The information provided on this website does not, and is not intended to, act as legal, financial or credit advice. See Lexington Law’s editorial disclosure for more information.
The federal direct loan program offers subsidized and unsubsidized loans to college students. A federal direct subsidized loan is a loan where the government pays the interest while the student is in school. A federal direct unsubsidized loan is one in which the student is responsible for paying all interest, receiving no additional federal aid.
What Is the Difference Between Subsidized and Unsubsidized Student Loans?
The main differences between federal direct subsidized and unsubsidized loans are the qualification criteria, the maximum limits and how the loan interest works.
Subsidized: To qualify for a subsidized loan, you must be an undergraduate student who can demonstrate financial need based on the information you submit through the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (“FAFSA”).
Unsubsidized: Unsubsidized loans are available to both undergraduate and graduate students, and there is no requirement to demonstrate financial need.
Maximum Loan Limits
Subsidized: Your school will determine exactly how much you can borrow each year, but there are federal limits. These limits are based on what year of school you are in and whether you file as a dependent or an independent. Subsidized loan limits tend to be lower than unsubsidized limits. The aggregate limit for an independent student with subsidized loans is $23,000.
Unsubsidized: Unsubsidized loan limits tend to be higher than subsidized loan limits. The aggregate limit for an independent student with unsubsidized loans is $34,500.
How Interest Accrues
Subsidized: The U.S. Department of Education pays the interest for subsidized loans as long as the student is enrolled in school at least half-time. They will also pay the interest during your grace period—defined as the first six months after leaving school—and any period of deferment. This means that the amount of the loan will not grow once the student graduates, since the government has been paying the interest.
Unsubsidized: Whether you’re an undergraduate or a graduate student, you’re responsible for paying all of the interest during the entire life of your unsubsidized loan.
What Are the Similarities Between Subsidized and Unsubsidized Student Loans?
When it comes to interest rates, fees and the “maximum eligibility period”—the amount of time you’re able to take out loans—subsidized and unsubsidized loans are virtually the same.
On top of interest, you can expect to pay a small fee for both types of loans. This is approximately 1.06 percent of your total loan amount, and it is deducted from each loan disbursement.
Undergraduate Interest Rates
The interest rates for both subsidized and unsubsidized loans for undergraduate students are the same. Currently, the rate is at 2.75 percent for loans first disbursed from July 1st, 2020, to June 31st, 2021. The one exception is for direct unsubsidized loans for graduate students, which have an interest rate of 4.30 percent.
Maximum Eligibility Period
For both loan types, the time in which you’re eligible for your loans is equal to 150 percent of the time of your program. For undergraduates pursuing a four-year bachelor’s degree, this means they will be eligible for their loans for six years. Those pursuing a two-year associate’s degree will be eligible for three years. This ensures that students can still receive loans even if they’re unable or choose not to graduate within the program’s time frame.
How to Apply for Subsidized and Unsubsidized Loans
Once you’re ready to apply for a federal direct loan, fill out the FAFSA. Your school will send you a detailed report of what student aid you’re eligible for. Any grants or scholarships are free money, so make sure to accept them. They’ll also decide which loans you’re eligible for, the amount you can borrow each year and what loan type you can get—subsidized or unsubsidized.
No matter what type of student loan you go for, it’s important to understand how they affect your credit so that you can set yourself up for financial success after graduation. With responsible, on-time payments, you’ll be well on your way to healthy credit for life.
Reviewed by Cynthia Thaxton, Lexington Law Firm Attorney. Written by Lexington Law.
Cynthia Thaxton has been with Lexington Law Firm since 2014. She attended The College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia where she graduated summa cum laude with a degree in International Relations and a minor in Arabic. Cynthia then attended law school at George Mason University School of Law, where she served as Senior Articles Editor of the George Mason Law Review and graduated cum laude. Cynthia is licensed to practice law in Utah and North Carolina.
Note: Articles have only been reviewed by the indicated attorney, not written by them. The information provided on this website does not, and is not intended to, act as legal, financial or credit advice; instead, it is for general informational purposes only. Use of, and access to, this website or any of the links or resources contained within the site do not create an attorney-client or fiduciary relationship between the reader, user, or browser and website owner, authors, reviewers, contributors, contributing firms, or their respective agents or employers.
