February Interest Rate Roundup: Rates Falling

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Here’s another Interest Rate Roundup ordered by highest rate.

Smartypig is at 3.25% (mini-review) (not a traditional savings account)

Dollar Savings Direct is at 2.65%.

Grand Yield Direct is at 2.50%.

FNBO Direct just dropped to 2.40% today.

HSBC Direct is at 2.25%.

ING Direct Orange Savings is at 1.85%.

WaMu Online Savings is at 1.00%.

I currently have tried and still have all of these accounts open. As I expected, interest rates are falling on online savings accounts as well as traditional bank savings accounts. With the Federal Reserve rate close to zero, it’s no surprise that these rates are falling.

Wachovia does have a special Way2Save savings account that pays 5.00% for the first year! Plus you get an additional match of 5% at the end of one year!

The only catch is that you can only transfer up to $100/month into the account plus every debit card transaction will automatically transfer $1 out of checking into the Way2Save account. It’s still not a bad deal and I actually signed up for it at my local Wachovia (now owned by Wells Fargo). Who knows whether Wells will keep up the program after completing the integration.

If you’re looking for a high rate on your savings, it’s almost non-existent right now. That being said, you really shouldn’t do anything with your emergency fund. It should stay in a liquid savings account of some kind. It’s not there to earn interest. It’s there to protect against emergencies. And you need easy access to it.

I think it’s ok to move it around to maximize interest but you have to calculate the time factor plus lost interest in between switching accounts.

On a side note, Everbank is currently offering a 3.51% interest checking account that’s guaranteed for 3 months, which beats any 3 month CD that I’ve seen without the early withdrawal penalties. It does have a $1,500 minimum opening balance and I haven’t opened yet so I can’t comment on the service.

I’m thinking about opening an account for the high interest rate, but I’m not sure yet. After the three months, the interest rate is tiered from 1.26% (anything under $10,000) to 2.46% (for accounts with $100,000 or higher). If I do decide to open one, I’ll let you know here.

Dollar Savings Direct Account Review

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I recently opened up a Dollar Savings Direct account solely because of the 4.00% 2.65% 2.05% interest rate on it, which is the highest I’ve seen lately. This was created by the same guys that created Emigrant Direct (which I wrote a scathing post about why I was cancelling).

However, I’m still willing to give them another chance, especially for such a high interest rate. It actually makes business sense to create a whole new online brand rather than raising the rates on the old Emigrant Direct. Why? Because they can now attract new customers with the higher interest rate and not have to pay the old customers the new rate. Not good for consumers, but it’s relatively easy enough to just open another account.

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The opening process was easy and completely online (unlike the old Emigrant Direct). All you have to do is enter your information, link a checking account with a routing and account number, deposit at least $1,000 and submit! The process was very simple and quick. My account was opened in two business days with my initial deposit! They used trial deposits to verify the account (beware, they do withdraw them).

The layout is very similar to Emigrant Direct. It has tabs on top like Accounts, Transfers, Profile, Statements, etc. The account screen shows the current balance, interest rate (currently at 4% 2.65%), year-to-date interest, and interest earned this month (this was actually a request of mine from the old Emigrant Direct). Interest accrues daily and posts monthly.

Emigrant Bank is an old bank established in 1850 with over $14 billion in assets and this account is fully insured to the FDIC maximum (currently $250,000). The $1,000 minimum opening deposit is a bit high compared to other online accounts but there is no minimum to earn interest so you can have less than the $1,000 and still earn interest. There is a five business day hold on new deposits.

I would definitely recommend this online savings account as it currently has the highest rate out there with no fees and no minimums to earn interest (although there is a $1,000 minimum to open). It’s a great place to park that emergency fund! It looks like they have improved upon Emigrant Direct and have a truly online savings account with no mailing involved. There is room for second chances, after all!

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New Online Savings Rate Bumps!

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HSBC Direct recently bumped up their online savings rate to 3.50% until August 15, 2008.

FNBO Direct also announced today via email that they were bumping their online savings rate to 3.50%. They also increased some of their CD rates. These are great places to park that emergency fund.

You can also earn 3.90% at SmartyPig which is a little different than an online savings account. I just opened an account and should have a full review soon.

Does this signal the end of rate decreases by the Fed? Have we hit the bottom as far as interest rates go? I think so especially since inflation is now on the rise. The Fed will have to increase rates in order to help combat inflation as seen in soaring energy costs and food costs.

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Good News! Tax Rebates Coming Sooner!

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Great news! The Treasury Department said Thursday that the special economic stimulus rebates would be distributed five days earlier than first said. The first round of rebates are expected to be sent starting Monday, April 28 rather than May 2 as previously thought.

About 800,000 tax filers will receive rebates on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. An additional 5 million will be distributed on Friday. The economic stimulus plan signed in February by President Bush will distribute more than $110 billion to 130 million taxpayers.

So what are you going to do with the money? Most people I’ve talked to and read about seem like they aren’t spending it but rather paying down debt and/or boosting their emergency funds and not necessarily the economy. I’m doing the same.

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Earn 4.50% at Provident Direct & 4.30% at SmartyPig

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I just saw a post on FatWallet that talks about the Provident Direct online high yield savings account that’s currently paying 4.50% (edit: now only 3.75%)! It seems like a good deal especially given today’s market conditions. However, the Fed is expected to drop rates again tomorrow so who knows how long this rate is going to stay competitive. Currently, it’s the highest that I know of. It’s also FDIC insured at Provident Bank which has been around since 1886. The online portion has been around since November 2007.

It says that there are no minimum balance requirements and no monthly fees. You only need a dollar to open. The major downside is that withdrawals are limited to $5000 per transaction but you can do multiple transactions per day. However, savings accounts are government regulated and cannot exceed more than 6 transfers out in a month. Any withdrawals after that will be charged a $5 fee. You can bypass the $5000 limit by “pulling” from another account rather than “pushing” from the Provident account. Apparently there’s also a $25 fee for closing the account within 180 days and a$5 monthly fee if the balance dips below $300.

I’ll have a full review when I open an account in a little bit. I’m going to wait and see what happens to the rate first. It would be a great place to park my emergency fund which is currently only earning 3.85% at FNBO Direct.

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In other news, there’s a new concept in the online savings space that I stumbled onto today. It’s called SmartyPig and it basically combines an online savings account with social networking. The basic premise is that you need to set goals that are funded by monthly deposits into SmartyPig. The goal is active until it is reached. The social aspect comes in when you make your goal public. People can help fund your goal by using a credit or debit card (with a $4.95 processing fee). Once goals are met, you can “withdraw” the money via MasterCard debit card or a gift card from participating retailers. At this time, there is no way to receive that money via ACH transfer in cash. This is apparently done so that it’s harder to use the money since the purpose is to save it.

Deposits are FDIC insured and held at West Bank, which has $1.3 billion in assets. Deposits also earn a very competitive 4.30%, albeit with some limitations. I think it’s a good idea, but I definitely wouldn’t use it to hold my emergency fund because it’s not liquid enough. However, I don’t think it was intended for that purpose either. I think there’s a market for this and if it helps people to set savings goals and encourages them through the social aspect, it could be a winner. I’m holding off on it for now, but maybe I’ll revisit it later. Maybe I can set up a public goal to get out of debt and you guys can contribute!

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