Stashing cash still pays, but maybe not for long

Personal Finance


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It was fun while it lasted.

Only recently have savers reaped the benefits of higher deposit rates — the annual percentage yield banks pay consumers on their money — after they hovered near rock bottom for years.

Since the Federal Reserve raised the federal funds rate nine times in three years, the highest yielding rates are now paying as much as 2.5%, up from 0.1%, on average, before the Fed started increasing its benchmark rate in 2015.

However, those gains could be lost if the Fed starts lowering its benchmark rate.

“It’s the same way every car in the parking lot gets wet when it rains,” said Greg McBride, chief financial analyst for Bankrate.com.

Although the Fed has no direct influence on deposit rates, it tends to be correlated to changes in the target federal funds rate.

And despite cautious wording in its June statement, investors are still betting the Fed will cut interest rates, if not at the next meeting, then later in 2019.

The last few years of interest rate hikes have had a significant effect on what savers have been able to earn on their money. In 2018, high-yielding savings accounts even outperformed the stock market for the first time in over a decade.

But with an end to rate hikes for now, savers won’t continue to see the same upward momentum, and as the probability of a rate cut increases so does the likelihood that those deposit rates will come down.

Some already have.

Ally Financial was the first to cut its online savings rate, to 2.1% from 2.2%, in an announcement on June 25.

“After a period of increases, interest rates are on the downswing and are projected to fall further,” a spokesperson for Ally said. “These market conditions impact all kinds of things, from mortgages to CDs to savings accounts. Based on these factors, we lowered the annual percentage yield on our online savings account.”

This was the first decrease since October 2013, according to the bank.

Days later, Marcus, the consumer finance arm of Goldman Sachs, told customers it was also cutting the rate on its high-yield savings account, to 2.15% from 2.25%.

Marcus made a name for itself in little more than two years, attracting more than 2 million customers by offering better-than-average interest rates on savings.

Across the board, fierce competition has driven savings rates higher as online banks jockey for deposits. Until now, online-only banks such as Marcus and Ally have been able to offer the highest returns, thanks in part to lower overhead expenses than traditional banks.

As a result, “savers are still far, far ahead from where they were a few years ago,” McBride said. Inflation is still running below 2% and consumers who can earn more than 2% are much better off than they were, he said.

Still, most consumers don’t know the interest rates on their savings accounts, and that can cost them.

Almost 70% of people earn less than 2% on their savings accounts, according to a survey by Bankrate. That includes 24% who earn no interest at all.

Only about 1 in 5 Americans who have savings accounts have moved money from their savings to an online-only bank in order to get an interest rate of at least 2%, according to a separate report by NerdWallet.

While seemingly modest, these moves can make a big difference. With an annual percentage yield of 2.5%, a $20,000 deposit earns $500 after one year. At 0.1%, it earns just $20.

There are also more than a dozen banks still advertising yields that are higher than what Marcus and Ally are now offering, according to Bankrate, with a few even over 2.5%.

More from Personal Finance:
Bank overdraft fees could jump if consumer watchdog eases rule
Fed holds rates steady. Here’s what that means for you
Here’s how to pay less to your credit card company

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