Money-Market Funds Offering Juicier Yields

Beware, however: They are not protected from losses by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.

(Image credit: 2007 Uyen Le)

For years, money market mutual funds have paid practically nothing. But each time the Federal Reserve lifts short-term interest rates, yields on money market funds tend to rise in tandem. “That’s one of their most attractive qualities,” says Peter Crane, president of Crane Data, a money fund research company. Many money funds yield more than 1%, and Crane expects yields on some funds to surpass 2% this summer. Rates on savings accounts from banks have also been increasing but have not kept pace with Fed rate hikes.

Money market funds invest in high-quality, short-term securities, such as Treasury bills, commercial paper and certificates of deposit. Although they carry little risk, they are not protected from losses by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. Cash that must be in a safe place, such as an emergency fund, is best stashed in an FDIC-insured bank account. Money funds provide a convenient holding place for cash in, say, a linked brokerage account.

You are more likely to get a higher payout if you invest in a money fund with low expenses. Vanguard Prime Money Market Investor (VMMXX (opens in new tab)) yielding 1.6%, has an expense ratio of 0.16%. Taxable money funds generally offer higher yields than tax-free municipal money funds. But if you’re in one of the top federal income tax brackets and live in a state with high income taxes, you may come out ahead with a tax-free fund. Look at the taxable-equivalent yield - the yield you’d need to earn on a comparable taxable fund after paying taxes to match the yield of the tax-free fund. For example, Vanguard Municipal Money Market (VMSXX (opens in new tab)) yields 1.10%, which is a taxable-equivalent yield of 1.75% for an investor in the 37% federal tax bracket.

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Lisa Gerstner
Contributing Editor, Kiplinger's Personal Finance

Lisa has spent more than15 years with Kiplinger’s Personal Finance and heads up the magazine’s annual rankings of the best banks, best rewards credit cards, and financial-services firms with the best customer service. She reports on a variety of other topics, too, from retirement to health care to money concerns for millennials. She has shared her expertise as a guest on the Today Show, CNN, Fox, NPR, Cheddar and many other media outlets around the nation. Lisa graduated from Ball State University and received the school’s “Graduate of the Last Decade” award in 2014. A military spouse, she has moved around the U.S. and currently lives in the Philadelphia area with her husband and two sons.