It may be the middle of summer, but the climate for savers has definitely cooled. Last summer, yields of 5 percent or more were plentiful. Now, rates of 3 percent to 3.5 percent are common.
But don't despair. Savings and checking accounts at online-only banks, such as HSBC Direct, ING Direct and Salem Five Direct, charge no fees and require no minimum deposits or balances.
To qualify for the best rates, however, you may have to accept some restrictions or meet certain conditions. For example, the Woo Hoo checking account at Citizens Bank in Minnesota pays 6 percent on deposits up to $25,000 if you use your debit card at least 10 times a month, make one direct deposit or automatic payment each month, and receive your statements electronically.
Coastal Commerce Bank (www.coastalcommerce.com), Newport Fed www.newportfederal.com) and Dade County Federal Credit Union (www.dcfcu.org) offer similar high-rate checking accounts. Make sure their requirements mesh with your banking style before you open an account; if you fail to meet the conditions, you could earn as little as 0.1 percent.
Bank money-market deposit accounts, which are insured by the FDIC, offer some of the best rates; the only catch is that you are usually limited to six withdrawals a month. For example, if you have at least $1,000 in an Indymac Bank E-Money Market account indymacbank.com), you'll receive an annual yield of 3.9 percent. If that threshold is too high, Flagstar Bank www.flagstar.com) has no minimum-balance requirement and is offering a rate of 3.7 percent.
If you can afford to lock up a little cash (or a lot) for a set time, FDIC-insured certificates of deposit are another good option. Stash $5,000 or more for five years in a Capital One Bank CD www.capitalone.com) and you'll earn 4.8 percent. At GMAC Bank (www.gmacbank.com), you can deposit as little as $500 and still earn 4.8 percent interest.
If you need the cash sooner, a one-year, $5,000 CD from Indymac Bank is earning 4.1 percent; a one-year CD from GMAC Bank is earning 3.8 percent, again with a $500 minimum. Even if you can spare the cash for only six months, you can earn 3.6 percent at Corus Bank ($10,000 minimum) or 3.5 percent at Nexity Bank ($1,000 minimum; www.nexity.com).Yields on money-market mutual funds are still way low, although they may be starting to creep up again. Dreyfus BASIC, the highest-yielding fund, was recently offering a rate of 2.7 percent; the average money-market fund is yielding less than 2 percent.
Joan Goldwasser is senior reporter at Kiplinger's Personal Finance magazine. Send your questions and comments to [email protected]