Best Interest Rates on Cash – January 2018

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Short-term interest rates are rising. Megabanks make billions by pay you nothing for your idle cash. Here is my monthly roundup of the best safe rates available, roughly sorted from shortest to longest maturities. Check out my Ultimate Rate-Chaser Calculator to get an idea of how much additional interest you’d earn if you switched over. Rates listed are available to everyone nationwide. Rates checked as of 1/7/18.

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

  • DollarSavingsDirect at 1.60% APY, CIT Bank at 1.55% APY, both with no minimum balance requirement. SalemFiveDirect 1.50% APY, Synchrony Bank 1.45% APY, GS Bank 1.40% APY.
  • I currently keep my “hub” account at Ally Bank Savings + Checking combo due to their history of competitive rates, 1-day external bank transfers, and overall user experience. I then move money elsewhere if the rate is significantly higher (and preferably locked in via CD rate). The free overdraft transfers from savings allows to me to keep my checking balance at a minimum. Ally Savings is now lagging a bit at 1.25% APY.

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

  • Vanguard Prime Money Market Fund currently pays an 1.38% SEC yield. The default sweep option is the Vanguard Federal Money Market Fund, which has an SEC yield of 1.23%. You can manually move the money over to Prime if you meet the $3,000 minimum investment.
  • Vanguard Ultra-Short-Term Bond Fund currently pays 1.83% SEC Yield ($3,000 min) and 1.93% SEC Yield ($50,000 min). The average duration is 1 year.
  • The PIMCO Enhanced Short Maturity Active Bond ETF (MINT) has a 1.68% SEC yield and the iShares Short Maturity Bond ETF (NEAR) has a 1.81% SEC yield while holding a portfolio of investment-grade bonds with an average duration of ~6 months. More info here.

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

  • CIT Bank 11-Month No-Penalty CD is at 1.55% APY with a $1,000 minimum deposit and no withdrawal penalty seven days or later after funds have been received. The lack of early withdrawal penalty means that your interest rate can never go down for 11 months, but you can always jump ship if rates rise. Full review. You can open multiple CDs in smaller increments if you want more flexibility.
  • Ally Bank No-Penalty 11-Month CD is paying 1.60% APY for $25,000+ balances and 1.25% APY for $5,000+ balances. Similar product, higher rate at the moment, higher balance requirement. Ally is a full-featured bank with checking/savings/etc.
  • Synchrony Bank has a 12-month CD is at 2.00% APY with a $2,000 minimum deposit. (Ally Bank had a similar rate that ended on 1/2/18, so I don’t know how long the Synchrony rate will last either.)

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

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

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

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

Rewards checking accounts
These unique checking accounts pay above-average interest rates, but with some risk. You have to jump through certain hoops, and if you make a mistake you won’t earn any interest for that month. Some folks don’t mind the extra work and attention required, while others do. Rates can also drop quickly, leaving a “bait-and-switch” feeling. 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 getting 3.09% APY on a $10k balance has a much shorter list of requirements. The 4.59% APY requires you to apply for a credit card through them (other credit cards offer $500+ in sign-up bonuses). Keep your 12 debit purchases small as well, as for every $500 in monthly purchases you may be losing out on 2% cashback (or $10 a month after-tax). Find a local rewards checking account at DepositAccounts.
  • Note: Northpointe Bank, mentioned previously, no longer has their Rewards Checking account on their website and is not accepting new applications. Unclear how long existing accountholders will be grandfathered. That’s just how it goes with these types of accounts.

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

  • Advancial Federal Credit Union has their 18-month CD at 2.05% APY ($50k min) and a 24-month CD at 2.14% APY ($50k min). The early withdrawal penalty is 180 days of interest. Anyone can join with a $5 membership fee to the Connex Professional Network.
  • Ally Bank has a 5-year CD at 2.25% APY (no minimum) 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’d still get an 1.64% effective APY even after accounting for the penalty.
  • Northern Bank Direct has a 4-year CD at 2.51% APY with a $500 minimum. I had to mention this top rate, but watch out for the huge early withdrawal penalty of 3-years of interest! Hanscom Federal Credit Union still has their 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 offers a 3% APY CU Thrive “starter” savings account with balance caps. HFCU membership is open to active/retired military or anyone who makes a one-time $35 donation to the Nashua River Watershed Association.
  • United States Senate Federal Credit Union has a 60-Month Share Certificate at 2.76% APY ($60,000+), 2.70% APY ($20,000+), and 2.63% APY ($1,000+). Anyone can join this credit union via partner organization American Consumer Council for a one-time $10 membership fee. (ACC lets you become eligible for multiple credit unions.)

Longer-term Instruments
I’d use these with caution due to increased interest rate risk, but I still track them to see the rest of the current yield curve. (The yield curve has been flattening in recent months.)

