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Rising rates don't lift all boats


Rising rates don't lift all boats

Checking, money market accounts that lead the pack

By Greg Morcroft , CBS.MarketWatch.com
Last Update: 7:55 PM ET Jan. 12, 2004

NEW YORK (CBS.MW) - Remember the good, old days when banks gave you a toaster for opening an account?

These days, you can barely buy a toaster with the earnings on $5,000 invested for a year in the average checking or money-market fund.

Interest paid on deposit accounts remains at record lows since the Federal Reserve slashed rates to revive the economy. Yet they're bound to head higher should the current expansion take firm hold, making it worth seeking out the best rate payers.

Some financial institutions lure depositors with teaser rates, but most that are now paying top dollar consistently have for several years.

The average yield on an interest-bearing checking account is 0.25 percent today, vs. 1.03 percent in 1999, according to Bankrate.com. For bank money-market accounts, today's average is near 0.5 percent, well below the 2 percent average yield five years ago.

You can still find market-beating rates, but you'll have to forget your local bank and venture onto the Internet, where smaller, online banks are paying higher rates to attract customers.

The five top-yielding checking accounts today are online offerings, as are most of the top money market accounts, Bankrate says.

Presidential Online Bank now ranks No. 1 in Bankrate's national survey of interest-bearing checking accounts, offering 2.75 percent on deposits up to (not over) $25,000. The company paid just below 6 percent when it introduced its Internet account in 1995.

"This is a formula we've followed for about a decade, and we kind of invented this type of account," said Chief Executive Bruce Cleveland, whose bank has about a dozen branches in the Washington, D.C., area.

Less cost, better rate

Internet banks save money by not having to operate brick-and-mortar branches, and pass those savings on to customers in the form of higher yields.

"If you are taking a low rate of interest from a bank with a big branch system, and you never use those branches, why are you doing that?" says Doug Freeman, chief executive of NetBank, an Internet-only bank.

The average yield of the top five checking accounts tracked by BankRate.com is 1.76 percent. The top five bank money-market accounts, which are FDIC insured, average just above 2 percent, far higher than the industry-wide average of about 0.5 percent.

There is a slight downside to online rate offers.

According to BankRate, the average minimum to open an interest-bearing account at an Internet Bank is $708.33, compared to $494.73 at traditional banks. For interest accounts, BankRate found the average balance required to avoid checking account fees is $1,088.24 at Internet banks vs. $2,257.82 at traditional banks. The top five banks on its list are right around the $1,100 minimum deposit level.

Should you fall below the minimum monthly requirements at the top five banks, your service fee will average $7 per month.

Here are some details about the five highest-yielding checking accounts available. The information comes from the companies themselves, and information at BankRate.com.
  1. Presidential Online Bank currently offers a 2.75 percent yield on its checking accounts. To qualify for the rate, you need at least $1,500 in initial deposit and it requires you to maintain a $1,000 balance. If the balance falls below $1,000, it carries a monthly service fee of $5.00, and a bounced check will cost you $15. Presidential online has no fees for using another bank's ATM. The company has eight traditional branches in the Washington, D.C. metro area.
  2. Imperial Capital Bank's offering sports a 1.92 percent annual rate and requires an initial deposit of $1,000, and a similar amount is required as a balance to avoid service fees. If the balance falls below $1,000, you'll get walloped with a $15 service fee. Bad check charges at Imperial are $25 per check. And, if you use another bank's ATM you can expect to pay a buck and half per pop. Imperial Capital operates 6 branches in California and one in Nevada. The bank is primarily a commercial real estate lender, with the majority of its $1.7 billion in assets in apartment and retail center loans.
  3. American Bank/pcbanker.com will pay you 1.5 percent on your checking account, which you can open for $100, but need to maintain a $1,000 balance to avoid a $5 monthly service fee. Bad checks at American Bank will cost you $25 each, but you can use another bank's ATM without penalty. American Bank has one physical branch location in the Allentown area of Pennsylvania.
  4. At State Farm Bank FSB , $100 will open you a checking account bearing 1.35 percent interest per year, but unless you keep a balance of $2,500 you'll be paying $10 a month for the privilege. State Farm won't charge you if you use another bank's ATM, but a bad check to Allstate will cost you $20.
  5. NetBank will open a 1.30 percent annual interest rate checking account for you with a minimum deposit of $50 and there's no monthly average balance requirement or service fees. A bounced check at NetBank will cost you $25. NetBank has one company owned physical branch in Alpharetta, Ga.

Top money market rates

For money market accounts, the following offer the best rates, according to Bankrate:
  1. Bank of Internet USA will pay you 2.19 percent on your deposits, with a minimum balance of $1,500.
  2. Virtual Bank pays 2.18 percent, but lets you open an account with only $100.
  3. National InterBank offers a 2.05 percent rate with a minimum deposit of $1, a low minimum
  4. ING Direct has a similar low minimum, and pays 1.98 percent on money market deposits.
  5. MetLife Bank will pay you 1.99 percent, with a minimum $5,000 deposit.

Greg Morcroft is New York news editor of CBS.MarketWatch.com.