Over the past month, short-term interest rates have inching upwards while the overall yield curve flattened slightly. The value in chasing interest rates continues to rebound ever so slowly, especially if you have idle cash in a megabank paying 0.01% APY or less. Here is my monthly roundup of the best safe rates available, roughly sorted from shortest to longest maturities. Rates checked as of 6/5/17.
High-yield savings accounts
While the huge brick-and-mortar banks rarely offer good yields, the online banks with a history of competitive rates offer online savings accounts clustered around 1% APY. An important feature to note with savings account is that their interest rates can change at any time.
- As I’ve been “bait-and-switched” a few times and there are no lucrative rates that make it worth taking another risk, I am currently sticking with Ally Bank Online Savings for their reliably competitive rates and overall good user experience. Their online savings is currently at 1.05% 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 inching upwards. It may be worth the effort to move your money into a higher-yielding money market fund or ultrashort-term bond ETF.
- The Vanguard Prime Money Market Fund has increased their SEC yield now to 0.97%. The default sweep option is the Vanguard Federal Money Market Fund, which only has an SEC yield of 0.75%. You can manually move the money over to Prime if you meet the $3,000 minimum investment.
- The following bond ETFs are not FDIC-insured, but if you want to keep “standby money” in your brokerage account and have cheap/free trades, it may be worth a look. Both the PIMCO Enhanced Short Maturity Active Bond ETF (MINT) and the iShares Short Maturity Bond ETF (NEAR) have a 1.43% SEC yield while holding a portfolio of investment-grade bonds with an average duration of ~6 months. More info here.
Short-term guaranteed rates (under 1 year)
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, inheritance). Honestly, I wouldn’t get fancy or take unnecessary risk. Just keep it safe in a short-term CD or online savings account that in insured under the FDIC limits until you have a plan.
- Palladian Private Bank has a 6-month promotional rate of 1.30% APY guaranteed (maximum initial deposit of $100k) for new accounts. After the first 6 months, the rate reverts back to their normal rate (currently 0.90% APY). Since the initial promo rate is fixed, this makes it the highest guaranteed 6-month CD rate available.
- Salem Five Direct is advertising 1.25% APY on balances up to $500,000. The good news is that this rate is guaranteed until 7/1/18 – more than a year away – and since it is a savings account you can still move your money in and out without penalty. The bad news is that this rate is for new customers only.
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 and October 2017 will earn a 1.96% rate for the first six months, and then a variable rate based on ongoing inflation after that. While that next 6-month rate is currently unknown, at the very minimum the total yield after 12 months will around 1% with additional upside potential. More info here.
- In mid-October, 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 high interest rates. The risks are that balances are capped, and there are many fees that you must be careful to avoid (lest they eat up your interest). The other catch is that these good features may be killed off without much notice. My NetSpend card now only has an eligible balance up to $1,000.
- 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 over 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. 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 3.09% APY on a $10k balance is more realistic unless you satisfy a long list of requirements. Note that the 4.59% APY requires you to apply and get approved for an additional credit card through them (other credit cards offer $500+ in sign-up bonuses) and also spend $1,000 on it every month. 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 on after-tax benefit). Find a local rewards checking account at DepositAccounts.
Certificates of deposit
If you have a large cushion, it’s quite likely to just sit there for years. One option is to keep your money in longer-term investments where you can still take it out in a true emergency and pay a reasonable early withdrawal penalty. Alternatively, you could create 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.
- Connexus Credit Union is offering a 1-year Share Certificate at 1.50% APY (90-day early withdrawal penalty) and a 3-year Share Certificate (180-day early withdrawal penalty) at 2.00% APY. Both have a $5,000 minimum deposit. Anyone can join this credit union via partner organization Connexus Association for a one-time $5 fee.
- Hanscom Federal Credit Union is offering a 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 offer a 3% APY CU Thrive “starter” savings account. HFCU membership is open to active/retired military or anyone who makes a one-time $35 donation to the Nashua River Watershed Association.
- Ally Bank Savings also has a 5-year CD at 2.25% APY 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 can get a 1.64% effective APY even after accounting for the penalty.
I’d use these with caution, but I still track them to see the rest of the current yield curve.
- Willing to lock up your money for 10+ years? Did you know that you can buy certificates of deposit via Vanguard’s bond desk? These “brokered CDs” still offer the same FDIC-insurance. As of this writing, you can get a 10-year non-callable CD that pays 2.75% APY. Fidelity has a new Model CD Ladder tool that will construct a ladder for you, but you need an account to see it in full action. (Unfortunately, current long-term CD rates do not rise much higher even as you extend beyond a 5-year maturity.) Prices will vary daily.
- 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). You could view 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. Too long for me.
All rates were checked as of 6/5/17.
© MyMoneyBlog.com, 2017.