Where to earn more on your cash

September 15, 2006

What to look for now in a high-yield savings or money-market account.

Want to avoid the perils of the stock market but are tired of savings accounts that pay puny interest rates? Nowadays you don't have to sacrifice income for safety by parking your cash in a standard savings account. A quick assessment of your needs and a small amount of paperwork can give you the higher returns of either high-yield savings accounts or money-market accounts.

High-yield savings accounts and money-market accounts are your better bet, despite the slight inconveniences in opening and maintaining these accounts. Here are a few recent offers that are worth a look.

Internet banks head the list of institutions offering the highest-yielding savings accounts. ING Direct ( http://www.ingdirect.com) currently rewards online savers with a 4.35 percent yield on their Orange Savings Account. And if the Fed keeps raising rates, ING is likely to follow: They've upped the yield on these accounts six times since Dec. 31. There's no minimum deposit, but you do have to set up a link between this account and your current checking account in order to transfer cash in and out.

Citibank's e-Savings Account (direct.citibank.com) earns 5 percent, but it has to be linked to one of several existing Citibank accounts, or you'll have to open a Citibank EZ Checking account along with it. HSBC's Online Savings (hsbcdirect.com) also earns 5.05 percent with no fees or minimum deposit. You're only allowed six transfers out of the account per month, but you can make any number of ATM transfers or withdrawals.

Another good offer is the MetLife High Yield Savings Account ( http://www.metlifebank.com), which returns 4.25 percent for those savers who maintain a balance of $5,000 or more. Hold less than that in your account and you'll earn only 1 percent on your savings.

Money-market accounts

The question of whether you want a high-yield savings account or a money-market account will primarily hinge on whether you want check writing privileges, in addition to ATM access. With a savings account, you have to first transfer money to your checking account in order to pay a bill; with a money-market account, the bank will usually give you six transactions per month; including no more than three checks.

While interest rates on money-market accounts can be comparable to those of savings accounts, so can the restrictions. MetLife recently offered a $50 bonus for opening a money-market account with a minimum of $5,000. It returns the same 4.25 percent as their savings account, but subtracts $15 a month from your account if the balance drops below $1,500. E*Trade ( http://www.etrade.com) is giving new depositors 5.15 percent no matter how low their balance is, but for only the first three months. After the introductory period, a tiered rate system based on the account balance swings into play. Currently, in order to earn just 4.25 percent, your balance has to be $50,000 or more. Go below $5,000 and you'll earn a measly 1.51 percent.