Americans can place their money in lots of different types of accounts. Some savings vehicles get tax-favorable treatment or federal protections while others don’t. It’s easy to get confused. Below are some of the most common savings vehicles as well as terms used in connection with emergency funds or savings.
401(k) plan — An employer-sponsored savings plan that allows employees to contribute a portion of their gross salary to a tax-qualified savings or profit-sharing plan. Employee contributions and income earned on the plan are tax-deferred until withdrawn at age 59? or later (to avoid early-withdrawal penalty). Money directed to the plan may be partially matched by the employer. The 401(k) is named for the section of the federal tax code that authorizes it.
2. 529 plan — Named after the section of the tax code that establishes them. Offered by states to allow families to save for college in a vehicle with tax-deferred growth. These plans come in the form of prepaid tuition plans or savings plans.
3. Brokerage account — An account at a securities firm or brokerage that can hold investments such as stocks, bonds, mutual funds and ETFs. Cash not invested is generally held in a money market fund.
4. Certificate of deposit (CD) — A time deposit, FDIC-insured to $100,000 per person ($250,000 on retirement accounts), with a fixed maturity date, usually from three months to five years. It typically pays higher interest than a savings account and a penalty is charged for withdrawing funds before the maturity date.
5. Emergency fund — A sum of money saved for urgent situations, usually kept in a liquid account such as passbook savings, money market account or money market mutual fund. The general recommended size of an emergency savings fund is roughly enough money to cover three to six months of living expenses.
6.Home equity — The part of a home’s value that the mortgage borrower owns outright; the difference between the fair market value of the home and the principal balances of all mortgage loans.
7. Money market account — A money market account is an FDIC-insured deposit account that allows you access to the money you have deposited. Withdrawals are limited to six monthly, three of which may be by check. It’s sometimes called a money market deposit account to distinguish it from a money market fund, which is a type of mutual fund.
8. Money market mutual fund — A mutual fund that invests in short-term debt instruments such as Treasury bills, commercial paper, and large CDs. Also referred to as money market fund (MMF).
9. Mutual fund — An investment that pools together money from many different investors and puts it into stocks, bonds and other securities or a combination of the three. Mutual funds offer professional management and diversification.
10. Passbook savings account — Liquid account, providing FDIC insurance to $100,000 per person ($250,000 on retirement accounts), that generally offers low or no minimum balance requirements, fewer fees and a low rate of interest. The account may or may not have restrictions on number of transactions, and provides the consumer with a booklet that has each deposit and withdrawal stamped inside it at the time of each in-branch transaction.
11. Roth IRA — An alternative to a traditional IRA. The most notable thing about a Roth is earnings withdrawals are tax-free if the account has been open for at least five years and you’re at least 59 1/2 when you start to withdraw money. Contributions to a Roth are not tax deductible. The Roth is named for Sen. William Roth, Jr., former chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.
12. Short-term bond fund — A mutual fund made up of short to intermediate-term bonds with maturities of three to five years.
13. S&P no-load index fund — a mutual fund comprised of the stocks that make up the Standard & Poor’s 500. Load refers to the sales fee.
14. Standard & Poor’s 500 — a benchmark for the overall U.S. stock market comprised of 500 large-cap stocks. Many index funds attempt to match the performance of the S&P 500 by holding the same stocks in the same proportions.
15. Subprime mortgage — A mortgage granted to a borrower considered subprime, that is, a person with a less-than-perfect credit report. Subprime borrowers have either missed payments on a debt or have been late with payments. Lenders charge a higher interest rate to compensate for potential losses from customers who may run into trouble or default.
16. Tax-free money market mutual fund — Usually purchased through brokerage houses, they invest in short-term debt instruments issued by tax-exempt entities at the federal level, and sometimes at the state and local levels. Earnings are not taxed on a federal level, though they may be subject to tax at a state and local level.
17. Yield curve — A yield curve is a graph that shows the relationship between yields and maturity dates. Under normal circumstances, the longer it takes for a CD, bond or other investment to mature, the greater the yield, because people demand a greater return to tie up their money for a longer time. When the difference in rates between a short-term investment and a long-term one is reduced, the yield curve flattens. When economic forces cause a shorter maturity to produce a greater yield than a long maturity, the yield curve is said to be inverted.