Archives for May 1, 2018

Best Interest Rates on Cash – May 2018

“The editorial content on this page is not provided by any of the companies mentioned, and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities. Opinions expressed here are author's alone.”

cream225Interest rates are rising. Rate-chasing is becoming more worthwhile again. Here is my monthly roundup of the best safe rates available, roughly sorted from shortest to longest maturities. Check out my Ultimate Rate-Chaser Calculator to get an idea of how much additional interest you’d earn if you switched over. Rates listed are available to everyone nationwide. Rates checked as of 5/1/18.

High-yield savings accounts
While the huge brick-and-mortar banks rarely offer good yields, there are a number of online savings accounts offering much higher rates. Keep in mind that with savings accounts, the interest rates can change at any time.

  • Popular Direct is at 2% APY with a $5,000 minimum opening deposit. SalemFiveDirect is at 1.85% APY, albeit for new money only/not valid for existing customers. DollarSavingsDirect is at 1.80% APY (no min). CIT Bank Money Market is at 1.75% APY (no min, $100 to open).
  • My “hub” bank account is the Ally Bank Savings + Checking combo due to their history of competitive savings/CD rates, 1-day external bank transfers, and overall user experience. The free overdraft transfers from savings allows to me to keep my checking balance at a minimum. Ally Savings has been raising their rates, but it still lags a bit at 1.50% APY. I’ve been keeping more money in no-penalty/short-term CDs.

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 rising. The following money market and ultra-short bond funds are not FDIC-insured, but may be a good option if you have idle cash and cheap/free commissions.

  • Vanguard Prime Money Market Fund currently pays an 1.82% SEC yield. The default sweep option is the Vanguard Federal Money Market Fund, which has an SEC yield of 1.58%. You can manually move the money over to Prime if you meet the $3,000 minimum investment.
  • Vanguard Ultra-Short-Term Bond Fund currently pays 2.23% SEC Yield ($3,000 min) and 2.33% SEC Yield ($50,000 min). The average duration is ~1 year.
  • The PIMCO Enhanced Short Maturity Active Bond ETF (MINT) has a 2.12% SEC yield and the iShares Short Maturity Bond ETF (NEAR) has a 2.22% SEC yield while holding a portfolio of investment-grade bonds with an average duration of ~6 months.

Short-term guaranteed rates (1 year and under)
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, legal settlement, inheritance). My usual advice is to keep things simple. If not a savings account, then put it in a flexible short-term CD under the FDIC limits until you have a plan.

  • CIT Bank 11-Month No-Penalty CD is at 1.85% APY with a $1,000 minimum deposit and no withdrawal penalty seven days or later after funds have been received. The lack of early withdrawal penalty means that your interest rate can never go down for 11 months, but you keep full liquidity. Full review. You can open multiple CDs in smaller increments if you want more flexibility.
  • Several banks have 12-month CDs at 2% APY and above. Watch the early withdrawal penalties. For example, MidFirst Direct has a 2.25% APY 12-month CD, but the early withdrawal penalty is a fixed 1% of the amount withdrawn + $25. Meanwhile, Ally Bank has a 9-month CD at 2% APY and a 12-month CD at 2.10% APY with $25,000 minimum deposit and early withdrawal penalty of 60 days interest.

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 2018 and October 2018 will earn a 2.52% rate for the first six months. The rate of the subsequent 6-month period will be based on inflation again. More info here.
  • In mid-October 2018, 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 exceptionally high interest rates. The negatives are that balances are capped, and there are many fees that you must be careful to avoid (lest they eat up your interest). The offers also tend to disappear with little notice. Some folks don’t mind the extra work and attention required, while others do.

  • 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 3% extra interest on $5,000 is $150 a year.

Rewards checking accounts
These unique checking accounts pay above-average interest rates, but with unique risks. You have to jump through certain hoops, and if you make a mistake you won’t earn any interest for that month. Some folks don’t mind the extra work and attention required, while others do. Rates can also drop quickly, leaving a “bait-and-switch” feeling. For example, Northpointe Bank was mentioned for several months here but later dropped to 1% APY. That’s just how it goes with these types of accounts.

  • Consumers Credit Union offers up to 4.59% APY on up to a $20k balance, although getting 3.09% APY on a $10k balance has a much shorter list of requirements. The 4.59% APY requires you to apply for a credit card through them (other credit cards offer $500+ in sign-up bonuses). 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 after-tax). Find a local rewards checking account at DepositAccounts.

Certificates of deposit (greater than 1 year)
You might have larger balances, either because you are using CDs instead of bonds or you simply want a large cash reserves. By finding a bank CD with a reasonable early withdrawal penalty, you can enjoy higher rates but maintain access in a true emergency. Alternatively, consider a custom 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.

  • Synchrony Bank has a 14-month CD at 2.35% APY ($2,000 min). Live Oak Bank has an 18-month CD at 2.35% APY and a 24-month CD at 2.50% APY ($2,500 min). Early withdrawal penalty for both banks is 90 days of interest.
  • Ally Bank has a 5-year CD at 2.60% APY ($25k minimum) with a relatively short 150-day early withdrawal penalty. For example, if you closed this CD after 2 years you’d still get a 2.07% effective APY even after accounting for the penalty.
  • Mountain America Credit Union has a 5-year Share Certificate at 3.00% APY (minimum deposit varies). Anyone can join via a partner organization for a one-time $5 fee, usually right on the online application. However, note the early of withdrawal penalty of 365 days of interest. You can also find a 5-year non-callable brokered CD at 3.20% APY from both Vanguard and Fidelity. More info below.

