Ten years ago, not having a savings account might’ve made sense.
Banks were closing left and right, and yields were dismal at best.
Today, that’s no longer the case. And since the Federal Reserve has raised rates nine times since the end of 2015, savings account yields are a lot more attractive.
Now that attractive rates are available, it’s a great time to open a savings account. Before you put your money into an account at your local bank, there are several steps you should take.
1. Identify your savings goals
Having somewhere to stash your savings is important. But you shouldn’t open a new account without considering why you need one.
“What is your goal?” asks Greg McBride, CFA, Bankrate’s chief financial analyst. “Is this for your emergency fund, or is this a temporary parking place and it’s money that you want to be able to invest at a moment’s notice?”
People have different priorities and needs. So in addition to emergency savings, a savings account can be used to save for any purpose, from funding a vacation to paying for car or home repairs. Separating the account could help ensure you only use the money for its intended use.
Once you have a better idea of what you’re saving money for, you’ll be able to choose an appropriate account. If you’re saving for a new house or you’re trying to replace an old appliance, you’ll want a high-yield savings account that can help you save more money in a shorter period of time. Any instance where you may need the funds quickly will require a liquid account. Savings accounts and money market accounts are generally liquid accounts because, unlike a certificate of deposit (CD), they generally don’t have a penalty when you withdraw money.
Compare savings accounts and money market accounts by both APY and the minimum amount you’re required to keep in that account to earn that yield. You can compare rates on savings accounts and money market accounts on Bankrate to find the right account for you.
If you need help saving money, check out these 20 tips for growing your savings.
2. Look past the big banks
The biggest banks may offer products with a lot of bells and whistles. And some have enticing bank account bonuses.
But their savings accounts rates just aren’t competitive. Typically, they pay less than 0.1 percent APY.
Limiting yourself to the largest banks in your vicinity is a big mistake, McBride says. If you’re preparing to open a new savings account, focus on the online banks. Because they have low overhead costs, they can pay much higher than the national average.
Having your savings account at an online bank can also be helpful, particularly if you have a bad habit of dipping into your savings.
“The online savings account will just be a little bit more of a buffer between you and your money,” says Deacon Hayes, personal finance expert and founder of Well Kept Wallet. “It helps to give you more discipline if you like to take money out all the time.”
Some credit unions — like Alliant Credit Union in Chicago — consistently offer high yields. A credit union could be another good alternative if you’re not impressed with the mega-banks’ savings account rates.
3. Comparison shop
Comparing the best savings account rates is a good idea, but don’t stop there.
See how savings accounts stack up in terms of their monthly maintenance fees, excessive transaction fees (for more than six certain transfers or withdrawals per statement cycle) and minimum balance requirements.
These days, it’s easy to find a free savings account that requires a low minimum deposit. Look into both the minimum balance required to avoid a maintenance fee and the minimum balance required to earn a certain APY.
Make sure the accounts you’re assessing have all of the features you want, like mobile check deposit and account alerts. And pay attention to what’s included in the fine print. If you’ll need to transfer money to your checking account, find out how long that’ll take.
You should only be looking at banks and credit unions that are insured either by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. or the National Credit Union Administration. “That means that regardless of their reputation, if they were to go under your money’s insured up to $250,000 per depositor,” Hayes says.
It’s also not a bad idea to find out more about the financial health of the banks you’re comparing.
4. How to fund your account
Opening a savings account shouldn’t take too long, particularly if you’re filling out an application for an online bank. As you’re preparing to open a savings account, you can save yourself some time by collecting in advance all of the documents you need.
Typically, applicants will be asked to provide their driver’s license number and Social Security number along with their address, date of birth and email address. If you’re planning to link your savings account to an existing checking account, you’ll need to find the correct routing and account numbers.
You’ll usually be able to fund your account by using the routing number and account number of your existing checking or savings account to have the money transfer into your new online bank account. Some banks may allow you to scan in a check or mobile deposit a check to fund your account. Another low-tech method may be to mail a check to the bank. If going this route, confirm both the mailing address and that the bank accepts checks via mail.
Be prepared to make your full minimum deposit right away. Otherwise, you might forget and force the bank to close your account. Or you could end up earning a lower rate for depositing less money than you had originally planned – or incur a maintenance fee if you’re below the minimum required balance.
5. Open another account
If you have no problem staying organized, consider opening another savings account. It’s best to separate your savings and put money set aside for different goals in different accounts.
Opening multiple savings account could be a great way to take advantage of higher yields. For instance, if one of your banks lowers its APY significantly and one of your other banks keeps the rate stable or raises its rate, you could easily move your money to the bank with the higher yield.