As you have probably noticed, interest rates have plummeted over the last two years. Not long ago it was easy to find saving account interest rates in the 4-5% range, and CD rates slightly higher than that. Right now the best savings accounts are offering interest rates just over 1%. This is a far cry from what many people were used to. To take the place of the high rates that were so commonplace a year ago, many banks are now offering high interest checking accounts – some with interest rates more than double or triple what the best online savings accounts offer.
High Yield Checking Accounts – Are They Worth It?
High yield checking accounts are becoming more popular in banks across the nation, particularly the smaller regional banks that are vying for more customers and larger deposits. The biggest advantage these checking accounts offer is the high yield interest, but many of them offer other advantages such as free ATM withdrawals, no fees, and automatic bill pay.
How good are the interest rates? Rates vary of course, but a bank in our local area is currently offering a high yield savings account which is over 3 times the interest rate that some of the large online banks offer. While this seems like it would fall under the “sounds too good to be true” test, it is true – if you meet the conditions. And the terms and conditions are the biggest downfall to these types of accounts. Let’s look at some general requirements.
Common high yield checking account requirements
Banks are able to offer these high interest rates because these accounts are profitable for them when you meet the following criteria:
- You live in the local area.
- You sign up for direct deposit or automatic bill pay (or both).
- You make a minimum of 10-12 debit card transactions per month.
- You elect to receive electronic statements instead of paper statements.
- Limit of $25,000 at highest interest rate (common limit, some banks may vary).
It’s important to meet these requirements because the bank will reduce your interest rate to the standard checking account interest rate in any month you don’t meet the requirements, usually down to 0.5% or lower. Again, this is a general representation, so be sure to read the fine print before opening an account.
Pros and cons of high yield checking accounts
Pros. A 4.5% interest rate is a stellar interest rate in this economy. Your funds will be guaranteed by the FDIC and the entire amount of your deposit, up to the limit, should be eligible for the high interest rates. Many banks also offer ATM fee reimbursements with a high yield checking account, which can save you money. (more on how to save money on ATM transactions).
Cons. Most high yield checking accounts have a long list of requirements which usually ends with a clause that states the terms can change at any time, or that they are only available to customers for a limited time. Making 10 or more debit card transactions per month can be a nuisance that many people would prefer to avoid and the $25,000 limit may also turn people off because it can be a hassle to switch your deposits from bank to bank. Finally, one slip up and you lose the higher interest rates and other benefits, potentially including the ATM fee reimbursements that you made under the impression they would be reimbursed.
How do banks make money from high yield checking accounts?
When you look at the terms and conditions you will notice a few requirements that are in the bank’s best interest – including electronic statements, automatic bill pay, direct deposit, and multiple debt card transactions. Banks spend a lot of money processing paper statements; electronic statements are a huge cost savings for them. They also spend a lot of money processing checks that are both deposited with them and are drawn against their accounts. Automatic deposit and bill pay substantially reduces the number of checks they process each year.
Banks receive a fee when you use your debit card and debit card use reduces the number of checks people write. You will also notice there is a limit on the amount of money on which they will pay the higher interest rates. That is because these accounts are only profitable up to a certain point, which is reflected in the limits.
Most importantly, the banks know how much it costs to find and retain new customers, and these deals work great to bring in new customers and create loyalty to their bank. Current customers are much more likely to use their current bank for loans, mortgages, IRAs, and other financial products that can be profitable for the banks.
Put it all together, and you can see that the higher interest rates are a loss leader with a stop limit. The banks are willing to pay a fixed amount to get customers in the door, knowing they are likely to make up that money on the back end through additional sales and economies of scale.
Are High Yield Checking Accounts Worth It?
The answer is – it depends. From a mathematical standpoint, yes, higher interest rates are good. But the added hassles may not be worth it on a time/maintenance level. I personally haven’t opened one because I am happy with my current bank and I can’t be bothered by making a minimum of 10 debit card transactions per month and making sure I swipe the card as a credit card. I don’t have the patience to keep track of how many transactions I have made, and I don’t want to get in the habit of running to the gas station or Wal-Mart to make a series of transactions at the end of the month to ensure I continue to meet the account requirements.
On the other hand, the interest rates are very nice and I certainly understand why many people are attracted to these accounts. It’s not really that much work to maintain compliance – it’s just more than I am willing to do on a regular basis.
My personal solution: I continue to use my online savings account for high(er) than average interest rates on my savings, and I use my cash back credit cards for my daily spending. Of course, I pay my balance in full each month to avoid any interest charges or fees. If you need a better checking account, then I would check out these free online checking accounts, many of which offer a cash sign up bonus or high interest rates.
What are your thoughts? Do you have a high yield checking account, and is it worth it to you?