Saving for retirement is difficult, but it’s an important part of everyone’s financial life. There are a number of ways to make saving for retirement easier, such as using tax-advantaged accounts like individual retirement accounts (IRAs) and 401(k) plans.
One special type of tax-advantaged account, the health savings account (HSA), isn’t specifically designed to help people save for their retirement. However, its unique benefits make it one of the most powerful tax-advantaged accounts out there.
If you have access to an HSA, it can be one of the best ways to set money aside for retirement.
What Is an HSA?
A health savings account (HSA) is a special type of account that is designed to help people save money to pay for medical bills. HSAs are only available to people who have certain types of health insurance plans called high-deductible health plans (HDHPs).
Like retirement accounts, HSAs offer tax advantages that make it easier to set aside money to pay for medical bills. If your employer offers eligible insurance plans, they may also make contributions to your HSA on your behalf, similar to 401(k) matching.
The unique tax benefits of HSAs are what make them potent vehicles for saving for both medical expenses and retirement.
Pro tip: If you’re thinking about opening an HSA, you can get started through Lively. There are no hidden fees and you’ll be able to set up recurring contributions.
How Do HSAs Work?
Understanding how HSAs work is essential to making the most of them when it comes to saving for both health care and your retirement. You risk paying penalties if you fail to follow the rules.
First, not everyone can open an HSA. They’re only available to people who have a qualifying high-deductible health plan.
An insurance plan’s deductible is the amount that you pay before your insurance kicks and starts covering costs. For example, if you have a $2,000 deductible, you have to pay $2,000 toward your health care expenses before your insurance pays any of the cost.
For an insurance policy to qualify as an HDHP, it must meet the following requirements:
It charges a higher annual deductible than typical health plans (for 2020, the minimum is $1,400 for individuals and $2,800 for families).
It has a maximum limit on the sum of the annual deductible and out-of-pocket medical expenses that you must pay for covered expenses (for 2020, the maximum is $6,750 for individuals and $13,500 for families).
It may, but is not required to, provide preventative care without a deductible or with a lower deductible.
The exact requirements for qualifying for an HSA are:
You are covered by an HDHP.
You have no other health insurance coverage, with the following exceptions:
Liabilities incurred under workers’ compensation laws, tort liabilities, or liabilities related to ownership or use of property.
A specific disease or illness.
A fixed amount per day (or other period) of hospitalization.
Coverage for accidents, disability, dental care, vision care, and long-term care.
You aren’t enrolled in Medicare.
You aren’t claimed as a dependent on anyone else’s tax return.
If you meet the requirements, you can open an HSA.
Like other tax-advantaged accounts, you cannot make unlimited contributions to an HSA. There is a limit on how much you can contribute each year.
For 2020, the limit is $3,550 for individual plans and $7,100 for family plans.
Some employers that offer HDHPs make contributions to their employees’ HSAs as an employee benefit. Employer contributions count toward these limits, so make sure you don’t exceed the contribution limit with your contributions and your employer’s contributions combined.
The primary reason that people use HSA for savings is the tax advantages. Like traditional IRAs and 401(k)s, the money you contribute to an HSA is contributed before tax. That means you can deduct the amount you add to the account from your income when filing your taxes.
If you have a taxable income of $50,000 and put $5,000 in your HSA, you can report your taxable income as just $45,000. That will save you about $1,100 on your tax bill, meaning your $5,000 contribution only costs you $3,900 out of pocket.
With a traditional IRA or 401(k), you pay income tax on the money that you withdraw from the account. HSAs are different. If you use the money in the account for qualified health expenses, you pay no taxes on the withdrawals either. This makes them doubly tax-advantaged.
If you have extra money in your HSA after you turn 65, you can begin making withdrawals from the account for nonmedical expenses too. If you do, you pay income tax on the amount you withdraw, but no penalties, just like a retirement account.
Typically, you can only withdraw money from an HSA for qualified medical expenses. The IRS outlines all qualified expenses in its Publication 502, but it includes most things you’d expect, including:
Body scans like MRIs or X-rays
Drug addiction care
If you withdraw money from an HSA for a nonmedical expense and you are under age 65, you pay a 20% penalty on the amount withdrawn. You also have to pay income tax on your withdrawal, meaning you are doubly punished for using the money for nonmedical expenses when you’re under 65.
