Best Interest Rates on Cash – October 2018

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Here’s my monthly roundup of the best interest rates on cash, roughly sorted from shortest to longest maturities. Check out my Ultimate Rate-Chaser Calculator to get an idea of how much extra interest you’d earn if you are moving money between accounts. Rates listed are available to everyone nationwide. Rates checked as of 10/1/18.

High-yield savings accounts
While the huge megabanks like to get away with 0.01% APY, getting higher rates is as easy as transferring money electronically from your checking account to an online savings account. The interest rates on savings accounts can drop at any time, so I prioritize banks with a history of competitive rates. Some banks will bait you and then lower the rates in the hopes that you are too lazy to leave.

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 2.13% SEC yield. The default sweep option is the Vanguard Federal Money Market Fund, which has an SEC yield of 2.00%. You can manually move the money over to Prime if you meet the $3,000 minimum investment.
  • Vanguard Ultra-Short-Term Bond Fund currently pays 2.46% SEC Yield ($3,000 min) and 2.56% SEC Yield ($50,000 min). The average duration is ~1 year.
  • The PIMCO Enhanced Short Maturity Active Bond ETF (MINT) has a 2.44% SEC yield and the iShares Short Maturity Bond ETF (NEAR) has a 2.56% SEC yield while holding a portfolio of investment-grade bonds with an average duration of ~6 months.

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

  • Customers Bank has a liquid savings account at 2.25% APY guaranteed until 6/30/19, but with a minimum balance of $25k.
  • The Ally Bank 11-month No Penalty CD is at 2.10% APY ($25k minimum) and the CIT Bank 11-Month No-Penalty CD is at 2.05% APY with a lower $1,000 minimum. The lack of early withdrawal penalty means that your interest rate can never go down for 11 months, but you keep full liquidity. You can open multiple CDs in smaller $1,000 increments to get even more flexibility.
  • USALLIANCE Financial Credit Union has a 1-year CD at 2.75% APY ($500 minimum new money) with an early withdrawal penalty of 6 months interest. You must join the credit union first, but anyone can join via American Consumer Council (ACC).

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

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

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

  • The only notable card left in this category is Mango Money at 6% APY on up to $5,000, but there are many hoops to jump through. There is a $3 monthly fee and you need to maintain a minimum $800 net direct deposit each month. This means you can’t direct deposit $800 and also take out $800 via online transfer. Checks and ATM withdrawals have additional fees. This means you have to spend the money via the Visa debit card (and miss out on flat 2% cash back on all purchases).

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

  • Consumers Credit Union recently announced changes starting 10/1/18, including lower balance limits ($10k down from $20k) and more restrictive requirements, but also higher interest rates in some tiers. Free Rewards Checking now offers 3.09% to 5.09% APY on up to a $10k balance depending on your qualifying activity. The highest tier requires their credit card in addition to their debit card (other credit cards offer $500+ in sign-up bonuses). Keep your 12 debit purchases just above the $100 requirement, as for every $500 in monthly purchases you may be losing out on 2% cash back elsewhere (or $10 a month after-tax). Thanks to reader Jonathan for the heads up. Find a local rewards checking account at DepositAccounts.
  • If you’re looking for a non-rewards high-yield checking account, MemoryBank has a checking account with no debit card requirements at 1.60% APY.

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 building a CD ladder of different maturity lengths such that you have access to part of the ladder each year, but your blended interest rate is higher than a savings account.

