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Online Savings & Money Market Account Rates 2021

Online Savings & Money Market Account Rates

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October 2019 Update - Hard to Get Excited About CDs and Even Harder to Get Excited About Savings

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This time last year, everyone was getting very excited about savings rates moving well above 2%, about 1-year CDs at 2.85% and above, and 5-year CDs at 3.50%.   Those with cash were finally finding risk-free opportunities for their savings that matched the dividend yields that they could get from stock holdings in major industrial companies.

My, how times have switched back again quickly!

In short order, savings rates have been falling as the Fed has now cut rates twice this year.   While the Federal Funds rate is now at a target 1.75% to 2.00%, some savings rates are still as high as 2.40%.   But, estimates are for as many as two more rate cuts this year as the economy continues to slow and impeachment becomes heated.   2-year US Treasuries are now yielding below 1.40%.   If are still excited about savings rates, don’t get too excited because if the Federal Reserve does anything like what economists and market observers are predicting, they could go much lower in the months ahead.

In this environment, if there is anything to get excited about it is still CD rates.   BestCashCow is still showing several online banks offering 1-year CDs at 2.50%, with 2-year and 3-year CDs as high as 2.60%, and 5-year CDs as high as 3.00%.   You may even find higher rates at banks and credit unions.

We’d be careful not to put too much in long-term CDs.  However, as 2020 is going to present a rather uncertain political and economic environment, locking in an interest rate for the next year on money that you know you won’t need makes sense. 

The Federal Reserve Lowers The Fed Funds Rate by 25 bps to a 1.75% to 2.00% Target

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The Federal Reserve acted today to lower the target Fed Funds rate by a quarter point.   This follows the July 31 quarter point reduction of the rate.   The Fed Funds rate had stood at a post-crisis high of 2.25% to 2.50% earlier this year, but due to Presidential harassment it now sits at 1.75% to 2.00%.

Jerome Powell’s move was much expected, yet it invariably raises questions.  The Fed’s mandate is to fight inflation and to maintain interest rate stability.   Lowering the rate while inflation is beginning to perk up debases the value of the currency (hurts savers by lowering savings rates) and lowering the rate now also impairs its ability to maintain financial stability in the event of a real crisis.   It is unclear exactly what Powell is afraid of now and what is prompting this action.    Core CPI is strong, the economy is producing at capacity and the stock market is at an all time high.   While the dollar has strengthened against other major currencies, it remains dramatically weaker than it was in 2001 and 2002 and the Fed’s mandate is not to weaken the currency.   Therefore, either Powell is seeing real signs of a slowdown due to the trade war with China and acting preemptively, in which case we should be worried, or he is responding to political pressure in which case a dangerous precedent has happened.

Along with Jerome Powell, 5 other Fed members were on board with the action.   3 Fed governors dissented with one, James Bullard, dissenting because he wanted a full half point cut.  

In the Fed’s statement, it said that the outlook is uncertain and the Fed continues to monitor the situation and will take further action as required.   The outlook is always uncertain and the Fed always monitors the situation.   The prevailing view of Wall Street going into this action was that the Fed would cut again when it concludes it next meeting on October 30.   However, 7 members see the need for another cut and 5 do not, leaving the Fed more divided than ever before and leaving uncertain what action the Fed will take in October.

Jerome Powell himself may not even get to October as Fed Chairman.    There is an anxious man who lives and works at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue who wants the Fed to act much more quickly and aggressively.    Some believe that his personal business interests require a quicker lowering of rates in order to stay afloat (incidentally, real estate prices in New York are really coming off highs quickly now).   This fellow is capricious and may act now to fire Jerome Powell, and even to replace him with Jim Cramer.   Powell has said that he will not resign his post; a constitutional crisis may be coming.

Hot Money - A Defense

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A well-known online bank recently dropped its savings rate by 15 basis points, and that action prompted me to close my account there and move the entire balance into a one-year CD at another bank.

When the bank’s manager called to find out why I had withdrawn my entire balance - and I explained my decision – he proceeded to explain that my money is “hot” and that they don’t want hot money.   He also explained to me that his bank is different from all others in that it only wants customers who are loyal, i.e., who leave their money in the same bank for years. 

I might have been taken aback by the sheer arrogance and the use of the term “hot money”.   I worked for several years in the banking business and to me “hot money” always implied some sort of illicit or illegal activity (for example, the Trump Organization's revenue is all “hot money”).   But, when I looked up the definition, I found that the Oxford Dictionary defines “hot money” as:

capital which is frequently transferred between financial institutions in an attempt to maximize interest or capital gain.

By that definition, my money is hot money.   And, I will clarify still further:   Loyalty is fine as long as the customer is rewarded.  Otherwise, it is just a word to convince you to sit on your hands and ignore the reality that there is competition for your money, always.  As with everything you do in life, it is important to get the best deal you can.   And, the great thing about living in a market economy is that as a consumer you are not just a rate-taker.

Especially in a declining rate environment, my cash, just like all of my investments, needs to be managed to maximize its appreciation.   I can play with a savings and CD calculator.   I can also run some quick numbers on the back of my hand.   $100,000 earning 2% over the next year may produce $2,000 of pre-tax income if savings rates do not fall further, but as of this date it earns me at least another $400 to $500 in a one-year CD at another bank (unless savings rates turn around and rise).

So, yes, my money is “hot money”.   And, nobody should be ashamed to try to secure all the interest that their cash cash generate over the next year as rates decline.