Once you reach age 65, however, you can use HSA funds for nonmedical expenses penalty-free, but will still have to pay income tax on the amount withdrawn.
Although you generally don’t have to prove that you’ve used your HSA money for qualified medical expenses when you file your taxes, you should always save your receipts so that you can show how much you spent compared to how much you withdraw. The receipts will come in handy if you wind up getting audited.
How to Use an HSA for Retirement Savings
HSAs are useful for saving for health care expenses, but they’re one of the most powerful retirement accounts available to Americans. If you want to use your HSA to save for retirement, these tips can help.
1. Contribute as Much as You Can
If you want to use your HSA for retirement savings, the first thing to do is contribute as much as you can to the account.
Typically, you want to contribute to your 401(k) until you max out the amount that your employer will match. Getting employer matching contributions is like getting a raise, so it’s worth getting as much in matching funds as possible.
After that, you can focus on putting money in your HSA until you max it out.
2. Invest Your Balance
The name “health savings account” might make you think that your HSA is a simple savings account. Savings accounts pay interest, but they’re not great for long-term wealth building because you usually wind up losing spending power to inflation.
Depending on your HSA provider, you likely have the option to invest your HSA in the stock market. That means that you can use the money in your HSA to build an investment portfolio like you do in your retirement and taxable brokerage accounts. Building a portfolio of low-cost index funds is a great way to help your HSA’s balance grow.
Just remember to keep some of the money in cash if you plan on using the HSA to cover health expenses as well.
3. Wait Until You’re 65
Once you’ve opened your HSA, made contributions, and invested your money, all you have to do is wait. Once you turn 65, you can withdraw money from the account as if it were a 401(k) or IRA. There’s no requirement that you use the money for health care expenses.
The only downside of this strategy is that IRAs and 401(k)s are slightly more flexible when it comes to withdrawals. You can start taking money from those accounts, penalty-free, when you turn 59 ½.
4. Save Your Receipts
Even if you don’t plan to use your HSA to cover health care expenses, you should make sure that you save every medical-related receipt that you get.
The reason to save every receipt is that there is no time limit for withdrawing money from your HSA after you incur a qualified medical expense.
Consider this example: you injure your leg while out for a run and have to go to the hospital for surgery. After you recover, you get the hospital bill and have to pay $5,000.
You can withdraw money from the HSA now to pay the bill, or you can pay the bill out of pocket, leaving your money in the HSA to grow, tax-free. You decide to pay the bill out of pocket.
Because there’s no time limit on withdrawals, you can take $5,000 out of your HSA, tax-free and penalty-free, any time you want. You can make the withdrawal tomorrow, next year, 10 years from now, or when you retire.
This is better than simply waiting until you turn 65 because withdrawals for nonmedical expenses still incur income taxes. If you pay for medical expenses out of pocket but save your receipts, you can withdraw from your HSA without paying any tax at all, up to the total amount of your qualified medical expenses that you’ve incurred over the years.
This makes HSAs more powerful than standard retirement accounts because you pay no tax on contributions or qualified distributions.
The full list of qualifying medical expenses is long, and some might surprise you. Over time, you’ll likely build up plenty of qualified expenses, which will make it easy for you to make tax-free withdrawals when you need to.
Advantages of Using an HSA for Retirement Savings
HSAs are one of the most powerful tax-advantaged accounts when used properly, so there are a lot of perks to using one for retirement savings.
1. Tax Benefits Add Up
One of the primary reasons to use an HSA for retirement savings is the tax benefits. If you use the account properly and save your medical receipts you can ultimately pay no tax on any of the money you contribute or withdraw from the account.
Even if you don’t have enough medical expenses to withdraw the entire amount tax-free, you have the backup plan of paying taxes on penalty-free withdrawals after you turn 65, effectively making the account into a second IRA or 401(k). Over the long term, the amount that you save in taxes can be huge.
If you’re in the 22% tax bracket — single earners making $39,476 to $84,200 and couples making $78,951 to $168,400 — and withdraw $10,000 per year from your HSA tax-free, you save $2,200 per year in taxes. That means needing to save about $55,000 less for retirement if you’re using the 4% rule to determine how much of your portfolio to withdraw each year.
