A checking account is often the workhorse of personal finance, serving as a central hub for paying bills, making purchases and planning for money goals. A savings account offers a smart way to store extra cash allocated for savings and other financial goals, while earning interest. Maybe you have your eye on a big purchase, like a new car, a piece of jewelry or even a killer vacation to make up for the one you had to cancel during the pandemic. Or maybe you’re saving for a down payment on a house. Whatever your motivation, you’ll want to take advantage of a savings account and all of its features.
If you need a savings account or are looking to upgrade your current bank account situation, hold on just a second. Before you head to a bank and open up any old savings account, you need to know what they’re all about. The first factor you have to consider is interest. Even a high-interest savings account will only deliver a modest return. A certificate of deposit, or CD, may provide a decent interest rate and the risk is minuscule — given that it’s federally insured — but it usually locks up money for a set period of time. That may be good for reaching a savings goal, but it’s problematic if you want your savings to double as an emergency fund. You could invest in equities or a mutual fund, but those come with higher risks. The low risk and availability of your funds are the primary draws of a savings account.
But what about high-yield savings accounts? They’re still not going to rake in a lot of money. We want to be clear about this: High-yield savings account interest rates, which are influenced — but not directly set — by the Federal Reserve, currently top out at around 1%. So, if your savings account had an account balance of $100,000 for a year, you’d earn approximately $1,000 in interest on it. That’s not much, even with compound interest.
And yet, with all the protections of federal deposit insurance (securing balances up to $250,000) and relatively unfettered access to your money, savings accounts serve a purpose. They’re also easy to apply for and the eligibility requirements are minimal; even a child can open an account with a parent or guardian co-signer and the minimum initial deposit.
Most savings accounts fall into one of two categories. There’s the online-only kind, which is typically offered by newer banks without a retail presence. With no branches to maintain or tellers to pay, online banking tends to offer a higher annual percentage yield, or APY, which pays you more in interest over time; these high APY accounts are often referred to as “high yield.” In contrast, most bigger institutions, regional banks and local credit unions with physical branches provide a way to make deposits or withdraw funds in person and have a face-to-face conversation.
With an online bank all your regular savings account transactions are done online or using another bank’s ATM, and your customer service options are typically limited to an online chat, email or phone call. For people looking for a high APY who are already familiar with mobile banking and are comfortable with direct deposit, this is fine. If you want to interact with a person, however, online banking for your regular savings account might not be for you.
There’s also a third scenario: Some banks have branches only in certain states and may offer a high-yield online-only deposit account exclusively to people who don’t live in those states. According to Ken Tumin, founder and editor of DepositAccounts.com, these older institutions see specialized high-yield online-savings accounts as a way to receive more deposits in a regular savings account without having to build a physical branch.
Best savings accounts, compared
Best online savings account
Highest interest rate
Best for in-person banking
Another good choice
Another good choice
High Yield Chime Savings Account
Sallie Mae SmartyPig
PNC High Yield Savings Account
Vio Bank Online High Yield Savings Account
Up to 0.7%
Estimated annual earnings on $1,000 deposit
Up to $8
$4.50 when your balance falls under $500
$5 when you choose to receive paper statements
In choosing the best savings accounts, we evaluated more than a dozen offered by a wide variety of national and regional banks. Though we steered clear of local banks and financial institutions that don’t serve a broad swath of customers in the US, it may be worthwhile to take a close look at your local bank and credit union options as you build your savings plan. You want to find an account that offers a consistently high interest rate regardless of your daily balance — at the moment, savings account APYs may fluctuate on a weekly basis — as well as low or no fees, low or no minimum balance, have FDIC insurance and convenient options for making withdrawals and deposits (direct deposit is key) online or in person.
We also looked into factors like mobile banking, minimum deposit requirement, how easy it is to check your account balance, if there’s an ATM fee, whether the financial institution requires a monthly maintenance fee, whether there’s a minimum balance requirement and so much more.
Whether you want to open your first savings account or find a different place for your money, you’ve come to the right place. As mentioned above, we’ve looked at multiple savings accounts and our picks for the best savings account, which we frequently update, can help you find the best savings account at the right bank for your situation.
Interest rate: 0.5% APYAvailability: All 50 statesMinimum deposit: $0Monthly fees: $0
If you’re comfortable working with a financial institution that’s exclusively online, Chime’s high-yield account offers the best combination of features for a personal savings account: no fees, convenient ways to move money in and out, a slick app — and one of the higher interest rates available with .5% APY savings account rate. You also get a free Chime checking account — the two are a money package deal, like conjoined twins — which serves as the primary mechanism for depositing and withdrawing funds.
You can deposit checks remotely via Chime’s modern, capable app, and the included Visa debit card can be used at more than 38,000 MoneyPass and Visa Plus Alliance ATMs. (You can also deposit cash at any store in the Green Dot network, which includes Walgreens, CVS and Family Dollar, though the onerous $4.95 per deposit fee should make that an option of last resort.) There’s no minimum balance required, and Chime lets you round up purchases to the nearest dollar and deposit the difference in your savings account (similar to Acorns, the micro-investing service).
Interest rate: Up to 0.7% APYAvailability: All 50 statesMinimum deposit: $0Monthly fees: $0
Sallie Mae, perhaps best known as a student loan provider, also offers a goal-based savings account with no minimum deposit and the highest APY currently available. The company frames its SmartyPig account as “a free online piggy bank for people saving for financial goals like holiday gifts, vacations, and even retirement.” That noted, using this bank account to save for retirement isn’t recommended — especially because of Sallie Mae’s odd, regressive approach to interest rates, which start at a 0.7% higher APY on balances below $2,500 and gradually decrease to 0.55% on balances above $50,000.
