304 North Cardinal St.
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304 North Cardinal St.
Dorchester Center, MA 02124
When people talk about investing, they’re often referring to stocks, bonds, real estate, precious metals or foreign currency. Those investment vehicles can offer a nice long-term return on your money, but they come with disadvantages – risk, high minimum amounts and lack of easy access to your money.
On the other side of the spectrum is the humble savings account. It’s not glamorous. In fact, it’s pretty boring — so boring that many people don’t even qualify it as an investment, though like any other investment, it’s a method of putting aside money for the future in order to create or preserve wealth. And it is an investment option that takes care of virtually every problem mentioned above.
Many people overlook savings accounts because of the low returns that you can expect compared with the potential returns of other long-term investments. Some savings accounts are returning a rate far below inflation. Still, savings accounts have a number of other advantages to help make up for that low return.
Let’s take a closer look.
What this means is that for the first $250,000 you have in a savings account, you’re automatically insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. against the failure of your bank. If your bank were to go out of business, the money in your account would be safe. You would either be paid that money directly or, more likely, a new account would be opened for you at another bank with the same balance as before.
This is not the case with other types of investments. If you own a stock in a company that goes out of business, you’re left with nothing. The same is true with a bond. Precious metal markets fluctuate rapidly and cryptocurrencies may devalue all the way to nothing. In those markets, there’s nothing to protect you. You’re not insured against disaster like you are in a savings account.
Simply put, you’re not going to lose money in your savings account if a business fails. The same cannot be said of many other investments.
Savings accounts, by their very nature, don’t lose money. In many investments, you’ll lose money over the course of individual days, weeks, months or even years. But with a savings account, your balance won’t go down. It will only go up. (That is, until you take money out, of course.)
This is a huge mark in a savings account’s favor during a downturn in the stock market, bond market or real estate market. In 2008, when the S&P 500 dropped nearly 40% of its value in a single year, savings accounts everywhere held all of their value and even increased in value.
The advantage of savings accounts here is that they’re safe from volatility. If it is imperative that you not lose value in your investment in the short term, then a savings account will accomplish that. Investments in the stock market, real estate and other products often lose value over the course of a year – or even three-year or five-year periods. That won’t happen in a savings account.
If you can’t afford to lose some of your money, a savings account is a great place to put it.
Most savings accounts can be accessed day or night at any ATM. Just slip in your debit card, hit a few buttons, and the money is in your hand.
That’s not true for many other investments. Even the more liquid ones can take several days to get money into your pocket (or, more accurately, into your checking account). Some investment products, such as real estate properties, can take months or years to sell off.
This is why many people use their savings accounts as an emergency fund. When an emergency comes, they can easily access those funds and immediately have the cash they need to deal with urgent life problems. That often doesn’t work with other investments.
However, the number of withdrawals you can make each month are usually limited by federal regulation. Some banks charge fees if you surpass six withdrawals in a month.
While a savings account doesn’t earn a big return, it can earn a small one. In fact, it’s often a really small one – as of September 2023, the two largest U.S. banks, Chase Bank and Bank of America, paid just 0.01%, and the national average was 0.45%, according to the FDIC.
Savings account rates are not a big flashy number like you might earn in the stock market, but at least it’s steady and reliable. You’ll earn that return like clockwork, and your bank will notify you if it is adjusting its rates. That’s far better than the alternative of just stashing cash in your mattress.
However, depending on which type of savings account you choose, you could end up with a modestly larger return. For example, Capital One offers a 360 Performance Savings account that earns 4.3% and online bank SoFi offers up to 4.5% savings.
Many investments, such as real estate and mutual funds, require a significant amount of money as an initial investment. For example, the Vanguard Total Stock Market Index Fund requires a $3,000 minimum. Most real estate investments are quite expensive, often requiring most people to get a mortgage in order to afford them.
On the other hand, most savings accounts have an extremely low minimum balance, if any. You deposit what you have, and that’s good enough. Some savings accounts do offer higher interest rates if your balance is sufficiently high, but there’s often no minimum to simply open and maintain an account.
You’re not going to get rich from a savings account, but you’re not going to lose your shirt, either.
A savings account is a safe place to put your money when you can’t afford to lose any or think you’ll need it in an emergency. It’s also a good place to put some of your investments as a hedge against losses – you can’t lose everything if some of your money is in an ordinary savings account, after all. It is a great short-term option.
Don’t overlook the virtues of the ordinary savings account. It can and should be a part of your financial plans.