders) and it doesn’t store actual monthly statements.
  • Mobilligy – “Mobilligy puts all of your bills in one app that lets you review, manage and pay your bills for free – anytime, anywhere.”
  • FileThis – “FileThis is like a personal assistant for your paperwork. It automatically collects, files, tags, and organizes your online documents in a digital filing cabinet. Never lose another bank statement, legal paper, tax form, insurance document, or other important piece of paperwork.”
  • Doxo – “All your provider accounts and information together at last. Back up all your critical documents automatically to your personal cloud storage. Receive and pay bills from connected providers with doxoPAY.”
  • Personal Capital – similar account aggregation focus as Mint, plus some investment portfolio analysis features.
  • Zumbox – “Your postal mail delivered online. Your documents stored securely, forever.”
  • Intuit Paytrust = “PayTrust’s all-in-one online bill pay allows you to easily receive, track, and pay all your bills online.”
  • MyCheckFree – “Receive and pay your e-bills at one easy, secure location.”
  • Yodlee Labs – “This is a site where Yodlee will launch (and test) all of its latest (account aggregation) products before they are launched anywhere else in market.” If you just want most recent, most-refined version, sign up at Yodlee Moneycenter.

With Manilla and Everpix, I am reminded that any offer to store your stuff “forever” really means “as long as we keep making enough money”. Personally, I’m still using my bank’s Online Billpay service along with AutoPay with credit card where possible. For archival purposes, I download any paperless bills in PDF format to a folder on my computer, which is automatically backed up daily to my external hard drive and also instantly synchronized with my free Dropbox.com cloud account. However, if I can truly view and pay all my bills in one simple mobile app and a few taps, I’d be up for that.

Hanscom Federal CU Thrive Review: High Interest Starter Account

savebuttonbank(Update: As of 5/11/2014 the rate is back down to 3% APY. This is still much higher than most saving accounts and it should still be worthy of consideration.)

To celebrate their 60th anniversary, Hanscom Federal Credit Union (HFCU) has increased the interest rate on their CU Thrive account to 6.0% APY (5.84% rate). The CU Thrive account is an interesting “starter CD” 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 those looking to stash larger $10,000+ balances in a certificate of deposit.

More account details. 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 $180 in interest (~$193 if you made every transfer on the 1st of the each month by my quick calculations). The low deposit limits make this account best for people who can benefit from a little extra carrot to start saving, as you can tell yourself that you are getting 5% more or six times the interest rate on other “high yield” savings accounts. NCUA-insured! $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.

(Update: Right now if you are referred by an existing member, you can get a $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. The $30 should help offset any membership fees you might pay to be eligible to join.)

Account opening process. This is just the type of thing that I would like to set up for my kids – something with a high enough interest rate that they can “feel” the compounding effect. (Their minimum age is just 7 years old with an adult joint account.) I do wonder if it would actually create a habit of saving.

I started the online application and said I would join the Nashua River Watershed Association for a one-time $35 fee. I had to provide the usual personal information and then answer questions based on my credit report to verify my identity. I don’t know if they actually did a “hard” pull on my credit report (I hope not). 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. (Update: So far it is showing 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.

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 free checking, 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.

Bank of America Overdraft Fee Refund

boansfUpdated 2014. Although I originally wrote this post in 2009, it (unfortunately) still gets regular traffic. Bank reforms instituted in 2010 made overdraft “protection” only applicable on an opt-in basis on ATM/debit card usage. Despite this fact, U.S. banks still collected over $30 billion dollars in overdraft fees in 2012.

The advice below on how to get a BofA overdraft fee refunded still works, as many positive e-mails and comments will attest. But you should also ask to turn OFF your overdraft protection as many people are confused on the actual meaning of the service. If you opt-out of overdraft protection and try to use your debit card with an insufficient balance, you will simply get denied with no fee. If you opt-in to overdraft protection and try to use your debit card with an insufficient balance, your purchase will go through but you will get charged a fee of roughly $35 on each instance. Now you know why I put quotation marks around “protection”.

Just Ask!

I was hit with an overdraft fee from Bank of America when I was trying to close out an account. Luckily, I was able to get it refunded to me. The answer is always no if you don’t ask, so don’t give up the opportunity to save hundreds of dollars with a 10-minute phone call! A few tips:

  • Be nice but firm. Customer service reps are people. This is not the time to outline all the reasons why their overdraft system is unfair. The employee is never going to be able to admit “Yes, they are unfair!”, and you’re only going to put them on the defensive.
  • Admit you made a mistake, and include your personal story. Perhaps you and your spouse had a miscommunication and lost track of the bank balance. Your contractor finally cashed a check from 8 months ago that you forgot about. A spokesperson from Bank of America said they “may waive unemployed consumers’ fees on a case-by-case basis.”
  • Help them find a reason to help you. Are you a first-time offender? Are you a long-time customer? Do you have other accounts with Bank of America? Credit card, loans, or business accounts? Show them you are a profitable customer worth keeping.
  • Try different communication avenues. I used to visit my local branch a lot, and have had some good success with going directly there. Your mileage my vary, but also try any combination of Live Chat, E-mail, and Telephone.

“Hi, I was recently charged an overdraft fee when an old check got cashed. I totally forgot about it and it was my fault. However, I’ve been with BofA for X years, and this is my first overdraft fee. I am calling to see if I am able to get this waived.”

Denied? Escalate!

If you’re not satisfied with your response, it has paid off for many customers to escalate your request to the “Executive Customer Relations” division of Bank of America. Read the many relieved comments below.

Call Executive Customer Relations:
Executive Customer Relations general line: 704-386-5687

E-mail a Bank of America Customer Advocate:
Melissa Russell
Customer Advocate
Office of the Chairman
800-669-2443 Ext 2809
melissa.d.russell@bankofamerica.com

Crystal R. Peterson
Customer Advocate
Office of the CEO and President
336-805-3126
crystal.peterson@bankofamerica.com

A sample success story:

Emailed the office of the chairman 2 weeks ago and received a call today from that office. They credited back $440 in overdraft fees. Issue was my fault since i made the purchases but the merchant submitted all transactions for 3 months on one day. Pretty happy with the result.

Write a snail-mail letter to the CEO:
Brian Thomas Moynihan
100 N. Tryon Street
Mail Code NC-1-007-18-01
Charlotte, NC 28255

Another success story:

Thank you, thank you, thank you. After reading the post about the BoA customer who got $280 in NSF fees refunded, I wrote BoA myself. They had charged me 7 NSF fees in succession (which sucked ass) and was my fault. [...] So I wrote a formal letter of complaint to Kenneth Lewis. This past Saturday, they refunded all of the fees – even though it was my fault. I can’t believe it. That rocks. People do have the power.