2. HSA Contributions Don’t Count Against Retirement Contribution Limits
Using an HSA for retirement savings also increases the amount of tax-advantaged saving “cap space” you have for other retirement vehicles. IRAs and 401(k)s limit your contributions (to $6,500 per year and $19,500 per year, respectively). HSA contributions don’t count against those caps.
If you’re maxing out your tax-advantaged retirement contributions and looking for other ways to reduce your tax bill, HSAs can be an attractive option.
Disadvantages of Using an HSA for Retirement Savings
Just because you can use an HSA to save for retirement doesn’t mean that doing so is a good idea. Here are the disadvantages to consider.
1. You Might Need the Money for Medical Expenses
One reason not to use your HSA for retirement savings is the possibility that you might wind up needing that money to pay for health care expenses. Odds are good that you’ll wind up with a big medical bill at some point in your life.
If you have a high-deductible health plan, the out-of-pocket expense could be significant, and unless you have a strong emergency fund in savings, you might need to tap your HSA account to pay the bill.
If your HSA is one of your primary methods of saving for retirement, you might have to dip into your nest egg to cover a medical emergency, which is never ideal.
2. HSAs Aren’t Designed for Retirement Investing
Another drawback is that HSAs aren’t designed for retirement saving. The tax rules surrounding HSAs make them a great way to save for retirement, but that isn’t their intended purpose. HSA accounts aren’t necessarily optimized for long-term investing.
Some HSA providers might not offer the option to invest your balance at all, or might offer options that charge hefty fees for the privilege. Some HSAs limit your investment options to expensive mutual funds whose fees can eat away at your balance over the long term, meaning your savings will grow much more slowly in an HSA than a specifically designed retirement account.
By contrast, many true retirement plans have specially designed investment options, such as target-date funds, that make saving for retirement easy.
3. The Rules for HSAs Could Change
Finally, just because HSAs are great for retirement savings now doesn’t mean that they will be 20, 30, or 40 years from now. The government could change the rules for how you can use the money in the account. For example, the IRS may add a time limit for withdrawing funds after you incur a medical expense.
Future changes may make it harder to use the money you have in the account or alter the tax implications, which could limit its usefulness as a retirement savings vehicle.
HSAs can be a good way to save for retirement, but you need to have a high-deductible health plan to be eligible for one. Furthermore, you must be able to cover out-of-pocket medical expenses by other means in order to make the most of these accounts as retirement savings vehicles.
For most people, 401(k)s and IRAs will be the main methods of saving for retirement. Don’t forget that you can also benefit from opening a taxable brokerage account if you want to invest for long-term goals beyond retirement.
Deciding when to take social security is a bit like playing chess. You’ll need to strategize and think a few moves ahead to maximize your benefit because age and timing matter. Applying at the youngest age possible, 62, reduces a monthly benefit 25% to 30% for the rest of your life than if you had waited until full retirement age. Delay until the latest age possible, 70, and that monthly benefit increases 8% each year you wait past your full retirement age, a bonus of 24% to 32% depending on your birth year.
Your birth year matters because the full retirement age is rising — from 66 for people born between 1943 and 1954, to 67 for those born in 1960 or later. If your birth year falls between 1955 and 1959, the full retirement age rises two months every year.
The retirement age isn’t the only thing that’s changing. The rules for claiming Social Security are different for those born after Jan. 1, 1954. This includes the majority of people filing for benefits today, and the changes especially affect married, two-earner couples.
First, the basics: Individuals pay into Social Security their entire working life in order to receive a steady stream of income in the form of a monthly benefit once they retire. The benefits are based on the person’s 35 highest years of earnings. If you don’t have 35 years of earnings, then zeroes are entered for the remaining years, reducing the monthly benefit.
As pensions disappear and life expectancies rise, a guaranteed lifelong income that isn’t tied to the stock market has tremendous value. “Social Security is the best deal out there,” says Diane M. Wilson, a claiming strategist and founding partner of My Social Security Analyst in Shawnee, Kan. “It’s an annuity that lasts a lifetime, and it’s indexed to inflation.”