  • 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 2.75% APY (Watch out for higher rates from callable CDs from Fidelity.) Unfortunately, currently CD rates do not rise much higher even as you extend beyond a 5-year maturity.
  • How about two decades? Series EE Savings Bonds are not indexed to inflation, but they have a guarantee that the value will double in value in 20 years, which equals a guaranteed return of 3.5% a year. However, if you don’t hold for that long, you’ll be stuck with the normal rate which is quite low (currently a sad 0.10% rate). I view this as a huge early withdrawal penalty, so I avoid it. You could also view it as long-term bond and thus a hedge against deflation, but only if you can hold on for 20 years.

All rates were checked as of 1/7/18.

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  1. What about tax free Muni Bonds? Recent interest rates around 3% to 4%, and more than that when tax avoidance is considered.

  2. Interesting about ALLY Bank – went from 11 month no penalty @1.75% to 1.6%. Glad I locked mine in at higher rate! I agree about the turn around time when transferring funds, Ally is the best!

    • Wow, no kidding. I opened a couple of those on Jan 1 at 1.75% and am glad I didn’t wait.

    • I previously had fast transfer time to external banks, but just got an unpleasant surprise when I scheduled a transfer and got a 3-day transfer time.

      Then, to top that, my transfer request mysteriously disappeared overnight, so I had to reschedule it today, costing me ANOTHER day to transfer.

      I’ve been an Ally customer for some years, but this, plus their lagging rates, is not promising for continuing with them.

  3. Kevin Salvo says

    Ally was a promo period they said it would drop

    • True, it was nice of Ally to guarantee the rate for a week or so and let us know it was going to drop. I meant that any bank can drop their CD rates at any time, and right now 2% on 12 months is pretty high so it may or may not last from any bank.

  4. Re. MINT vs NEAR

    MINT can be traded for free via Robinhood. However, NEAR is not available via Robinhood. Are there alternatives to Robinhood?

    Or just make the plunge for Vanguard’s Ultra-Short Bond Fund?

  5. Jonathan –
    I have also notices that Marcus (the Goldman Sachs online bank) is consistently higher than both ally and synchrony bank. While it’s savings account rate lags CIT by a little bit, their CD rates are relatively high. So for a combination bank (online savings + long term CDs) it might be a good option. Have you looked at it ?

    Current rates – Savings – 1.5%, 5 year CD – 2.5%

    – Desi Guy

    • Marcus/GS Bank is certainly one of the rate leaders right now. I think it’s a fine option if you aren’t committed to any online bank already. If they came out with a 2% no penalty CD or a 5-year CD with a small early withdrawal penalty, that would grab my attention more I think there is going to be a lot of leapfrogging in 2018.

      • Yeah, some of the banks are changing rates frequently. Ally though, stubbornly has kept its savings rate rather low, and even when they raise , there are small .05% increments.
        I have stuck with them so far, but now with all these other players offering .35% or more, it might be a good time to consider them.

        – Desi Guy.

  6. Jonathan,

    What are the options for non-US citizen or non-US permanent residents i.e. people here in US on work visa? CIT/Synchrony/Ally don’t consider them eligible.


  7. Joshua Katt says

    I don’t know where to put this so trying here.

    We are big fans of Ally (you too) for banking ease and I thought I would try their brokerage side for ease of transfers and $4.95 trades. After a month, they are simply horrible. I’m shocked to discover many basic things are missing:

    Can’t do “all or nothing” trading,
    Online wires between Ally accounts are not done without them contacting you for a lengthy verification and time consuming process,
    Inability to connect or simply download transactions into Quicken,
    No email or texts with stock alerts or trade execution notices
    No sweep interest option on idle funds,
    Horrible interfaces

    That’s what I’ve discovered so far.

    Going to end over to Fidelity next for $4.95 trades once I can confirm the very basic items I’ve listed above are included.

    • Interesting. Ally bought TradeKing and I had an idle TradeKing account, so now I have an idle Ally Invest account. I haven’t done any trades with it, but I am surprised you can’t do an instant transfer between an Ally bank account and their brokerage. Currently, I do my individual stock trades at Merrill Edge due to their free trades with $50k in assets (not cash).

      • Joshua Katt says

        Actually into the investment acct using ACH shows up in a hour or so. I thought all ACH was overnight as a minimum so I tried their free wires hoping for immediate credit like every other wire does, Not Ally’s. Lots of trial & error figuring out the above list of issues. All or none available on the iOS app I just discovered but not PC, silly as I don’t stay glued to my phone like a teenager. Thanks for the Merrill tip, that might work.

        • Joshua Katt says

          In case anyone is watching, I complained via a survey and the next day someone contacted me and switched me to a “classic” version where most of my trading and brokerage omission complaints above were easily available via another interface (likely tradeking’s original).

  8. Why isn’t the Connexus Credit Union not listed here? Previously on MMB…

  9. Joshua Katt says

    In the late 1980’s, obviously before internet convenience, I used to audit Dreyfus mutual funds, They once introduced an astounding & psychological 10% yield money market fund by absorbing fees & expenses. An official there explained to use that natural lack of motivation/interia would keep the billions there even once the yield started to decline substantially, still making them a killing. Even though we can switch with a few clicks at home, the principal must be the same when the former leaders such as Ally, Discover, AMEX, etc do nothing while newcomers I never heard of dangle a substantial more basis points, A big thanks to JP for pointing that out monthly!

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