Thursday, May 1, 2008

And the Rates go Down...

The Federal Reserve cut a key short term interest rate again yesterday by 1/4 point, marking the seventh cut in the last 8 months or so. The decision dropped the federal funds rate to 2.0% from 5.25% last September, and interest rates in most people's checking, savings and money market accounts have plummeted with the key rate. Two popular options for finding a decent savings rate include the ING Direct Orange Savings Account and E*Trade Complete Savings Account, both currently paying around 3%. This rate is several times larger than the average savings rate from a "brick and mortar" bank, which may currently pay .5-1%. I've tried both the ING and E*Trade accounts, and both seem to offer a good alternative to low rates at local banks. It is usually easy (and free) to transfer money between these accounts and your regular checking or savings account, making this a great option for an emergency savings fund.

However, I'd like to recommend another option I think people often overlook- credit unions. Credit unions are basically member-owned, non-profit banks. Because of this, they don't pay taxes and pay higher interest rates to their member-owners. Credit unions are generally set up to serve a specific group of people, so there are some requirements (such as being a government employee, living in a certain area, working in a certain field, etc.) to join one. However, most people would find they are eligible to join one near them if they did a little looking.

I’ve been a member of a credit union for about 5 years and have always been happy with it. While others are currently earning .5-1% interest or less, my money market account with the credit union is currently paying 3.25%, down from about 4.5% before the Fed started cutting rates. In other words, I get a better rate from my convenient “brick and mortar” bank, with access to ATMs, than I could get from many of the highest-yielding online banks.

To find a credit union near you, check out Credit Union National Association .

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