Maximizing that benefit has produced a cottage industry of claiming strategists to help retirees determine the best time to start taking benefits, but it’s not a simple calculus. “In the end, it’s a longevity decision,” says Kurt Czarnowski, who counsels clients about Social Security at Czarnowski Consulting in Norfolk, Mass. “If you knew when you were going to die, all this would be a snap.” Instead, people should understand their choices and make an informed decision, he says.
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The Differences Between Restricted Filing and Deemed Filing
For married couples, that decision involves accounting for two people’s earnings and benefits, as well as the likelihood of one spouse outliving the other. Spouses are not only entitled to the benefit based on their own work history, but they also may be eligible for additional money when the spousal benefit is factored in, what Wilson calls “add-ons.” The spousal benefit equals 50% of the higher-earning spouse’s benefit if the lower-earning spouse takes it at full retirement age. The amount is reduced when taken early, and you can’t claim the spousal benefit until your spouse begins taking Social Security. To be clear, you do not get to take two benefits, but rather Social Security increases your benefit to equal half of your spouse’s if the one based on your own work history is smaller.
People born on or before Jan 1, 1954, can maximize benefits while still receiving some Social Security. By taking whichever benefit is lower — their own or a spouse’s — when they first apply, they let the larger benefit grow before switching to it at a later age. That option, known as “restricted filing,” isn’t available for people born after Jan. 1, 1954. For them, there’s no choice. Social Security simply bestows their own benefit and any add-ons the person is eligible for when they file for benefits, a practice known as “deemed filing.”
Let’s say the higher-earning spouse is the husband and the lower-earning spouse is the wife. Under deemed filing, when the wife applies for Social Security at her full retirement age, she is given the highest amount she is eligible for, which in this instance is 50% of her husband’s benefit, assuming he started taking it. If he hasn’t, she will be given only the benefit based on her own work history. Once her husband applies for his benefits, Social Security will increase hers so that it equals half of his. If the wife was the higher earner and her benefit was more than 50% of his, she won’t get any additional money when he starts claiming Social Security. She will simply continue collecting her own higher work benefit.
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Maximizing Social Security Benefits for Married Couples
Deemed filers may have fewer options, but there are other strategies to consider, such as when to start claiming and which spouse should file for Social Security first. Those decisions can change cumulative lifetime benefits substantially, sometimes by as much as six figures, says Wilson. When she advises couples affected by the new rules, she generally recommends the higher earner to delay as long as possible, ideally until age 70, while the lower earner can file, giving the retired couple some income.
The couple’s age difference matters, particularly if the younger spouse is also the lower earner, says Jim Blair, co-owner of Premier Social Security Consulting in Cincinnati. In that case, “if they’re five years or more apart in age, you want the younger person filing as early as possible, at 62, and the older person delaying as long as possible,” he says. “Odds are the younger person is going to receive a survivor benefit before they reach their breakeven point, which is about 12 years past retirement age.” The breakeven point is the age when the total value of cumulative benefits, whether taken early or later, is roughly the same.
If the situation is reversed and the younger spouse is the higher earner, “we’ll look at what the younger individual will need in retirement,” Blair says. “If taking that benefit early at age 62 means a 25% reduction, they’re going to have to live with that for the rest of their life.” There will need to be other income to compensate for the reduction, he adds.
Couples who straddle the 1954 birth year, with one spouse falling under the old rules and the other under the new, have more ways to move the pieces on the Social Security chess board. For instance, if the wife is the younger, lower earner, she may want to apply early, taking her own reduced benefit. That would allow the husband, who was born before the 1954 cutoff date, to use a restricted application and request only a spousal benefit. Meanwhile, his benefit based on his own work history continues to grow 8% per year from his full retirement age until he turns 70. He can switch to his own higher benefit later, whether at 70 or sooner.
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Understanding Social Security Survivor Benefits
Couples should try to postpone taking whichever spouse’s benefit is higher to ensure a larger survivor benefit. This is particularly important when the lower earning spouse is younger and likely to outlive the higher earner by many years. “You want that higher benefit to take care of the survivor,” says Wilson, who warns clients of expenses, like home health aides, that someone living alone will almost certainly have.
A spousal benefit turns into a survivor benefit when a spouse dies, but the benefits are not the same. A surviving spouse who is at least full retirement age can receive 100% of the deceased spouse’s benefit, as opposed to 50% for a spousal benefit. The amount is reduced if the surviving spouse claims the benefit before full retirement age. You can claim a survivor benefit as early as age 60 (50 if you are disabled). But you don’t have to take it early, and you may not want to if you’re still working.
