There's no question that saving money is a wise plan, but where to put your savings isn't always so cut and dried. Does a regular savings account fit your needs best, or would a money market account be a smarter choice? And what about saving certificates?
Which option is right for you depends largely on the amount you're saving and your cash-flow situation.
The basic savings account is popular for its safety and accessibility. These accounts are federally insured up to certain limits, with steady returns that compound regularly, and the minimum balance required to avoid a fee is usually low.
Although there may be a limit to the number of free monthly transactions, customers can make withdrawals as desired without penalty. Savings accounts have come a long way since the days of passbooks and paper statements; depositors now may enjoy ATM, telephone and remote account access. The downside is that annual percentage yields, or APYs, on savings accounts tend to be lower than the rates of return for other types of investments.
Money market accounts
Another safe, federally insured option is a money market account (not to be confused with a money market fund, which is a mutual fund). As with savings accounts, returns compound regularly; online, remote and ATM banking is available, and there are no maturity terms to contend with.
Money market accounts typically offer higher returns than savings accounts at traditional banks and credit unions that provide in-person services, allowing your money to grow at a faster rate. Some money market accounts also come with the added benefit of limited check-writing capability.
Money market accounts do come with a few considerations, however. The average required minimum balance to avoid fees tends to be significantly higher than for savings accounts. And in some cases, these accounts may allow for fewer of certain types of transactions per month.
If you're in a position to leave money in place for a longer period — in exchange for a higher return — consider investing in saving certificates. With share certificates offered by credit unions and certificates of deposit from banks, you agree not to touch the money you put in for a fixed period of time, which can run from a few weeks to five years or more. In return, you receive a greater return at the end of the term than if you'd put the cash in a money market or traditional savings account. Impatience will cost you, though: If you decide to withdraw your money before the end of the term, you'll generally get hit with early withdrawal penalties.
The bottom line
When comparing these saving options, there isn't a single clear winner. The choice comes down to how much money you want to put in a savings plan, what kind of access you need to have to it and how long you can comfortably let it sit and increase in value. Taking the time to compare rates, minimum balances and fees will help you find the best savings vehicle for your personal situation.
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