Banking 
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Best Money Market Account (MMA) Rates

(Updated 9/1) In the world of banking products, you are always trading off interest rate for flexibility. Typically the higher the interest rate, the less flexible the account. Take CD rates for example, they are often higher than savings accounts and they are less flexible. You decide how long you’re willing to keep your money locked up and then pick a bank that offers the best rate for that term. If you wish to get your money early, you pay penalty. On the other end are checking accounts. Checking accounts have the worst interest rates but offer the most flexibility. You can get your cash whenever you want it, write as many checks as you’d like, and visit your own ATM without penalty. For that flexibility, you earn very little, if any, interest.

Where does that leave money market accounts?

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 Personal Finance 
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Don’t Forget the Big Picture

Magnifying GlassOne of the things I learned whenever I drew up our financial network map was that I had a lot of bank accounts, mostly high interest savings accounts at online banks. FNBO Direct, Dollar Savings Direct, HSBC Direct, ING Direct, and E*Trade for starters and that was after we closed accounts at Emigrant Direct and Virtual Bank.

There are many reasons why I have so many bank accounts, and I’ll explain that some other time, but the point of this post is that it’s easy to forget the big picture whenever you’re dealing with the nitty gritty of daily affairs.

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 Banking 
10
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Highest Short-Term CD (Certificate of Deposit) Rates

(Updated 11/6) I’ve been keeping a list of the best CD rates for certificates of deposit in the 12-month to 18-month maturity range, figuring that’s typically the sweet spot for CD rates. If the CD maturity is too short, banks won’t give you a good rate because it’s such a short period of time. If the CD maturity is too long, the customer is taking on a lot more inflation risk than the bank is probably paying out for. However, short term certificates of deposit still have their place:

  • You’re setting up a CD ladder and you need CDs to fill up those short period slots.
  • You have funds in an account that currently isn’t earning the highest yield for savings, transferring the funds will take time and cut down on your interest earned… so you might as well throw it into a short term CD to get a better rate.
  • You simply don’t want to rate chase and open up a new account with each new online bank that offers a high rate, so you might as well hit up a short term rate with the bank you’re worth just to get a little extra.


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 Banking 
10
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Best CD (Certificate of Deposit) Rates

If you’re looking for the best CD rates, you’ve come to the right place. Below is a list of the nationally available best CD rates, updated every single day. I looked at the best rates available for CDs of less than 18 months and listed the ones with the highest rate. Typically the longer the term, the higher the rate, but for many online banks the best rates were for periods of shorter than 18 months. For simplicity’s sake, I put the cutoff at 18 months (some banks offer higher rates for longer terms). If you want shorter term CD rates, I have also compiled a list of highest short-term CD rates (less than 12 month maturities).

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 Banking 
2
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How To Pick the Best Online Savings Accounts

With the Fed dropping the federal funds rate like it’s going out of style, the interest rates of many online banks have begun dropping as well. If you’ve been watching, you’ve probably seen many 5%+ fall to the mid 4%’s and many of the banks that once offered in the 4%’s now offering in the 3%’s. So, with all these falling rates, does one’s criteria for selecting the “best” high yield savings account change? Nope.

You might be tempted to swap because of rates alone but the difference of half a percent of interest reduced even further by taxes and fund transfer time. Let’s say you have $10,000 of savings, half a percent on that for an entire year is $50. Cut that down by 25% if you’re in the 25% tax bracket and now you’re talking $37.50 for the entire year. If you consider that the transfer time between accounts is about a week, that’s another 2% off. You’re not talking about a lot of money for the hassle.

So, what criteria do I use for picking the best online savings accounts?

Must Be FDIC Insured – I had to throw this one in there even though it sounds obvious, but always confirm the bank you’re looking at is FDIC insured through the FDIC’s Bank Find tool. I’ve never written about (or used) a US bank that isn’t FDIC insured (or credit union that was NCUA insured), but I suppose there may be some out there. If it’s not FDIC insured, skip it no matter what.

Now, onto the other criteria…

Interest Rate

While it may not be worth it to move funds from one account to another, it’s certainly worth it to keep up with the best rates when you’re moving funds out of your 0% APY checking account. The number one criteria for evaluating the best online savings account for you has to be the interest rate. It’s not the only factor, simply the first. It’s not the only factor for a variety of reasons but one big reason is that the rate could change the very next day. High yield savings accounts aren’t like certificates of deposit, there are no guarantees that the rate will remain the same.

Convenience

Convenience is the next thing I look for in an online bank. Banks that offer both a savings and a checking account, most of them do, win out because I can get nearly instant access to my funds. If a bank only has an online savings account, then to access the funds I’m forced to first transfer them out (takes about five business days for most), and then I can access them. If a bank offers both a savings and checking, I can instantly transfer from savings to checking and then access the funds via the checking account.

