Your Take 

Your Take: How Is Your Emergency Fund?

20% of Americans “suffered a significant economic loss” last year, according to a report two weeks ago, the highest level in the last 25 years. The Economic Security Index has been tracking data on income loss, medical expenses, and debt since 1985 and it has shown economic insecurity has risen across all groups. What’s economic insecurity? When they’ve lost 25% or more of their available gross income within a year and not enough of an emergency fund or reserves to make up the difference.

Here’s the shocker (at least to me) – “48% of Americans said last year they only had enough resources to carry them for two months before experiencing any economic hardship.”

That’s scary. I’m curious to know how many months you have saved up in your emergency fund as well as how that level has changed in the last two years. We used to have an emergency fund of only around six months until two years ago, when I left my job to pursue blogging full-time. Back then, we decided to up the level to around twelve months of expenses in order to handle the fluctuations in income. It’s maintained that level ever since, in a CD ladders, and I haven’t increased, or decreased it, during the recession. I consider myself lucky, a lot of folks have had to dip into that fund.

How about you?


How to Move Your CD Ladder

LaddersAfter learning about Ally Bank’s most recent 0.25% CD renewal bonus, I decided I wanted to move my CD ladder from ING Direct to Ally Bank. Ally Bank offers some of the best CD rates and with ING Direct lagging behind, I’m almost compelled to move the funds even without the renewal bonus.

As I thought about the move some more, I had a few more options than I realized. It seems simple enough to move a CD ladder from bank to another but there are a lot of ways you can do it.

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BVC #4: Certificate of Deposit (CD) Ladders [VIDEO]

The idea behind certificate of deposit ladders is pretty simple, explaining it in only words is fairly difficult. If you’ve ever tried to understand how a certificate of deposit ladders worked by reading it off a piece of paper, it probably took you a long time or you quit because it was too complicated. With the power of video, we’re able to bring the explanation to life and, if you’ve ever had trouble understanding, clear those things up for you.

If you’re unsure what a certificate of deposit is, take a few moments to read my Basics of Banking post. Under account types, I explain what a certificate of deposit is.

I mentioned how ING Direct made is easier for you to create a CD ladder, there’s more about that on my post explaining how to ladder CDs at ING Direct. As is typical of most banks, they only offer 6-, 9-, 12-month CDs (for CD maturities of less than or equal to 12 months, they offer longer maturity terms though) but you can open multiple CDs through the one form, simplifying things. They don’t have the best CD rates though.

 Personal Finance 

Fully Fund Your Emergency Fund Now

EmergencyThe New York Times recently released a great series about consumer debt called The Debt Trap. One common thread in several of the videos is the devastating effect “emergencies” can have on your personal finances. A medical emergency, a job loss or cutback in hours, all of these emergencies were weathered, in the short term, with credit cards. In the long term, the credit cards charged high interest rates, piled on fees, and made it extremely difficult to recover. It’s like telling someone to pause for five minutes in the middle of a foot race so that you can strap on a 100 pound rucksack. You might catch up, but probably not.

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 Personal Finance 

Laddering CDs at ING Direct

Looks like ING Direct, which I lauded in my post about laddering your emergency fund, has now made it even easier to ladder you CDs by letting you open multiple CDs at multiple maturities all on one page.

If you have an account (if you don’t, you can open one through a referral link on ING Direct $25 new account bonus referral page and get $25 for a $250 deposit), the easiest thing for you to do is to go to their Orange CD laddering page. If you aren’t logged in, that link will take you to a login screen. After you log in, you’ll be presented with the normal account screen. Simple come back and click on the link again and it should take you to a screen that looks like this:

ING Direct Laddering CDs Screenshot

As you can see, the 6-, 9- and 12- month CDs are all at the 3.30% rate (not exactly the best, but you can’t beat the convenience and simplicity that ING Direct brings to the table) and you can open all three simply by entering values on one page.