As such, this account is best-suited to people who are new to saving their money, who plan to build or maintain balances under $10,000 and who might ultimately benefit from less convenient access to their money. That’s because the SmartyPig account comes with no ATM card, Sallie Mae doesn’t have branches where you can make deposits or withdrawals, and there’s no app to enable easy online savings account transfers. (Though you can transfer or withdraw funds at any time through the bank’s web-based interface, customers are encouraged to set up a recurring automatic deposit from a paycheck or other account.) Still, if you’re looking to save a modest amount of money for a specific purpose — and maximize your interest rate while you’re doing it — SmartyPig is worth a look.
Interest rate: 0.5% APYAvailability: Throughout the US except California; Connecticut; Illinois; Maryland; Nevada; New Jersey; New York; Virginia; parts of Florida; Washington, DC; and Puerto RicoMinimum deposit: $0Monthly fees: $4.50 when your balance falls under $500
If you prefer dealing with a large bank, Citi’s Accelerate account offers a competitive APY and all the benefits of a national chain with branches across 42 US states. You get free access to more than 60,000 Citi and other surcharge-free ATMs, 24/7 customer service and other perks if you link a Citi checking account to your savings account. Though this bank account requires no minimum initial deposit, Citi will charge you $4.50 monthly maintenance fee if your checking account balance falls below $500.
Note that although Citibank is one of the largest banks in the world, it doesn’t have a foothold in every state. If branch access is your priority, you’re better off with a different personal savings account if you live in California; Connecticut; Illinois; Maryland; Nevada; New Jersey; New York; Virginia; Washington, DC; Puerto Rico; or one of several parts of Florida.
Interest rate: 0.4% APYAvailability: Accessible in the 19 states that don’t have a PNC branchMinimum deposit: $0Monthly fees: $0
Available only to residents of the 19 states where PNC doesn’t have a retail location, which are New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Florida, Ohio, West Virginia, Kentucky, Illinois, Michigan, Indiana, Missouri, Wisconsin and Washington DC.
PNC’s online-only high-yield savings account offers a decent interest rate, no minimum initial deposit, no minimum balance, no monthly maintenance fee or other fees.
Interest rate: 0.51% APYAvailability: All 50 statesMinimum deposit: $100Monthly fees: $5 when you choose to receive paper statements
A subsidiary of MidFirst Bank, the largest privately owned bank in the US, Vio Bank itself is a purely an online bank. So, you’ll need to manage all your bank account transactions online — either on the bank’s website or in its app. Though Vio’s APY isn’t as high as that offered by other banks, its annual percentage yield is consistently competitive. That noted, you’ll need to make an initial online savings deposit of at least $100 to open an account, and this online bank will charge you a $5 fee per month if you choose to have paper statements delivered. Otherwise, the fee schedule is more or less similar to what you’ll find at other banks.
What are the major differences between checking and savings accounts?
Most checking accounts are designed to facilitate transactions and payments, whether via a debit card, mobile app such as Apple Pay or a paper check. Most checking accounts don’t offer interest; those that do usually provide a very low rate of 0.1% or less.
Savings accounts offer significantly higher interest rates and online-only banks typically offer the highest yields. These accounts provide a safe place to store money while keeping it accessible. Until recently, savings account holders were generally limited to making six transactions per month.
How many withdrawals can I make from a savings account?
In normal times, the Federal Reserve limits account holders to six withdrawals a month (to preserve liquidity for financial institutions). In response to the pandemic, the Federal Reserve made a rule change to Regulation D allowing unlimited money withdrawals without a monthly fee penalty.
What is a high-yield savings account?
A high-yield savings account offers a higher interest rate than a traditional savings account. These accounts may have certain deposit requirements, monthly fees or be available only to customers in certain states.
Traditional savings accounts at a bank will have interest rates ranging from 0.05% to 0.1% while high-yield savings can go as high as 1%.
Who sets interest rates? How often do they change? And why are rates so low right now?
The Federal Reserve sets a target rate range, which influences the specific interest rates set by individual banks. These rates may change over time; and adjustments often follow a Board of Governors meeting, which takes place every five to eight weeks. Since the Great Recession period, from 2007 to 2009, the Fed has consistently kept rates low, which has led to low interest rates for savings accounts. At the moment, the average interest rate for savings accounts is 0.05%.
That noted, many banks will offer a higher savings rate to attract new customers. The market for high-yield savings accounts is competitive, with some banks offering particularly high rates for an introductory period of time. Because of this, interest rates offered by a financial institution can change quite regularly.
Do you have to pay taxes on the interest earned from a savings account?
Yes. Your bank will send you a 1099-INT form each year when your savings account earns more than $10 in interest.
Savings accounts researched Ally Online Savings AccountPNC High Yield SavingsVio Bank High Yield Online Savings AccountMarcus High Yield SavingsDiscover Online Savings AccountAmerican Express High Yield Savings AccountCiti AccelerateNationwide My SavingsCitizens Online Savings AccountSallie Mae SmartyPigAffirm SavingsChime Savings AccountSynchrony High Yield SavingsPopular Direct Select Savings Our methodology
CNET reviews credit cards by exhaustively comparing them across set criteria developed for each major category, including cash-back, welcome bonus, travel rewards and balance transfer. We take into consideration the typical spending behavior of a range of consumer profiles — with the understanding that everyone’s financial situation is different — and the designated function of a card.
For cash-back credit cards, for example, key factors include the annual fee, the “welcome bonus” and the cash-back rate (or rates, if they differ by spending category). For rewards and miles cards, we calculate and weigh the net monetary value of a card’s respective perks. And with balance transfer credit cards, we analyze specs such as the duration of the introductory 0% APR period and the balance transfer fee, while acknowledging secondary factors such as the standard APR and the length of time you have to make a balance transfer after you open the account.
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