Last year’s hopes of higher interest rates for savers were dashed as the Federal Reserve reversed course and lowered its benchmark rate three times. With inflation seeming tame and the coronavirus outbreak hurting global economic prospects, it’s doubtful that interest rates will increase much in 2020. That means savers will have to draw on some shrewd strategies and search for the best sources of higher yields on their savings. Here’s some help from banking expert Ken Tumin…

Money-Market and Savings Accounts

Large brick-and-mortar banks such as Chase and Bank of America typically pay 0.03% or less on savings accounts and money-market accounts. Online-only banks pay substantially more, but you are expected to do all or most of your banking through electronic ­transfers. 

Strategy: Use small, Internet-only, FDIC-insured banks. These banks generally offer the most competitive rates as they seek to build up their assets. And just like at larger banks, your money is insured up to $250,000 per depositor for each type of account, such as a retirement account or basic savings ­account. There may be requirements as to how much you must maintain in your account—sometimes a significant minimum amount—or what you need to do to receive the highest rate available. Also, these accounts typically do not offer ATM cards, check writing or online bill paying. Deposits and withdrawals typically must be transferred ­electronically into and out of your account. Here are Internet-only accounts with some of the highest rates*…

BrioDirect Bank High-Yield Savings: There is a 2.05% annual percentage yield (APY) on all balances. A $25 minimum deposit is required to open an account, and there are no monthly maintenance fees. ­

Popular Direct Ultimate Savings Account: This online-only account from Popular Bank pays 1.9% on all balances, with a $5,000 minimum to open an account and a $4 monthly fee if the balance falls below $500.

Fitness Bank Savings: There is a 2.2% APY on all balances. You must deposit at least $100 to open the account and maintain a $100 average monthly balance to avoid a $10 monthly maintenance fee. The bank has an unusual physical fitness requirement—you must install its app on your smartphone and link it with a popular step-tracking device such as Fitbit, Garmin or an Apple Health or Google Fit account. To earn the APY above, you must average 12,500 steps daily each month (or 10,000 steps for seniors over age 65). The fewer steps you average, the lower your monthly rate. Under 5,000 steps daily earns you a 0.5 % APY or 1.25% if you’re over 65.

If you prefer a traditional bank with many locations…

Capital One 360 Performance Savings: The APY is 1.7% on all balances, with no minimum-deposit requirements or maintenance fees. You can make deposits and withdrawals through electronic transfers or at Capital One physical branches and mini branches called cafés. There are more than 750 branches and 30 cafés in Connecticut, Delaware, Louisiana, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Texas, Virginia and Washington, DC.

Rewards Checking

As interest rates on deposit accounts have fallen, high-yield rewards checking accounts are more attractive, with yields in the 3% range. To qualify for high yields and reimbursement on out-of-network ATM fees, you have to meet strict monthly minimum requirements that typically include enrollment in online banking…paying at least one bill online…signing up for paperless statements…having at least one recurring ­direct deposit…and/or making at least 10 to 15 debit card transactions. (Banks are able to offer these high rates because of the fees they can collect from merchants when you make debit card purchases). Unless you have bank branches near you, your banking is done with checks, ATM machines, postal mail and wire transfers. 

Strategy: Look for checking accounts with generous limits on how much money qualifies for the high rates. Some institutions pay as much as a 5.09% APY, but you get that rate only on the first $10,000. Balances above that earn 0.02% APY or less. 

Banks and credit unions with the best rewards checking accounts—available nationwide online and paying at least 3% on relatively high balance limits… 

Dover Federal Credit Union Kasasa Cash Checking. This pays 3.25% APY for balances up to $30,000 and reimburses ATM fees up to $25 a month. Balances over that amount earn 0.25%. If requirements are not met in any given month, you get a 0.05% APY on all balances and ATM fees are not reimbursed. There are seven branches throughout Delaware. Members must work for one of several hundred companies in Delaware, have a military affiliation in the state or make a $15 donation each year to the Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge.

Heritage Bank eCentive Checking: There is a 3.03% APY on up to $25,000 and 0.15% APY above that, plus ATM-fee reimbursements up to $25 per month. If you don’t meet monthly requirements, you get 0.05% on balances and ATM fees are not covered. Seven branches in Iowa, Minnesota and South Dakota.

Main Street Bank Kasasa Cash Checking: There is a 3% APY on up to $30,000 and unlimited ATM reimbursements as long as minimum requirements are met. There is a 0.25% APY above $30,000…and 0.05% APY on balances if monthly requirements are not met. Two branches in the Troy, Michigan, area.

Certificates of Deposit (CDs)

CD yields have shrunk in the past year, greatly reducing their appeal as you may not get adequate compensation for locking up your money. Penalties are steep for early withdrawals on three-, four- and five-year CDs, typically one year’s worth of interest. However, certain types of CDs with low or no penalties, which recently paid from 1.8% to about 2.7%, still make sense as a hedge against a likely recession in the next few years. Reason: If the economy tanks, I expect the Federal Reserve to cut benchmark interest rates to near zero and the yields on your CDs will look attractive. 

Strategy: Buy no-penalty CDs with money that you’re unlikely to need for the next year. These short-term CDs are typically offered in maturities from seven months to 13 months and can offer rates nearly as good as those on savings or money-market accounts. You get the best of both worlds. If the bank raises its deposit account rates, you can break the CD and withdraw your money with no consequences, then take advantage of the higher APYs. If the bank lowers its rates, you can hold the CD until it matures. Best no-penalty CD rates now…

Goldman Sachs Bank USA ­Marcus by Goldman Sachs CDs: The seven-month CD pays 1.9% APY…11-month, 2% APY. There is a $500 minimum per CD and a $1 million maximum. You must wait at least seven days before withdrawing your money, and you are not allowed to make any partial withdrawals.

PurePoint Financial CD: The 11-month CD pays 1.8% APY. There is a $10,000 minimum per CD and no maximum. Penalty-free withdrawal of the total balance is allowed any time starting seven days after funding your account. No partial withdrawals.

Strategy: Use longer-term CDs with modest early withdrawal penalties for money you don’t think you’ll need for several years. APYs are as high as 2.7% for 60 months. That’s a significant amount of time to lock up your money, but you get the highest rates available now on a deposit account. I don’t expect short-term interest rates to get much higher in the next few years. Breaking one of these CDs typically will cost you just 180 days’ worth of interest in penalties. Institutions with the best rates on ­longer-term, low-penalty CDs (also known as “certificates” at credit unions) now… 

Credit Union of the Rockies Certificates: For the 60-month certificate, there is a 2.7% APY, $1,000 minimum and no maximum. The 48-month certificate offers a 2.6% APY. The penalty for early withdrawal is 180 days’ worth of interest. There are three branches in the Golden, Colorado, area. Membership is open to anyone who lives in certain counties in Colorado or who joins the Consumers United Association for a onetime $5 fee.

Pen Air Federal Credit Union 60-Month Certificates: 2.6% APY. $500 minimum to open…no maximum. The 48-month certificate has a 2.4% APY. Penalty for early withdrawal is 180 days’ worth of interest. There are 15 branches in Alabama and Florida. Membership is open to active duty or retired military and federal civil service employees. Or you can become a member of the Friends of the Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society for a onetime $3 donation. 

*Rates at all banks and credit unions are subject to change.

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