Social Security imposes an annual earnings limit for anyone younger than full retirement age who collects benefits, a rule that also applies to surviving spouses. For every $2 earned above the limit, which is currently $18,960, Social Security will deduct $1 in benefits, with the money restored later in the form of a higher benefit when you reach full retirement age. The earnings rule is more generous the year you reach full retirement age with Social Security deducting $1 for every $3 in earnings above $50,520. There’s no limit on earnings once you are full retirement age.
A widow who is, say, 60 when her husband passes away could hold off and take the survivor benefit when she reaches her full retirement age and stops working. There’s no reason to wait beyond that age because the survivor benefit won’t increase.
A survivor benefit is also not subject to the deemed filing rule. Someone born after the 1954 cutoff date can choose to take either their own or the survivor benefit when applying for Social Security. That opens a whole new avenue of claiming strategies. A widower, for example, could take the survivor benefit first if he needs the income and let his own larger benefit continue accruing delayed retirement credits before switching to it at age 70. If his own benefit is smaller, he could take that early and switch to the larger survivor benefit when he reaches full retirement age. The survivor benefit won’t be reduced because he took his own benefit early. The survivor benefit is only reduced if he takes it before his full retirement age.
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How Death, Divorce and Remarriage Affect Social Security Benefits
A divorced spouse is also eligible for benefits based on a former spouse’s earnings history. If your ex is still alive and both of you are at least age 62, you can collect a spousal benefit even if your ex hasn’t started collecting, provided that the marriage lasted at least 10 continuous years, the divorce was two or more years ago, and you haven’t remarried. Your ex won’t know you’re taking the benefit. A divorced spouse who is full retirement age can get 50% of the former spouse’s benefit; it’s reduced if taken early. Deemed filing rules still apply if you were born after New Year’s Day 1954, with only the highest benefit amount given to you.
If your ex has passed away, you can collect a survivor benefit as early as age 60, but the other requirements — a marriage that lasted at least 10 years and a divorce that was finalized two years ago — remain. You also can’t have remarried before age 60.
If you remarry after age 60, you are allowed to keep the survivor benefit from a former spouse whether you were divorced or not, but timing is everything. Wilson had a client, a widower, who was two months away from turning 60 and collecting a survivor benefit. He was also about to remarry. “I told him about the rule, and he said, ‘I can’t reschedule this now.'” He went ahead with the wedding as planned, sacrificing the survivor benefit at the altar. Wilson points out that her client could collect a survivor benefit from his first marriage if the second one ends for any reason.
As with any survivor benefit, there’s no deemed filing. A divorced spouse has the option of choosing which benefit to take first — their own or the survivor benefit — and let whichever is larger continue to grow before switching to it later on.
Remarriage brings other claiming strategies, such as applying for a spousal benefit based on the new spouse’s work record, but there is a waiting period. To collect a spousal benefit, you generally need to be married one year, Czarnowski says. An exception is made for someone who is already collecting a Social Security benefit and remarries. Then the waiting period is waived, he says. For example, a widow over age 60 who is collecting a survivor benefit and remarries is “immediately eligible to collect 50% of the new husband’s benefit, assuming he is collecting his benefit,” Czarnowski says. You will need to choose which benefit you want — the survivor benefit from an earlier marriage or the new spousal benefit.
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When Singles Should File for Social Security Benefits
For single people who never married, there’s no survivor to consider so the decision of when to claim is based on the need for income and how much they’ll get at any given age between 62 and 70. “It’s really which point along this continuum makes sense,” Czarnowski says. You can get an idea of how much your benefit will be at different ages based on your current earnings by using Social Security’s quick calculator. You can also enter your earnings history for a more precise figure.
Most of Wilson’s single clients start claiming at full retirement age so that their benefits aren’t reduced. Should they wait until age 70 to get the highest possible benefit? “They may want to if they’re still working and they don’t need Social Security,” Blair says. “The flip side is when they pass away, the benefits end. If they pass away at 72, they didn’t collect very long.”
