The Three Best Online Banks for Seniors in 2014

The Three Best Online Banks for Seniors in 2014

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Following its recent study of services provided related to the 10 most important factors in investment banking for seniors, BestCashCow today releases the following results.

Seniors, like all other Americans, seek the safety of FDIC insurance and higher returns on their cash when depositing money in an online bank.  However, those in their third age are particularly sensitive to the following ten factors:

  1. Website Clarity – the website should be clean and absent of clutter from the moment the user signs on and thereafter. 
  2. Website Ease of Setting up Account  – It should be easy to set up an account, including the ability to easily create passwords and password hints.  The user should not be put through contortions here.
  3. Availability by phone of US-based customer service personnel skilled at directing newcomers through the website
  4. Brand Recognition and Comfort
  5. Ease of Use and Access to Account on a regular basis – seniors need to know that they have arrived at the landing for accessing their savings and CD accounts, and the website shouldn’t share an interface for accessing information about car loans, student loans or home loans
  6. Clear Disclosure of Savings and CD rates at all times (seniors do  not want to be vulnerable to bait and switch; they want to know their rate at all times)
  7. Ease of setting up and directing ACH transfers to savings and checking accounts at other institutions. 
  8. Quick execution of ACH or wire transfers
  9. Absence of all limitation (e.g. d low volume and dollar limits) on ACH and other transfers
  10. Absence of account service and maintenance fees or other hidden fees

On each of the above ten factors, BestCashCow has ranked the following as the three best online banks:

Personal Savings by American Express

American Express’s Personal Savings product offers outstanding online and phone service from a name that is well recognized and trusted.  The bank ranks excellent on each of the above factors, but excels particularly in all aspects involving phone support.  Plus, with no minimum opening balances or minimum maintenance requirements, Personal Savings by American Express is a clear winner for folks in their third age in 2014.  One clear downside of Personal Savings by American Express, however, is that their rate is currently slightly below that of their competitors and their CD rates are not competitive.

 

GE Capital Bank

GE Capital Bank benefits from the solid GE and GE Capital brands.  It also provides no minimums, no transaction fees and multiple ways to access capital easily and quickly.  Customer service that is available during normal business hours and responsive immediately to online requests makes GE Capital Bank an online bank where seniors should feel comfortable stashing cash.   

 

CIT Bank

While perhaps less well known than others on this list, CIT Bank offers a high quality online savings account with virtually no fees to open, maintain or operate as long as a $100 minimum balance is maintained.  Those maintaining $25,000 or more in an account with CIT Bank also receive a slightly higher rate and a waiver of outgoing wire transfer fees (ordinarily only $10).   With both outstanding service and great rates make CIT Bank an excellent choice for seniors.

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An account with each of the above three online banks provides someone in their third age with the ability to comfortably and safely deposit, fully insured by FDIC, up to $750,000 ($1,500,000 if a couple) and to earn much more on this money than he or she can through any other absolutely safe, no risk investment (6.5x to 8x what is earned at brick and mortar banks).  In short, these three banks are safe for anyone and worth looking at, but especially worthy of a look for seniors who have until now been uncomfortable with online banking.

NOTE:  BestCashCow undertook this survey and analysis totally independently of the banks studied, including the above three winners. 

For the sake of disclosure, CIT and GE Capital Bank are advertisers on BestCashCow.   They did not directly sponsor this article or the study behind it.

Compare all online savings rates here.

Image: Ambro at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Barclays and Natixis Offer Investors a Chance to Get 10% or 11% Annually

Barclays and Natixis Offer Investors a Chance to Get 10% or 11% Annually

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I have written previous on BestCashCow.com about debt side Structured Notes. While these Notes involve real risks, they present those investors with a long-term time horizon with the opportunity to pick up yield.

I am a big proponent of keeping money that you absolutely cannot afford to lose in savings and CD accounts and BestCashCow.com is the best place to find and identify the appropriate online and local accounts for your needs.  It makes sense in the current interest rate environment for investors to look carefully at placing very small amounts of their cash that they want to be sure is secure, but do not need to access for a long period in bank-issued Structured Notes in order to avail themselves of the opportunity to earn higher rates over time.  While we have seen such Notes in the past offered by the likes of Morgan Stanley, Citibank, Chase, Goldman and HSBC, the offerings currently in syndication are offered by Barclays Bank PLC, the British bank rated A-/A3, and Natixis, the French bank rated A/A2. 

