The yields you earn at safe places to stash your savings are dismal, and they probably won’t improve for at least a couple of years as the Federal Reserve holds down short-term rates to boost the economy. The options below, all of which are federally insured, are among the top-yielding accounts in the U.S. You can also search for accounts nationwide and in your region at sites such as Bankrate.com, DepositAccounts.com and NerdWallet.com.
Easy access. Fee-free money market deposit accounts and savings accounts are typically good places for your emergency fund or for cash that you may need in a hurry. The Sallie Mae Money Market account pays 1.05% with no minimum-balance requirement and no monthly fee. Earn 1% with a Barclays Online Savings account with no minimum balance or monthly fee. The no-fee AbleBanking Money Market account ($1,000 to open an account) offers a 0.96% yield, plus the bank will donate an extra 0.25% of your balance to a charity of your choice each year (the bank also donates $25 for each new customer).
Interest checking. The Lake Michigan Credit Union Max Checking account pays 3% on balances of up to $15,000 (join with a $5 donation to the West Michigan chapter of the ALS Association and a $5 minimum deposit in a savings account). You must set up a direct deposit, make ten debit card purchases monthly, and sign up for online statements and notices.
The ABCO Federal Credit Union’s Premiere Checking account has similar requirements and pays 2.52% on up to $25,000. To become a member, join the American Consumer Council (free) and pay a $10 application fee to open a savings account with a $10 minimum.
Longer-term savings. Certificates of deposit pay higher rates than money market and savings accounts, but it’s best not to lock up all your cash in a long-term CD in case interest rates rise down the road (see Global Economy Back From the Brink). Building a CD ladder -- that is, spreading your money over CDs of varying maturities -- is one way to make sure you can move some of your savings to higher-yielding accounts. Consider high-yielding CDs with terms of three years or less. Melrose Credit Union (join with a one-time $1 membership fee and a $25 minimum deposit in a savings account) recently paid 1.46% on a three-year CD with a $5,000 minimum deposit.
Another option: high-yield CDs with minimal early-withdrawal penalties. You’ll lose only the previous 60 days’ worth of interest if you withdraw early from an Ally Bank High Yield Certificate of Deposit. The five-year CD recently yielded 1.64%. (For more on CDs, see Better CD Rates for Repeat Customers.)
I-bonds, which are savings bonds tied to the consumer price index, are worth considering. They currently yield 1.76% -- combining a guaranteed rate (currently 0%), which is fixed for the life of the bond, and an inflation-based rate that adjusts each May and November. You may withdraw the money after one year, but you’ll lose the previous three months’ interest if you do it before the bond’s five-year maturity. An individual may buy from $25 to $10,000 in I-bonds per calendar year at www.treasurydirect.gov.
This article first appeared in Kiplinger's Personal Finance magazine. For more help with your personal finances and investments, please subscribe to the magazine. It might be the best investment you ever make.