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What Is a Savings Account and How Does it Work?

Secure your financial future using an online savings account. Learn the ins and outs of interest rates and compare top online banks.

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Nadav Shemer
Nadav Shemer
Aug. 22, 20213 min read
A savings account is a type of bank account that allows you to store your money in a safe place and earn interest. The rules and interest rates vary from bank to bank. Some savings accounts require a minimum balance, while others don’t have any requirements. The average APY, or annual percentage yield, for savings accounts is currently around 0.10%. Top online banks promise APYs as high as 2.25%.

How Does Interest Work?

Interest is the fee for using someone else’s money. When a person borrows money from a bank, the bank charges them interest (also expressed as an APR, or annual percentage rate). When a person stores money with a bank, the bank pays them interest (also known as APY, or annual percentage yield).

Interest usually accrues daily or monthly with a savings account and is paid at the end of the month. Let’s say you deposit $5,000 in a savings account with 1% interest that compounds daily. At the end of day one, your savings would grow by 1/365 of 1%, or 13.6986c, and you would now have $5,000.136986 (or $5,000.14 after rounding up the cents column).

Celebrated investor Warren Buffett famously said that his “wealth has come from a combination of living in America, lucky genes, and compound interest.” By compound interest, he was referring to the phenomenon of earning interest on interest. Let’s go back to our example. On day one, you earned interest on $5,000. On day two, you would earn 1/365 of 1% interest on $5,000.136986, which is 13.7005. Read this last sentence closely, and you’ll notice you earned 0.0019c more on day two than you did on day one.

This might not seem like a big deal, but keep on earning compound interest over months and years, and it starts to make a huge difference. You’d earn $50.25 interest in year one, year two $50.76, and by year five - $52.30. The more you deposit in your savings account and the higher the interest rate, the more interest you earn.

Why Do Banks Pay Interest?

When considering a savings account, you may well ask: What’s the catch? Or, What does the bank want in return? The answers are: there is no catch, and all the bank wants in return is for you to deposit as much money as possible for as long as possible.

Banks make a small amount from fees, but their primary revenue source is using deposits from some customers to lend money to others. Ever wondered why banks charge more for loans than they give to depositors? That’s because the difference between the rates is their profit margin. Let’s say the bank pays you 1% interest on $200,000 of savings and charges 5% interest to someone else for a $200,000 loan. The bank earns 4% annual interest on $200,000, plus/minus other fees and costs.

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Are Savings Accounts Safe?

People with memories of the 2008 financial crisis might naturally be suspicious toward banks. In the years following the crisis, hundreds of banks became insolvent, and a portion could not pay the full funds owed to depositors. In 2018, the banking sector returned to full health, and not one bank declared insolvency.

In the wake of the financial crisis, the US Government raised the Federal Deposit Insurance Commission’s insurance limit from $100,000 to $250,000 and put in place new rules to ensure the FDIC always has sufficient reserves to be able to cover all depositors in times of crisis. Today, all depositors are insured for at least $250,000 at each bank where they have an account. Joint accounts offer even greater protection, with a $500,000 limit.

There is no such thing in life as a 100% iron-clad, risk-free place to store your money. However, compared to investments like stocks, bonds, and property, savings accounts come with far lower risk and a far lower minimum deposit. Wondering if a savings account is worth it? Savings accounts are also safer than just storing the money under your mattress, and they offer higher yields. (In fact, storing money under the mattress actually loses money over time because the value of money increases through inflation while the money stored under your mattress won’t earn you a cent).

How to Open an Online Savings Account 

Haven't opened an online banking account yet? Check out this article.

One of the great things about online banks is that they let you apply for and open a savings account from home. Just fill out a few details about yourself to open an account, wire in an initial deposit, set up a recurring deposit, and check in every so often to see how much you’re earning.

Online banks have grown in popularity in recent years, and all this competition is great news for consumers. Before opening a savings account, don’t forget to make a comparison. We recommend comparing online savings accounts by APY, fees, minimum requirements, customer service, and other features, such as whether they offer a hybrid checking-savings account.

Of course, the most important thing to compare is the APY or annual percentage rate. Today’s APYs vary from as little as 0.01% to as high as 2.25%. The higher the rate, the greater the likelihood that minimum requirements such as a minimum balance are attached. Before going for a high rate, don’t forget to double-check what’s required of you.

Explore Leading Online Banks

1. American Express

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 With one of the highest APYs around, American Express savings gives you an incredible edge over traditional banks. Plus, you’ll get the award-winning customer support, convenient online accessibility, and rock-solid security features that come from an industry leader like American Express.

Pros

Cons

  • No fees
  • Wide range of account types
  • No checking accounts

American Express National Bank American Express National Bank Visit Site

2. Varo

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Varo Bank is a hybrid online/mobile bank with no monthly account maintenence fees and attractive APYs on Varo Savings Accounts. Having done away with the additional steps of a traditional bank, Varo offers a more streamlined banking experience.

Pros

Cons

  • No monthly account maintenence fees
  • Competitive savings rates
  • Limited account options
  • No loans or credit cards

Varo Bank Varo Bank Visit Site

3. Chase 

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Chase offers entirely online checking accounts. Users can apply to open a savings account or certificate of deposit online, as well as: view bank statements, monitor activity, pay bills, see checks, or transfer funds. 

ProsCons
  • Many ways to send money
  • Access to 16,000 U.S. Chase ATMs
  • Low-interest rate savings accounts
  • Monthly fees

Chase Chase Visit Site

Have you considered a CD account?

If you think a regular savings account isn't the right choice for you, you should consider using a Certificate of Deposit, or CD account. CDs are increasingly popular and for a good reason. They are savings funds that promise a higher, fixed rate of interest in exchange for locking your money away for specific amounts of time. Here’s everything you need to know about choosing a CD.

FAQs

What is the difference between a Savings and Checking account?

A checking account is a bank account you can write checks from, withdraw cash, or send money from. This would be your bank account for daily transactions. A savings account is where you can store funds for a later date, usually with a financial goal in mind. Savings accounts generally have less flexibility when it comes to accessing your cash. 

What is a high yield savings account?

High-yield savings accounts are slightly different from traditional savings accounts, as they reward you with a higher interest rate, allowing your savings to grow even faster over time.

The interest rate with these accounts is called an APY, or annual percentage yield. The higher your APY, the faster your money grows.

What is a Health Savings Account?

A Health Savings Account (HSA) is similar to a personal savings account, with the main difference being that the funds within it can only be used for qualified healthcare expenses. While HSA’s have some advantages, such as tax-free interest, they are also tricky to qualify for, as you need a high-deductible health plan to be eligible. 

Can I have a savings account in more than one bank?

Yes, but managing multiple accounts can get confusing and complicate your financing. 

Can you wire money from a savings account?

In short, yes. However, there are some fees, regulations, and minimum transfers to consider. If you are looking to transfer funds easily, try comparing these hand-picked money transfer services.

Still can't decide? Explore leading online banks here.

Nadav Shemer
Written byNadav Shemer

Nadav Shemer specializes in business, tech, and energy, with a background in financial journalism, hi-tech and startups. He enjoys writing about the latest innovations in financial services and products. He writes for BestMoney and enjoys helping readers make sense of the options on the market.‎

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