Here are some recommendations or ideas I wanted to share:

  • Name the CDs with the rate you’re getting (conver 3.30% to 330, because the naming system doesn’t allow special characters),
  • Don’t label the period of the CD, such as 12 (or 6 or 9) month CD because that will change month and eventually every CD will be a 12 month CD,
  • and, I wouldn’t write in the maturity date because that will be listed in your account snapshot (the “Account Type” will be Orange CD [maturity date]).

One final word of advice about ING Direct CDs, they’re default set to renew upon maturity. You’ll want to change that for your 6- and 9- month CDs because you will change them out for 12 month CDs once they mature. You can do this by clicking on the CD, clicking on the Account Maintenance link or icon, and change the Account Maturity to either closer or “Renew Principal Only to:” a 12 month CD (with interest rolling into the main account).

If anyone from ING is reading, any chance you guys could sort the Orange CDs in order of ascending maturity? That’d be nice!

Enjoy laddering!

 Personal Finance 

Laddering Your Emergency Fund

There are plenty of articles out there discussing the importance of emergency funds and how to set one up, so this is not going to be one of those. Here, I’ll discuss a strategy to maximize your emergency fund’s interest earnings so that you can lessen the pain of not having the funds in an investment account. The strategy is quite simple and works off the assumption that you are using the emergency fund to cover month to month expenses and not an enormous cost that is in the multiples of a month, though it can handle that too. (it might be easier if you watched this video of laddering CDs)

The Strategy

Ladder certificates of deposit so that you can maximize your interest earnings, minimize risk, and still have access to your funds when you need them. To ladder CDs, you purchase CDs for the amount of each month of savings but with different maturity periods so that one CD comes due each month. Let me us a real life example with ING Direct CDs (though I’d shop around for rates, I picked ING because they make opening a CD a cinch) to illustrate this. Also, for the sake of simplicity, let’s say you’ve saved up 13 months of savings of $13,000, which means 12 months will constantly be cycled into laddered CDs with one month sitting in a high yield online savings account.

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 General, Personal Finance 

Laddered CD/MMC Safe Investment Plan

Many people know that Certificates of Deposit (CDs) and Money Market Certificates (MMC) are one of the safest investment vehicles out there, but who wants to tie up their money all those years for the more attractive rates? The answer is no one. That’s why one of the “plans” that many financial advisers advocate is a laddered CD/MMC investment strategy where you purchase multiple certificates are different maturing dates so that you can lock in the best rates for your money. The net effect is after a few years, you own the best possible rates on your CDs that you could get.

You have $5,000 to invest. In the above plan, simply invest in the following:

  • $1,000 in a 1 Year MMC at 3.00% APY
  • $1,000 in a 2 Year MMC at 3.50% APY
  • $1,000 in a 4 Year MMC at 4.25% APY
  • $1,000 in a 5 Year MMC at 5.00% APY
  • $1,000 in a 7 Year MMC at 5.15% APY

(These values are from The Pentagon Federal Credit Union, or PenFed, which are probably the best rates out there, as of 2/17/05)

What happens is in a year, your 1 Year MMC matures, so you want to invest in another 7 Year MMC with that original investment to get the best rates. After another year, your 2 Year MMC matures and you invest in yet another 7 Year MMC. This continues and you keep locking in the best prevailing rate at the time for the safest investment. And these CDs are federally insured up to $100,000 by the National Credit Union Administration (NCUA), which is the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) for credit unions.

Want to try it? PenFed’s minimum purchase requirement is a mere $1,000 per MMC and the eligibility requirements are actually pretty lax. Basically if you or a family member is a member of the armed services (Active, Guard/Reserve, or Retired), then you’re definitely eligible. They list other eligibility methods. If none of those fit, join the National Military Family Association which is a great organization that I am a member of and only costs $20 a year. If you happen to use Geico as an insurer, the NMFA is a member organization so if you mentioned to Geico that you are a member of NMFA, they will knock 7-8% (I forget which) off your bill.

The tradeoff you’ll have to consider is that if you put it in a completely liquid ING Direct account, you’ll get 2.35%. If you go with Emigrant Direct, you’ll be getting 3.0%, and that’s totally liquid which the MMC’s are not. Read this post on where to park short term funds for a discussion of ING Direct and Emigrant Direct.

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