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High Yield Alternatives To Savings Accounts and the Best CD Rates

Published 5/29/09 (Modified 9/6/11)
By MoneyBlueBook

High Yield Alternatives To Savings Accounts and the Best CD Rates

If you have a high yield savings account or have funds invested in a certificate of deposit, no doubt you will have noticed that interest rates on formerly high yielding bank deposits have been dropping for months now. Thanks to this ongoing economic recession, interest rates have been steadily declining, much to the frustration and chagrin of aggressive savers like myself. While certain faithful online banks such as Ally Bank (formerly GMAC Bank) and Everbank continue to offer competitive rates that are as high as the market place will permit, the vast majority of bank rates have plummeted across the board. With many so-called "high yield savings rates" now only offering rates in the 1-2% APY range, it's getting more and more difficult for any serious cash investor or fixed interest rate chaser to make money on existing balances while remaining in these types of declining accounts.

While high yield savings accounts and CD deposits (with their formidable FDIC insurance guarantees of up to $250,000 and steady rates of return) will continue to serve important and irreplaceable roles as reliable short term cash savings options for consumers, those seeking a higher rate of return may want to start looking elsewhere. Despite this type of depressed market, a variety of rather compelling CD alternatives have emerged as serious high interest contenders, all worth a review.

High Yield CD Rate Alternatives May Not Be Fully FDIC Insured, But Many Still Offer Safety, Security, Liquidity, and Low Risk Opportunities

Before you decide to move away from traditional bank savings and CD accounts, it's important to think about how much additional risk you are willing to assume in your new short term savings vehicle. If you want maximum protection from loss and want absolute peace of mind, then it's best to stick with your existing flexible savings accounts and CDs, albeit at current unimpressive rates. But if you are willing to harbor slightly more risk or give up some liquidity (degree of immediate access to your money), investing in financial products such as peer to peer loans (as a lender) or money market funds may enable you to get a much higher rate of return, while still enjoying a historically proven track record of safety. But keep in mind that the potential returns on such savings alternatives like mutual funds, bonds, and p2p loans are higher because the account holder is agreeing to assume more risk than one would with a bank savings account or CD. Such alternatives do not get the same iron clad FDIC insurance protection of up to $250,000 that����all reputable banks in the United States enjoy. FDIC insurance via the federal government ensures your bank based checking, savings, and CD accounts won't be lost even in the event of a catastrophic bank failure or bankruptcy. While some of the high interest rate alternatives like credit unions and brokerage accounts still afford account holders a measure of protection against unexpected loss with their equivalent versions of the FDIC, not all such alternative investments do.

Please keep the risk, liquidity, and interest rate tensions in mind as you review the potential possibilities below in your pursuit of higher interest rate deals and offers. Stay away from much riskier and more potentially volatile investments like stocks, mutual funds, index funds, foreign currency CD deposit accounts, and gold investments. While these are great investment assets for portfolio diversification purposes, when it comes to savings account alternatives and comparables, you ought to stick with steady deposit options where the risk of loss can be greatly minimized and controlled.

List Of the Best CD Rate and High Interest Savings Account Alternatives:

1) Peer To Peer Lending High Yield Rates - If you're searching for a way to earn a fairly steady average rate of return in excess of 9.05% APY, you may want to consider investing money with popular peer to peer online lending sites like Lending Club (see review). Lending Club.com's online application is free and it doesn't cost anything to sign up and review the online platform features for yourself. Social network lending, also known as P2P lending, offers a way for ordinary and willing consumers to lend money to cash strapped borrowers and local entrepreneurs at competitive interest rates. While the lending website administers the actual loaning process and handles the fees and charges with the borrower, it's the consumer lenders like you and I who get to pocket the potentially high yield interest rate earnings. While per my review, Lending Club.com is one of the few P2P lending sites today that's actually undergone and completed the SEC filing and quiet period process, other up and coming social lending alternatives include Prosper.com, PertuityDirect.com, GreenNote.com, VirginMoney.com, and Loanio.com.

While unlike savings accounts and CD rates, P2P lending loans provided by sites like Lending club are not FDIC insured or absolutely protected from loss, average interest rate yields have averaged over 9.00% APY over the past 18 months. Because as a prospective social loan investor you get to decide the quality of the personal loans you wish to extend, it's possible to diversify your risk among numerous small loan accounts and vastly minimize your risk of loss. Much of this was learned from my own personal experience. As a Lending Club loan investor and participant for more than a year now, I have more than $1,000 invested into several high quality loans (loans acquired by borrowers with high FICO credit scores and trouble-free credit reports). My annual interest rate across all of my outstanding note investment have consistently earned me a steady 8.00% APY, with no defaults as of yet.

While I wouldn't recommend plunging one's entire life savings, emergency funds, or new home deposit, into Lending Club or peer loan investments, from a high yield savings account investor stand point, the potential interest rates they offer are rather compelling. The whole practice of social micro lending is still not fully in the eyes of the mainstream media yet, but this CD alternative is likely to grow in popularity in the coming years.

2) Online Savings Account Rates (Become An Aggressive Interest Rate Chaser) - Online savings accounts, high yield reward checking accounts, and certificate of deposit accounts offer something that no non-bank alternative can match - and that's solid FDIC insurance protection from loss up to the $250,000 per account limit. If you're determined to stick with the top online savings accounts due to the FDIC protections, high liquidity, and ease of transferability that they afford, you may wish to consider being more aggressive in your approach towards bank rate chasing. Aggressive interest rate chasers usually open more than a few (10+) high yield direct accounts with the top online banks, and monitor interest rate changes and fluctuations closely (almost obsessively) for the best deals. When there is a noticeable interest rate shift, aggressive bank rate chasers will quickly take advantage of free ACH features to execute an electronic bank transfer in pursuit of the higher rate account. Of course, when all rate offerings across the board are in the doldrums like they are now, this rate chasing strategy doesn't always make sense. The hope for many is to simply capture those special limited time rate promotions by online banks looking for a surge in customer deposits and willing to entice with extraordinary rate offers.

