The best places to save your money: Money market accounts, savings accounts and CDs

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Money market accounts, savings accounts, and certificates of deposit (CDs) can give your savings a boost by earning interest, all while keeping your money safe.

Understanding how these interest-bearing deposit accounts work and the differences among them can help you make the best choice.

What is a money market account?

A money market account is an interest-bearing savings product available at most banks and credit unions. You can usually write checks from it and may get a debit card.

A money market account is considered a deposit account under the Federal Reserve’s Regulation D, so the number of transactions, such as transfers and withdrawals, are limited to six per month. There are some transactions, including withdrawing from an ATM or bank teller, that don’t count as one of the six transactions. There are also exceptions to the limits. Check with your bank to find out its policy.

Money market accounts used to pay more interest than typical savings accounts, but in the current historically low interest rate environment, the yields are not that different. If you find a money market account with a higher yield, be prepared to maintain a higher minimum balance or hold to another requirement to get the top yield.

To find the best rates, use Bankrate to compare money market accounts.

What is a savings account?

A savings account is the most basic type of bank account designed for storing your savings.

When you open a savings account, you’ll deposit some money into the account. You can add money and withdraw money as you need to, but you won’t get a checkbook to access the money. Instead, you’ll have to rely on online transfers or make withdrawals in-person at your bank. Some banks will let you make ATM withdrawals if you have a debit card linked to a checking account.

Typically, banks limit the number of withdrawals you can make from your savings account to six each statement period. Going over the limit can result in a fee, emphasizing how the account is designed for longer-term storage of your money rather than frequent transactions.

In exchange for letting the bank hold your money, the bank will pay interest on the balance of your savings account. Each statement, the bank will make an interest payment into your savings account, helping your balance grow.

Some banks have minimum balance requirements and charge fees for their savings accounts. Keep an eye out for these types of fees as they can reduce the value of your savings over time.

What is a CD?

A certificate of deposit (CD) is an account that you can use to save money for a set period of time.

When you open a CD, you have to decide how much money to put in the account and how long you want to keep the money in the account. For example, you may choose to open a one-year CD. CD terms can range from a few months to five years or longer.

Once the account is open, you cannot withdraw your money until the chosen amount of time passes. If you do, you usually have to pay a penalty fee. In exchange for this loss in flexibility, banks tend to offer higher interest rates on CDs than on other accounts.

Most CDs offer fixed rates throughout their term. Once you lock in your interest rate, it won’t change, making CDs good for savers who want a guarantee that their interest rate won’t drop. However, if market rates rise, the money in the CD will be stuck at a lower rate, which can make long-term CDs a risk.

Money market account vs. CD

A money market account differs from a CD in that it has checking account features. For instance, you can usually write checks from it. You may also get a debit card. Additionally, a CD is a time-deposit account, while a money market account isn’t.

Typically, a money market account pays less than a CD because a CD requires you to keep your cash in the account for a set period of time. Some of the top money market accounts earn up to 0.60 APY, according to Bankrate, while some three-year CDs pay up to 1 percent. Money market accounts with higher yields typically require you to maintain a higher balance.

Money market account vs. savings account

The primary differences between money market accounts and savings accounts are their flexibility and fee structures.

Savings accounts are relatively flexible but usually don’t come with checkbooks and debit cards like money market accounts. Money market accounts are explicitly designed to give account holders an easy way to spend the money in the account. Savings accounts are not as flexible, and you need to take a few extra steps to spend money that you have in the account.

The other difference is that savings accounts are generally much easier and less expensive to open. Many savings accounts have no or low minimum balances and fees that range from easy to avoid to non-existent. Many money market accounts have much higher minimum balance requirements and monthly fees. This makes them more popular with people who have larger balances and who want the flexibility to make large purchases.

Pros and cons of money market accounts, savings accounts and CDs

In order to compare these products, it’s important to understand their advantages and disadvantages.

Money market accounts

In general, money market accounts pay a higher APY than ordinary savings accounts. Check to see how your financial institution compounds the interest. You’re likely to see daily compounding, with the interest paid out monthly. Additionally, check to see whether the APYs are tiered. Often, you’ll have a lower APY until you reach a certain balance, and then the APY increases. A balance of $100,000 or more, for example, could earn you a higher interest rate than an account with less than $10,000.

Advantages

  • Higher interest: Compared with interest checking accounts and many average savings accounts, you can generally expect a higher rate of interest.
  • Accessible funds: A money market account may come with check-writing privileges, maybe even a debit card, and the ability to make electronic transfers.
  • Safe place for your money: Your account is protected from loss at any federally insured bank or credit union.

Disadvantages

  • Limited withdrawals: Unlike a checking account, which doesn’t limit any types of transactions, money market accounts have restrictions. You can’t write unlimited checks or make unlimited electronic transfers.
  • Account minimums: You’re often required to keep a higher account minimum than with a savings account or even a CD.
  • Monthly fees: If you don’t meet the account minimum, there’s a good chance you’ll be charged a monthly fee.

