Brokerage Sweep Accounts Offer Safety but Awful Return

Rate information contained on this page may have changed. Please find latest savings rates.

Millions of investors have parked their cash in brokerage sweep accounts. In most cases, this is a bad idea.

As stock markets have crashed, millions of investors are holding a significant percent of their portfolio in their brokerage sweep accounts.  While this is good for financial companies, it's terrible for investors.  Sweep accounts offer rates of return as low as .01%.  For banks, the accounts are a bonanza.  They reinvest the money parked in these accounts at significantly higher rates, earning billions per year.

So, how do you make sure that you get a decent rate of return instead of funding your bank?

Move the money out of your brokerage account temporarily until you are ready to reinvest.  High yield savings and money market accounts on the BestCashCow rate table pay above 3% APY.   If you want to park significantly more than the FDIC limit of $250,000 per person per bank, then you may want to consider a CDARS program.

The disadvantage of getting these higher rates is that you'll have to move the money out of your brokerage and it can take 3-4 business days or longer to move the cash back in.  If you don't need immediate access to your money, it's not a problem.  But if you want to be able to transfer and trade, the time limit might be a drawback.

A solution to the access problem is to look  for a companion savings account with your broker.  Online stock brokers like Etrade and Charles Schwab offer relatively high savings accounts that provide ffast and easy transfer between brokerage and bank.  Etrade is currently paying 1.95% APY while Schwab is paying 2% APY.  BankDeals has a good review of the Schwab High Yield Investor Savings.  Be sure to ask your broker about higher yielding options 

Sweep accounts were never meant to be a place to park money for long periods of time.  Your broker has no incentive to suggest you move your money elsewhere but if you ask they should be able to provide a better option.  If they don't, at least you now know there are higher yielding places to invest your cash,


Tumble-a-thon Thursday as Savings Rates for Many Banks Drop

Rate information contained on this page may have changed. Please find latest savings rates.

Over the last couple of days, many of the top savings rates have dropped. The downward trend in savings rates continues.

Over the last couple of days, many of the top savings rates have dropped.  The downward trend in savings rates continues and while just two weeks ago DollarSavingsDirect offered a 4% APY savings rate, those days look long over.  Banks, clearly sensing that they can attract deposits well below 4% have followed each other lower.  Now, a rate above 3% is competitive.   At this pace, it's not unfathomable to think that over the next couple of months top savings rates could go as low as 2 - 2.5% APY. 

Recent rate cuts have come from many of the banks that led the rate tables over the last couple of months.  They include:

  • VentureBank which dropped 82 basis points from 3.3% APY last week to 2.48% APY today.
  • ClearSky Accounts dropped from 60 basis points from 3.75% APY to 3.15% APY
  • Everbank dropped 45 basis points from 3.18% first year APY to 2.73% first year APY.
  • Flagstar Bank droppped 45 basis points from 3.18% APY to 2.74% APY.
  • DollarSavingsDirect dropped 30 basis points from 3.5% APY to 3.2% APY.

Looking at the savings rate table, the days of 4% APY savings account rates are now long gone.  As the chart below shows, there has been a slow, steady erosion in rate that shows no sign of abating. 

Savings Rates - Trend Analysis

The Fed and Treasury's attempts to re-liquify the banking sector seem to be working, but at the expense of savers, who have months of low rates to look forward to. 

Still one must have look at it from a relative perspective.  Even at 3% APY, these rates are better than what you'll get at a big bank.  According to their websites, Bank of America's Regular Savings account is offering a rate of .2% APY, and Chase Savings is offering the whopping rate of .01% APY.

And when you consider that inflation is at its lowest in years (they're even talking about deflation), a 3% APY rate may not be as bad as it seems. 

Compare the top savings and money market account rates.


JP Morgan Chase's Staley Says Money Funds Biggest Systemic Risk

Rate information contained on this page may have changed. Please find latest savings rates.

Head of JP Morgan Chase's investment unit, James Staley, says that money market funds are the biggest risk to the financial system now. With over $4 trillion parked in money markets, they are lightly regulated and hold no reserves should something go wrong.

Head of JP Morgan Chase's investment unit, James Staley, says that money market funds are the biggest risk to the financial system now.  With over $4 trillion parked in money  markets, they are lightly regulated and hold no reserves should something go wrong.

He is quoted in a Bloomberg article as saying:

“What keeps me up at night most of anything we do at JPMorgan Asset Management is the money-market fund space,” Staley said at a discussion hosted today by Credit Suisse Group AG in Davos, Switzerland. “One of the things that has to come out and get a lot more attention and discussion is how do we take the systemic risk posed by money funds out of the system?”

Last September, the collapse of one of the largest money market funds, the Prime Reserve fund led to a run on money markets that was only stopped when the Fed stepped in with guarantees (what hasn't the Fed guaranteed).  

Now, many are reexaming money  market funds to determine just how much of a problem they pose.  Money market funds are comprised of highly rated short term debt as well as cash to meet any redmpetions and ensure liquidity.  They were considered a very safe investment vehicle.

But with a wave of bankruptcies predicted, even high quality, short term corporate debt may be risky.  As we've learned, the ratings agencies have their own agendas and can't be fully trusted.  So even if they rate a bond highly, it is not necessarily safe.  The sudden collapse of Lehman Bros. led to the fall of the Reverve Primary Fund.

The Group of 30, an independent policy organization whose members include Larry Summers and Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner have proposed either forcing money market funds to either adopt banking industry controls (reserve funds, more regulation) or give up their goal of maintaining a $1 NAV.  In essence, accepting regulation and reserves would make money markets into bank deposits, while not accepting would turn them into bond funds.

What does this mean for the average investor?  Be cautious and investigate your money market holding.  If you have free cash from your brokerage account invested in a money market you may want to take another look and feel comfortable with what the funds are invested.  Money market yields continue to fall, making them a relatively poor investment compared to FDIC money market and savings rates.  And unlike FDIC insured bank accounts, your money markets can lose value.