Longer-term Instruments
I’d use these with caution due to increased interest rate risk, but I still track them to see the rest of the current yield curve.

  • Willing to lock up your money for 10+ years? You can buy certificates of deposit via the bond desks of Vanguard and Fidelity. These “brokered CDs” offer FDIC insurance, but they don’t come with predictable fixed early withdrawal penalties. As of this writing, Vanguard is showing a 10-year non-callable CD at 3.25% APY (Watch out for higher rates from callable CDs from Fidelity.) Unfortunately, current CD rates do not rise much higher even as you extend beyond a 5-year maturity.
  • 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). I view this 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.

All rates were checked as of 5/1/18.


CIT Bank No-Penalty CD

Savings I Bonds May 2018 Interest Rate: 2.22% Inflation Rate, 0.30% Fixed Rate

“The editorial content on this page is not provided by any of the companies mentioned, and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities. Opinions expressed here are author's alone.”

sb_poster

Update 5/1/18. The fixed rate will be 0.30% for I bonds issued from May 1, 2018 through October 31, 2018. The variable inflation-indexed rate for this 6-month period will be 2.22% (as was predicted). The total rate on any specific bond is the sum of the fixed and variable rates, changing every 6 months. If you buy a new bond in May 2018, you’ll get 2.52% for the first 6 months. Not bad. See you again in mid-October 2018 for the next early prediction.

Original post 4/11/18:

Savings I Bonds are a unique, low-risk investment backed by the US Treasury that pay out a variable interest rate linked to inflation. You could own them as a replacement for cash reserves (they are liquid after 12 months) or bonds in your portfolio.

New inflation numbers were just announced at BLS.gov, which allows us to make an early prediction of the May 2018 savings bond rates a couple of weeks before the official announcement on the 1st. This also allows the opportunity to know exactly what a April 2018 savings bond purchase will yield over the next 12 months, instead of just 6 months.

New inflation rate prediction. September 2017 CPI-U was 246.819. March 2018 was 249.554, for a semi-annual increase of 1.11%. Using the official formula, the variable component of interest rate for the next 6 month cycle will be 2.22%. You add the fixed and variable rates to get the total interest rate. If you have an older savings bond, your fixed rate may be very different than one from recent years.

Tips on purchase and redemption. You can’t redeem until 12 months have gone by, and any redemptions within 5 years incur an interest penalty of the last 3 months of interest. A known “trick” with I-Bonds is that if you buy at the end of the month, you’ll still get all the interest for the entire month as if you bought it in the beginning of the month. It’s best to give yourself a few business days of buffer time. If you miss the cutoff, your effective purchase date will be bumped into the next month.

Buying in April 2018. If you buy before the end of April, the fixed rate portion of I-Bonds will be 0.1%. You will be guaranteed a total interest rate of 2.58% for the next 6 months (0.10 + 2.48). For the 6 months after that, the total rate will be 0.10 + 2.22 = 2.32%.

Let’s look at a worst-case scenario, where you hold for the minimum of one year and pay the 3-month interest penalty. If you theoretically buy on April 30th, 2018 and sell on April 1, 2019, you’ll earn a ~2.04% annualized return for an 11-month holding period, for which the interest is also exempt from state income taxes. If you held for three months longer, you’d be looking at a ~2.10% annualized return for a 14-month holding period (assuming my math is correct). Compare with the best interest rates as of April 2018.

Buying in May 2018. If you buy in May 2018, you will get 2.22% a newly-set fixed rate for the first 6 months. The new fixed rate is unknown, but is loosely linked to the real yield of short-term TIPS, which has been rising a bit. The current real yield of 5-year TIPS is ~0.56%. My best guess is that it will be 0.20% or 0.30%. Every six months, your rate will adjust to your fixed rate (set at purchase) a variable rate based on inflation.

If you have an existing I-Bond, the rates reset every 6 months depending on your purchase month. Your bond rate = your specific fixed rate (set at purchase) + variable rate (minimum floor of 0%).

So, which one? Buying in April 2018 would lock in a 11-14 month return equal to the top 12-month CD rates, which isn’t bad ( the interest is exempt from state and local income taxes). If inflation picks up in the next year, you could still keep the bond and have potential upside. I would choose this option if I was treating savings bonds as short-term CD alternatives. However, if you buy in May 2018, your (real) fixed rate may be higher. This helps in the long run if you intend to keep these savings bonds indefinitely. I am a long-term holder (see below), so I am waiting until May.

Unique features. Due to their annual purchase limits, you should still consider their unique advantages before redeeming them. These include ongoing tax deferral (you don’t owe tax until redemption), exemption from state income taxes, and being a hedge against inflation (and even a bit of a hedge against deflation). There are also potential benefits when using the proceeds for college.

Over the years, I have accumulated a nice pile of I-Bonds and now consider it part of the inflation-linked bond allocation inside my long-term investment portfolio.

Annual purchase limits. The annual purchase limit is now $10,000 in online I-bonds per Social Security Number. For a couple, that’s $20,000 per year. Buy online at TreasuryDirect.gov, after making sure you’re okay with their security protocols and user-friendliness. You can also buy an additional $5,000 in paper bonds using your tax refund with IRS Form 8888. If you have children, you may be able to buy additional savings bonds by using a minor’s Social Security Number.

For more background, see the rest of my posts on savings bonds.

[Image: 1946 Savings Bond poster from US Treasury – source]

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