Savings accounts

Savings accounts with no minimum balance requirement are currently paying in the neighborhood of 0.50 percent APY. Some savings accounts do have minimum balance requirements, but they’re usually lower than a money market account. Like a money market account, though, withdrawals are limited.

Advantages

  • Safe place for your money: Savings accounts at Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. (FDIC) and National Credit Union Administration (NCUA) institutions are insured and highly liquid.
  • Low fees and minimums: It’s possible to find high-yield savings accounts that charge no minimums or monthly fees.
  • Access ATMs: You can usually access your savings account via ATMs, making it convenient to get money when you need it.

Disadvantages

  • Lower interest rates: Your APY on a savings account will probably be lower than what you’d earn on a CD.
  • Withdrawal limits: The number of withdrawals you can make a month are limited.

Certificates of deposit (CDs)

A CD is the most restrictive of these savings accounts. You usually need to commit a minimum amount of money to open a certificate of deposit, and the money is locked away for a period of time, depending on the term you select. CD terms can range from a few months to five years.

Compare the best rates on CDs on Bankrate.

If you withdraw the money before the CD matures, expect to pay a penalty. Depending on the size of the CD, you can earn a higher APY than you would with a savings account or money market account.

Advantages

  • Higher Interest rate: Not only is the interest rate on a CD often higher than other savings accounts, it is fixed and doesn’t vary over the term, like you see with money market and savings accounts.
  • No fees: As long as you don’t withdraw your money early, you won’t be hit with any fees.
  • Choice of term lengths: You can choose how long you want to keep your savings tied up so it can earn interest. Banks commonly have multiple choices of CD terms.

Disadvantages

  • Low liquidity and access: You can’t withdraw money from a CD at an ATM or by writing checks. The money is not accessible unless you make an early withdrawal.
  • Penalties: Pulling out money before the CD term is up will incur a penalty. Some CDs allow you to withdraw some of the money without penalty, but they typically come with lower APYs and other restrictions.

Comparing account features

Here’s a helpful comparison of account features. You can see the differences between different types of accounts you might see at a bank or credit union.

Checking Savings Money market CD
FDIC/NCUA insurance Yes Yes Yes Yes
Check-writing Yes No Yes No
Debit card Yes Yes Yes No
Liquidity Yes Yes Yes No
Limited transactions No Yes Yes Yes
Relative APY Low Low Low High

Who should get a money market, savings account or CD?

Deciding which type of account to open depends on your goals and your financial situation. If you don’t have a lot of money to start with, a savings account makes sense because it’s possible to find accounts that don’t require minimums.

If you want to earn a higher APY and you can meet a higher account minimum, a money market account is a good choice. It’s a good pick, too, for people who need easy access to their money.

If you know that you won’t need the money for a while, and you want to earn an even higher APY, a CD works well. However, you should commit only the amount of money that you know you won’t need until the CD term ends.

How to use money market, savings and CDs to save for your goals

Each of these accounts can help you save for different types of goals. You can use these accounts together to work toward your goals and maximize your earnings.

  • Short-term goals: A savings account is a good fit for near-term plans, like a vacation. You won’t earn a lot of interest, but if you’re going to need the money soon, that won’t matter much.
  • Medium-term goals: A money market account can be well-suited for medium-term goals because it requires a higher minimum balance and pays a higher yield. In addition, it’s liquid enough that if you need to tap your funds earlier than you planned, there are no penalties to pay.
  • Long-term goals: CDs make sense if you are saving for a goal that is several years off, such as buying a house, especially if you have a big sum of money that you can afford not to touch for a long time. Plus, CDs have a fixed rate, so you need not worry about rate fluctuations.

Risks of using money market accounts, savings accounts and CDs

Although your money is protected from bank failures by FDIC insurance and from credit union failures by NCUA insurance, there are other risks to keep in mind as you consider these savings products:

  • Inflation: The biggest risk you’re likely to have is inflation. As consumer prices increase, your yield may not keep up with inflation. While you won’t lose your principal, you could see an erosion of your purchasing power over time.
  • Rate fluctuations: Some accounts are more sensitive to the macroeconomic environment. Yields on savings, money market accounts and CDs are based on market conditions. When rates fall, so does your yield.

With a CD, you have some protection from rate volatility because you lock in the rate for the term length of the CD. But if the CD matures during a low-rate environment and you renew the CD, you’re stuck with a lower yield than you had before.

Many investors choose to offset the inflation risk by having other investments, such as stocks.

Written by
Libby Wells
Contributing writer
Libby Wells is a contributor covering banking and deposit products. She has more than 30 years’ experience as a writer and editor for newspapers, magazines and online publications.
Edited by
Senior editorial director
Reviewed by
Professor of finance, Creighton University