The Note currently in syndication by Barclays Bank PLC is a 15 year Note paying 10% for the first year and then as much as 10% in subsequent years (on quarterly payment dates) based on the difference between the 30 year less the 5 year Constant Maturity Swap (CMS) rate.   The Note is the same structure as an HSBC Note that I wrote about here and to a Citibank Note discussed here.  Unlike those notes, this one is using a multiplier of 5 that offers a higher likelihood of getting closer to 10% (the 30 year CMS needs to stay only 2% above the 5 year on quarterly measurement dates for payment to 10%).  The Note is callable after the first year and on each quarterly payment date, which is a feature that is unattractive, but does not jeopardize the 10% that this Note produces during the first year.  Those interested in this Note can learn more about it by referencing CUSIP 06741UBK9 or ISIN No. US06741UBK97.

A Natixis Note in syndication is a 20 year Note that pays 11% for the first year and then as much as 11% in subsequent years (on quarterly payment dates) based on the difference between the 30 year less the 2 year CMS rate (the multiplier is 4).  The Note does not pay on quarterly measurement dates if the S&P 500 trades more than 25% below its price on closing, and is not callable.  This Note is similar in structure to a JP Morgan Chase Note that I wrote about last Fall.  The main difference from the JP Morgan Note is that it is 20 years, instead of 15. Those interested in this Note can learn more about it by referencing CUSIP 63873HKC7or ISIN No. US63873HKC78

The Natixis Note is more interesting than the Barclays Note for several reasons – it is not callable, is based on the 30-2 spread instead of the 30-5 spread, may pay a higher interest rate (has a higher cap), and is issued by a credit that is currently rated to be slightly stronger.  Nonetheless, I have had a tough time getting my hands around this one for two reasons.  First, while 15 years is already certainly pressing the length of time for which anyone should lock up their money in an illiquid investment, 20 years is just much too long.  Second, I find the S&P contingency something that is different to stomach, especially as the S&P could easily fall more than 25% and stay down there for a lengthy period of time.  I therefore personally bought a small stake in the Barclays Note, but avoided the Natixis one. 

Structured Notes are interesting ways to pick up yield, but investors should always take a very measured approach.  Both of these Notes are illiquid and involve real interest rate risk, and could very well wind up paying little or no interest for lengthy periods of time.

Image: Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The Heartbleed Bug, Your Risk, and Online Banking

The Heartbleed Bug, Your Risk, and Online Banking

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Information on how much of a risk the Heartbleed bug is for online banking and financial transactions. Tips on what you can do to protect yourself.

By now you've probably read or heard about the Heartbleed bug. Discovered one week ago, the bug makes encrypted Internet communication vulnerable to being hacked and easily decrypted. It is a particularly insidious bug because it leaves no trace of being hacked, so if information is stolen, the theft is never detected. Still, it is important to remember that as of now, there is no known case of hackers using the bug to steal information. 

So how much of a threat is it really, and what can you do to protect yourself? 

Are You Impacted?

The general consensus from the media and security experts is that people should be concerned and vigilant about the bug.  Mark Nunnikhoven, a security expert at Trend Micro said that about 17% of secured sites on the Internet are vulnerable to the Heartbleed bug. The website Mashable.com has done a nice job putting together a list of major sites that were impacted by the bug. Some large sites include: Netflix, Youtube, and Gmail. On any of these non-banking sites, your personal information and credit card could be compromised. So, although they are not banks per se, you might still conduct financial transactions on them.  

Large Banks Not as Impacted

The list from Mashable also shows that large banks have been largely unaffected by the bug. Big banks have multiple layers of authentication and rely on more than just a secure certificate to keep their customer's information safe.

Smaller Banks May Be Vulnerable

What about smaller banks? I went to several smaller bank sites and used a Heartbleed Vulnerability testing tool.  In five out of five cases, I received the message below.

Server software: Apache

Was vulnerable: Possibly (known use OpenSSL, but might be using a safe version)

SSL Certificate: Possibly Unsafe (created 8 months ago at Aug 16 00:00:00 2013 GMT) Additional checks SSL certificate history yielded no new information

Assessment: It's not clear if it was vulnerable so wait for the company to say something publicly, if you used the same password on any other sites, update it now.

You can test your own bank using the tool found here.

In contrast, this is the message I received when I tested Bank of America's website:

Site: www.bankofamerica.com

Server software: Not reported

Was vulnerable: No

SSL Certificate:SafeAssessment: This server was not vulnerable, no need to change your password unless you have used it on any other site!

This doesn't mean that smaller banks have the bug but if you receive the Possible message using the test, you should call your bank and ask if the bank was vulnerable to the bug and if they have fixed it.

Conclusion

While you shouldn't panic, it would be wise to change your passwords if you use any of the sites listed as vulnerable. While it's unclear if this vulnerability was ever exploited, it makes sense to change passwords on a regular basis anyway. So, use this opportunity to upgrade your own personal digital security. One caveat though. You might want to wait a few days or even a week to ensure that all of the vulnerable sites have upgraded their software. Otherwise, you could be giving out your new password to an insecure site.  In the meantime, check your bank statements and credit card activity regularly to make sure you don't see anything out of the ordinary.

Image: www.softonic.com