If you have a savings and checking account combo, you can start evaluating the bank with the criteria you reserve for regular banks. ATM access, branch access, branch services, etc.

Brand Name

Let’s be honest, brand name banks confer a sense of trust and permanency. It’s like the white coats doctors wear. Despite the recent bank failures and acquisitions, I still think that brand name confers a sense of trust if you recognize it. While your deposits are always protected up to $100,000 by the FDIC ($250,000 through December 2009), if all other things are equal, you want to go with the brand name.

The big names are the same as the big brick and mortar banks (such as Citi, E*Trade) but you have to add in a few of the big online players (such as FNBO Direct and ING Direct, both of which are big banks but not banks that were nationally recognized before their online versions appeared). I irrationally feel more comfortable with a brand name online bank like FNBO Direct and ING Direct than I do with higher interest offerings from WT Direct and UFB Direct, though all are FDIC insured.

Online Interface

While most banks won’t let you “test drive” their online interface, some will offer tours. If there is no tour, read reviews of the banks and pay close attention to what the reviewer says about the interface. Is it quick and responsive? Is it easy to open additional accounts or sub-accounts? Is it easy to transfer money? Is it easy to set up a recurring deposit and cancel a recurring deposit? Is it easy to link external accounts? Does the site load quickly or has it been historically slow? This interface will be one of your own touch points with the bank, you don’t want to be stuck with an antiquated system that’s difficult to navigate.

I have an example of online interfacing trumping interest rate. I have accounts at both ING Direct (2.75% APY) and FNBO Direct (3.25% APY). My emergency fund is with ING Direct because they offered a convenient one-page CD laddering form that helped me setup a CD ladder for my emergency fund. The funds were in there to begin with because ING Direct was the first to offer a high yield savings account, they remain there because of the online interface.

Offline Interface

What’s better about a Citi or an HSBC high yield online savings account is that if things go sour online, you can always try to find a branch in your area. Some online banks have extremely robust customer service systems because the phone is your only interface outside of the web, but some do not. Some online banks have better phone systems than brick and mortar banks because they know that the phone is the only other point of contact. Read reviews though if you’re concerned (I’ve never called an online bank, other than to unlock my account) because they are trying to keep their services lean and overhead low so that they can offer the higher interest rate.

What criteria do you use to help pick the best online savings account?


 Banking 
6
comments

WaMu CD Rate Update: 5.00% APY, 12-Month CD

WaMu ATMUpdate: The 5.0% APY Online CD is no longer available and the rates quoted in this article are out of date – read this list of best CD rates for current rates.

A month or so ago, Washington Mutual (WaMu) offered a 5.00% APY 12-month CD, one of the best interest rates on a 12-month CD available (I wrote a post listing the best CD rates available, updated weekly). ING Direct’s 12-month CD is 4.00% APY and HSBC Direct’s 12-month CD is 3.70% APY, WaMu is offering a rate that’s a full point higher for the same term. (If you check Bankrate’s list of CDs, the national overnight average is 3.69% APY, WaMu’s CD isn’t even listed)
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 Banking 
1
comments

HSBC Rate Drops to 3.25% APY, WaMu & FNBO Rate Leaders

For anyone wondering what will happen to HSBC Direct’s 3.50% APY, wonder no longer. As of today, 9/16, the rate will fall from 3.50% APY to 3.25% APY. It appears that they’re shifting emphasis over to their CDs from their online savings account as the 6-month CD rate is 3.75% APY, 0.25% higher than the original savings account rate. Oddly enough, their 12 month is giving 3.70% APY.

Of the best savings accounts, this puts Washington Mutual with their 4.00% APY online savings account rate farther ahead though the liquidity and capitalization concerns pushed their stock down BIG on Monday. If you are worried that they’ll go under, FNBO Direct (division of First National Bank of Omaha, which has been in business since 1857) is offering a 3.50% APY and there hasn’t been a peep about them having solvency problems.

This is only a concern for people wondering where they should put their next dollar. I wouldn’t move my funds from HSBC Direct to FNBO Direct or WaMu because the 0.25% to 0.50% APY difference isn’t worth the interest you would lose as the funds shifted from one account to another.


 Banking 
1
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How To Prepare for Online Bank Access Failures

One of the biggest concerns people have about online banks is that, for many of them, you can only access them through the web. With these simple techniques, you can mitigate the severity of that risk and take advantage of their high yields without putting yourself in a bad situation.

Recent Online Bank Access Problems

First, is this even a valid concern? I think so.

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