A savings account is an essential part of any smart financial plan. It’s an easy way to keep your hard-earned money safe until you need it and earn a little extra in the form of interest. And when it comes to interest, a high-yield savings account is the way to go.
Traditional savings accounts currently earn an average annual percentage yield, or APY, of 0.57%. Many high-yield savings accounts, however, offer upward of 5%, nearly 10 times higher than the FDIC average. And while high-yield savings account rates are variable and can change depending on the economy, experts don’t expect rates to dip significantly any time soon. High earning potential aside, you’ll also enjoy easy access to your funds, often with low or no fees.
Read on to find out how high-yield savings accounts work, their pros and cons, how to open one and alternative accounts to consider.
What is a high-yield savings account?
A high-yield savings account is a low-risk savings option that pays a higher APY on deposits than a traditional savings account. You can still deposit your money regularly (within your bank’s limits), all while earning interest on your contributions. Best of all, these accounts are insured at federally insured banks and credit unions for up to $250,000 per person, per account in case of a bank failure.
However, you won’t find many high-yield savings accounts at traditional major banks. Most are provided by online-only banks. These banks can offer better savings rates because they don’t have overhead costs, such as maintaining physical branches. In exchange, they can pass some of those savings down to their customers.
“Offering a higher yield promotes long-term parking of the money with the financial institutions, which is a benefit for them,” said Jamilah McCluney, a fiduciary and financial planner at Black Wealth Financial.
Your account APY is your savings interest rate. A higher APY means you’ll earn more interest on your money. Nowadays, the best high-yield savings account rates are near or over 5%, but rates are variable, so the APY could change depending on the Federal Reserve’s rate changes.
For now, a high-yield savings account is an ideal place to store and grow an emergency fund. “This could be a few thousand dollars or even tens of thousands of dollars, and it’s money you shouldn’t be using unless you absolutely have to,” said Kali Roberge, chief operations officer at Beyond Your Hammock.
What to consider before opening a high-yield savings account
Whether a high-yield savings account is right for you depends on your savings goals. It’s ideal for an emergency fund because it allows you to access your money anytime without penalty (as long as you mind any withdrawal limits).
However, if you can afford to leave your money untouched for a specific period, you may be better off with a certificate of deposit. CDs often have higher interest rates than savings accounts, and the rate is locked in when you open the account. However, if you need to access your funds before the term is up, you may pay a penalty.
What to look for in a high-yield savings account
Whether you want to build an emergency fund or save for a specific financial goal, consider these factors when looking for the right high-yield savings account for you:
- APY: High-yield savings accounts offer considerably better rates than traditional savings accounts, but rates vary from bank to bank. Some banks offer APYs on all balances, while others offer the best APYs only if you fulfill certain balance requirements. So take the time to compare multiple offers to find the account with the best rate for your needs.
- Accessibility: Most online banks don’t have physical branches, so it’s important to find a bank that offers convenient, easy access to your funds. Depending on how you prefer to do your banking, this could include looking for features like mobile check deposit, cash deposit options or an ATM card.
- Fees: Overdraft, monthly maintenance and other fees can eat into your savings. Many high-yield savings accounts have low or no fees, but you should still check a bank’s fee structure before opening an account.
- Initial deposit and balance requirements: Most high-yield savings accounts don’t require a minimum deposit or balance to remain in good standing. But it’s best to check with the bank to make sure you’re comfortable with any thresholds it may have.
- Compounding period: The compounding period is how frequently the bank calculates interest. Typical periods are daily, monthly and quarterly. The shorter the compounding period, the more interest you’ll earn.
- Transfer limit: Some banks have daily withdrawal and transfer limits you should watch for if there’s a chance you’ll need to withdraw a large lump sum. ”If, for example, you need $20,000 to buy a used car, you want to be able to transfer all that money from your savings without any limitations,” said Alvin Carlos, a certified financial planner at District Capital.
Low-risk: You don’t have to worry about losing your deposit or principal as you would if you invested in riskier interest-earning investments such as stocks.
Variable interest rate: High-yield savings account rates can change at any time, making your earnings unpredictable.
Can you lose money in a high-yield savings account?
As long as your high-yield savings account is held at an institution insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation or the National Credit Union Administration, it’s protected up to $250,000 per person, per account. That means you won’t lose money under this threshold if the bank or credit union fails.
Your principal balance and any interest you’ve earned to date are also safe. While you may earn less interest in the future if rates go down, you won’t lose any of the money you already have in your account. This makes a high-yield savings account a safer place to put your money than investments like stocks, where you could lose a significant amount overnight.
How to open a high-yield savings account
When you’re ready, opening a high-yield savings account takes only a few steps. Here’s how to get started:
- Compare your options: Look at banking features, fees and limitations that can impact how you manage your account, such as an online app or special savings tools.
- Gather the necessary information: Banks may require your Social Security number, physical address, email, phone number and other personal information to get started. If you’re applying online, it typically takes a few minutes for the bank to approve your application and open your account.
- Fund the account: Make your first deposit into your savings account via electronic transfer, direct deposit or by other means your bank accepts. Some banks may require a minimum deposit when you open your account.
Alternatives to high-yield savings accounts
In addition to high-yield savings accounts, there are other high-yielding options for storing and boosting your savings.
A CD lets you make a one-time deposit to lock your money for a specific period in exchange for earning a fixed interest rate. This period, known as the term, is usually as little as three months to as long as five years. You generally earn a higher interest rate the longer your term. The downside is that you’ll lose any or all accrued interest if you withdraw your funds from the CD before its term ends.
Money market account
A money market account (MMA) is a blend of a checking and savings account. Like a savings account, it may limit you to six monthly withdrawals under Regulation D, although some banks have suspended Reg D after COVID-19.
An MMA also typically offers a higher interest rate than a checking account. But an MMA usually lets you write checks and make purchases regularly, like a checking account. However, you might need a higher initial deposit to fund a money market account, and you may need to keep a specific minimum balance to avoid a fee.
Correction: An earlier version of this article was assisted by an AI engine and it mischaracterized some aspects of savings accounts. Those points were all corrected. This version has been substantially updated by a staff writer.