  • Luther Burbank Savings has an 18-month Step Up CD that pays a blended 2.83% APY ($1,000 min). 6 month early withdrawal penalty.
  • Ally Bank has a 5-year CD at 3.00% APY ($25k min) with a relatively short 150-day early withdrawal penalty. For example, if you closed this CD after 2 years you’d still get a 2.39% effective APY even after accounting for the penalty. 2.61% at 3 years.
  • United States Senate Federal Credit Union has a 5-year Share Certificate at 3.63% APY ($60k min), 3.51% APY ($20k min), or 3.45% APY ($1k min). Note that the early withdrawal penalty is a full year of interest. Anyone can join this credit union via American Consumer Council.
  • You can buy certificates of deposit via the bond desks of Vanguard and Fidelity. These “brokered CDs” offer FDIC insurance, but they don’t come with predictable fixed early withdrawal penalties. As of this writing, Vanguard is showing a 3-year non-callable CD at 3.10% APY and a 5-year non-callable CD at 3.40% APY. Watch out for higher rates from callable CDs listed by Fidelity.

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

  • Willing to lock up your money for 10+ years? You can buy long-term certificates of deposit via the bond desks of Vanguard and Fidelity. These “brokered CDs” offer FDIC insurance, but they don’t come with predictable fixed early withdrawal penalties. As of this writing, Vanguard is showing a 10-year non-callable CD at 3.50% APY. Watch out for higher rates from callable CDs from Fidelity. Matching the overall yield curve, current CD rates do not rise much higher as you extend beyond a 5-year maturity.
  • How about two decades? Series EE Savings Bonds are not indexed to inflation, but they have a guarantee that the value will double in value in 20 years, which equals a guaranteed return of 3.5% a year. However, if you don’t hold for that long, you’ll be stuck with the normal rate which is quite low (currently a sad 0.10% rate). I view this as a huge early withdrawal penalty. You could also view it as long-term bond and thus a hedge against deflation, but only if you can hold on for 20 years.

All rates were checked as of 10/1/18.



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Comments

  1. Jonathan…perhaps like others I’m at loss to quantify the benefit or lack thereof of investing very short term now and taking a lower interest rate on a CD or other fixed income investment verses going longer term (up to 10 years) and locking in a rate that is acceptable but may be lower then a rate that becomes available a year or two from now.
    Though I’m not sure that history is relevant to our current situation are there any studies that definitively
    say for example: 2.15% 2.5% today for 1 year and whatever may come after outperforms 4% for ten years today and using a ladder approach to taking advantage of higher rates over time?

    • I don’t anyone can predict future interest rates with guaranteed accuracy. All we can see is that right now the yield curve is pretty flat past 2 years out. It would mainly depend on how much liquidity you want in the meantime. If you know you won’t need something for 5 years, I’d just wait for a special 5-year rate and lock it in. Alternatively, If you are making an emergency fund, then you might want to ladder CDs so you have something maturing every year.

  2. Alliant Credit Union increased there saving rate this month to 1.90% APY. I was surprised when I received the email as they normally lag behind Ally by 0.05 APY.

  3. Synchrony Bank now has 15 month CD at 2.75% which is pretty good. I would take a decent short term rate like that over a slightly better long term rate (like 5 year 3% from Ally) any day.

  4. Thanks for pointing out Ally’s “The free overdraft transfers from savings” feature. I think that’s going to be enough for me to open accounts at Ally to take advantage of that.

    • Yes, I actually use this overdraft feature regularly. I can write larger checks and it’ll just pull from savings automatically whatever exceeds my checking balance. You just have to be careful about the six outgoing transfers per savings account per month. Some people even open multiple savings accounts depending on what kinds of transfers they do.

  5. Jonathan, you might consider reporting on the new Savings Builder account at CIT Bank. Looks like CIT Bank may be continuing their trend of creating new savings accounts at a higher interest rate while leaving their older savings accounts hanging at the lower rate.

  6. Edward Monrad says:

    Hey Jonathan,

    Thanks for this monthly recap, it’s always a good check for me that I’ve got my cash at least somewhat optimal.
    One idea for an additional sub-section to the Money market mutual funds + Ultra-short bond ETFs section would be tax-exempt short term ETFs/ funds, for those of us keeping cash in a taxable brokerage account.

    Cheers
    Ed

  7. Simples would be short term treasury bills, 4 weeks and up starting at ~2.2 %.

    https://www.treasurydirect.gov/instit/annceresult/annceresult.htm

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