Perhaps you think having a savings account is a nice, but unnecessary, banking option. But you may benefit from having both types of accounts. Understanding the differences will help you decide.
Checking and savings accounts are basically an arrangement to lend money to a bank in the form of deposits, which they promise to keep safe until you withdraw or spend it.
That promise is backed by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., which fully insures checking and savings deposits up to $250,000 per person, per account, which is in turn backed by the full faith and credit of the U.S. government. The National Credit Union Association does the same for checking and savings accounts held at credit unions.
That’s pretty much where the similarities end.
Transactional: Traditional checking accounts are transactional accounts, meaning banks expect account holders to frequently take out money, with few restrictions on the timing or amount of those transactions.
To help make those transactions as convenient as possible, checking accounts typically come with the ability to make payments with a checkbook, debit card and even mobile apps.
Typically paid for by fees: Checking accounts usually carry fees for a long list of services or account holder missteps, such as not carrying a high enough balance, using another bank’s ATM or for covering an overdraft. Banks attach so many fees for two reasons:
- Banks can’t count on your money staying in checking accounts very long, so they have to hold a greater amount of your money in reserve than they would for a savings account, and they can’t lend it out. Instead, they make money on checking accounts through fees.
- Keeping a close eye on a lot of transactions incurs administrative costs for the banks.
No interest payments: Most traditional checking accounts don’t pay any interest to account holders, no matter how much is in the account. But you can find checking accounts that pay interest if you shop around.
Longer-term investment: Savings accounts are closer to a form of investment than a transactional account. You’re giving a bank access to your cash, typically for longer periods than with checking, so they can loan out almost all of it to earn a return.
Harder to spend: By design, money contained in savings accounts is hard to spend directly. Savings accounts typically don’t have check-writing privileges or debit cards attached to them, so in many cases, you’ll need to withdraw or transfer it before you spend it.
Few fees: With savings accounts, banks make money off the “spread” — the difference between the interest rate they pay you and the interest rate on the loans they fund with your money. Because of that, and the fact that they don’t cost as much as checking accounts to administer, banks typically charge little, if any, fees on savings accounts.
Pays interest: Current yields on savings accounts may not be great, but they may be able to help you accumulate a little more cash over time. Shop around to make sure you get the best rate on a savings account.
Why you need both
It’s very likely you have a checking account.
While they are a convenient way to pay for things, checking accounts are terrible places to save. Not only can money be drawn out quickly by savers themselves in moments of weakness, but checking deposits make a ripe target for thieves.
Because of consumer protection laws regarding fraud, the bank will most likely end up making you whole again, but meanwhile, you’re stuck.
And if you’re worried about the hassle of managing multiple accounts, it’s easier than ever, with the ability to bank online and via mobile. Having two accounts can even allow you to dodge checking fees in some cases.