3) CD Rates (Consider Longer Term CD Rate Offers) - Chasing higher fixed CD rates require banking consumers to sacrifice liquidity in exchange for higher potential interest yields. The basic premise behind certificate of deposit rates is that they offer progressively higher rates the longer you are willing to forgo access to your deposited funds. The longer the CD account term, the more interest rate money the bank is willing to provide you in exchange. Take the high yield Ally Bank CD rates for example. Their best saving account rates are currently around 2.25% APY, while their best 1 year classic CD's are offering 2.80% APY. Extend the CD term to 2 years, and the CD rate jumps to 2.90%. Extend the CD deposit term even higher to 5 years, and the interest rate surges to 3.50% APY. If you truly want to maximize your CD rate yield, you will have to consider longer duration CD terms such as 3 or 5 year CD's over short term 12 month ones.

Those rate chasers seeking to capture the high interest returns of longer term multi-year CD deposits can inject some liquidity into their fund accessibility by adopting the ever popular and highly touted staggered CD ladder strategy. Another way to maintain some liquidity but still earn high CD rates with longer term accounts is to look into a no penalty certificate of deposit such as the ones that Ally Bank and other online banking institutions provide. No Penalty CD's offer high CD rates with the freedom of no-fee early withdrawal. Also, look out for frequent online promotions and special CD deals by up and coming online or local banks looking to snag new accounts and time deposit customers. Those special CD rate deals they tout frequently are 2 to 3 interest rate percentages above and beyond current market rates.

4) Credit Unions and Local Community Banks - While online banks ("Direct" banks) generally offer much better interest rates than traditional brick and mortar banks due to their substantially lower overhead costs, you can frequently find exceptional and even exclusive banking deals by going local. While local credit unions and neighborhood banks often have limited bank branch locations and access, they compensate for their smaller presence by touting checking, CD, and savings account rates that are as good or even better than those offered by the best online banks. But keep in mind, oftentimes, local credit unions and banks like SECU, Navy Federal, PenFed (Pentagon Federal Credit Union) cater to specific segments of the community such as teacher's unions, state or federal government employees, public or private university employees, or members of the military - and thus often have stricter bank membership and account qualification requirements. But despite the extra hoop jumping and limited membership demands, the bank rate deals they dangle are worth it if you can find them and qualify. Best of all, credit union accounts are protected from loss by the National Credit Union Administration (NCUA), an FDIC insurance-like entity.

5) High Yield Checking Account Rates (Reward Checking) - While high yield reward checking account rates have steadily declined the way savings and CD rates have, they remain much higher than even the best long term CD rates, frequently as high as double the top rates. However, most of these high interest checking accounts have several major account limitations and drawbacks. They frequently have stringent debit card usage requirements (at least 10 debit card transactions per month), and they usually cap checking account balances at a maximum of around $25,000 (although maximums as high as $250,000 can still be found). Balances are permitted in excess of the maximum limit, but only the funds within those limits will earn the highest special checking account rates. While I highly recommend taking advantage of reward checking account rates, I do recognize that they can be cumbersome alternatives for some consumers - primarily due to their strict debit card usage requirements. If you are a big credit card user like myself, being compelled to use a debit card to make a sizable number of monthly purchases can be a big burden.

6) High Yield Money Market Account Rates - If you wish to remain a high yield savings account rate chaser, you might as well take a look at high yield money market accounts as well. Essentially, money market accounts, or MMA's as they are frequently called, are hybrid mixtures of checking accounts and savings accounts. While offering the high competitive rates of savings accounts, they also offer the check writing benefits of traditional checking accounts. MMA rates will rarely blow you away or wow you with their interest rate yields, but many local credit unions and online banks like EverBank have been pushing special high interest promotions for their money market offerings of late.

7) U.S. Treasury Bills, Notes, and Savings Bonds - Backed by the full faith and credit of the United States government, federal government-issued Treasury Bills and Savings Bonds enjoy rock solid protection against loss and forfeiture. Treasury Notes and Bonds are debt obligations issued by the U.S. federal government. The revenue generated from the bonds are used to raise capital income to pay for the federal government's routine operations and expenses. Because of the lack of default risk, Treasuries typically offer lower interest rates than most other forms of securities, however the longer term notes and bonds offer pretty impressive rates that may sometimes match or even exceed ordinary bank rates. With their FDIC-like protections, Treasuries are worth a look. Check out TreasuryDirect.com for your Treasury security needs - it's the only official financial website that lets you buy and redeem securities directly from the U.S. Department of the Treasury in paperless electronic form. But before you buy, remember to consider the liquidity issues and wisdom of locking up your money into long term Treasuries.

8) Consider Paying Off Credit Card Debt - If you are sitting on top of some idle cash or mulling what to do with the extra funds in your savings account that's not earning the high yield interest rate you'd like, how about using the extra money to pay off some high interest debt, especially credit card debt if you have any. Besides, unless you've got a ton of cash in those savings accounts, chances are, an extra few interest rate points earned by shifting them into alternative investment vehicles isn't really going to net you all that much in extra savings anyway. You might as well put it towards paying off debt like your high APR credit card balances, home mortgage obligations, or even your student loans. Don't abandon the need to maintain at least 9 months - 12 months worth of emergency funds in your stable savings accounts and CDs, but using available funds to pay off presumably higher interest debt is always a good decision.

Please let me know of any more good deposit alternatives other than savings accounts and CD's that offer higher rates but still offer a reasonably comparable level of safety.

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