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You Can Pause Your Social Security Benefits
Social Security also gives people who regret taking a benefit early the chance to reverse that decision. If you change your mind within the first 12 months of claiming your benefit, you can withdraw the application. All the benefits you received will need to be repaid, including any spousal benefits based on your work record, but you’ll get a higher monthly benefit when you restart later on.
The second way is to suspend your benefit, which you can only do once you reach full retirement age. You won’t need to repay the benefits you’ve received, and you earn delayed retirement credits of 8% per year until age 70, enabling you to reverse some of the damage from claiming early. Keep in mind, however, that when you suspend a benefit, you also suspend any other benefits based on your work record, such as a spousal benefit. If your spouse was getting $1,500 per month and $500 was based on your work record, she’ll only get her own $1,000 benefit when you suspend.
Numerous college students have a trajectory in mind for navigating life after college. For some, getting a job is their top goal. But, are there other things to do after college besides work?
Beyond looking for a traditional entry-level job, there are alternative choices for new grads—including internships, volunteering, grad school, spending time abroad, or serving in Americorps.
Naturally, the options available will differ depending on each person’s situation, as not all alternatives to work come with a paycheck attached.
Here’s a look at these seven things to do after college besides work.
1. Pursuing Internships
One popular alternative to working right after college is finding an internship. Generally, internships are temporary work opportunities, which are sometimes, but not always, paid.
Internships may give recent grads a chance to build up hands-on experience in a field or industry they believe they’re interested in working in full time. For some people, it could help determine whether the reality of working in a given sector meets their expectations.
Whatever grads learn during an internship, having on-the-job experience (even for those who opt to pursue a different career path) could make a job seeker stand out afterwards. Internships can help beef up a resume, especially for recent grads who don’t have much formal job experience.
A potential perk of internships is the chance to further grow your professional network—building relationships with more experienced workers in a particular department or job. Some interns may even be able to turn their short-term internship roles into a full-time position at the same company.
Starting out in an internship can be a great way for graduates to enter the workforce, “road testing” a specific job role or company.
2. Serving with AmeriCorps
Some graduates want to spend their time after college contributing to the greater good of American society. One possible option here is the Americorps program—supported by the US Federal Government.
So, what exactly is Americorps? Americorps is a national service program dedicated to improving lives and fostering civic engagement. There are three main programs that graduates can join in AmeriCorps: AmeriCorps NCCC, AmeriCorps State and National, and AmeriCorps Vista.
There’s a wide variety of options in AmeriCorps, when it comes to how you can serve. Graduates can work in emergency management, help fight poverty, or work in a classroom.
However graduates decide to serve through AmeriCorps, it may provide them with a rewarding professional experience and insights into a potential career.
Practically, Americorps members may also qualify for benefits such as student loan deferment, a living allowance, education awards (upon finishing their service), and skills training.
It may sound a bit dramatic, but AmeriCorps’ slogan is “Be the greater good.” Giving back to society could be a powerful way to spend some time after graduating—supporting organizations in need, while also establishing new professional connections.
3. Attending Grad School
When entering the workforce, graduates may encounter job postings with detailed employment requirements.
Some jobs require just a Bachelor’s degree, while others require a Master’s–think, for instance, of being a lawyer or medical doctor. Depending on their field of study and career goals, some students may opt to go right to graduate school after receiving their undergraduate degrees.
The number of jobs that expect graduate degrees is increasing in the US. Graduates might want to research their desired career fields and see if it’s common for people in these roles to need a master’s or terminal degree.
Some students may wish to take a break in between undergrad and grad school, while others find it easier to go straight through. This choice will vary from student to student, depending on the energy they have to continue school as well as their financial ability to attend graduate school.
Graduate school will be a commitment of time, energy and money. So, it’s advisable that students feel confident that a graduate degree is necessary for the line of work they’d like to end up in before they apply or enroll.
4. Volunteering for a Cause
Volunteering could be a great way for graduates to gain some extra skills before applying for a full-time job. Doing volunteer work may help graduates polish some essential soft skills, like interpersonal communication, interacting with clients or service recipients, and time management.
Another potential benefit to volunteering is the ability to network and forge new connections outside of college. The people-to-people connections made while volunteering could lead to mentorship and job offers.
Volunteering is something graduates can do after college besides work, while still fleshing out their resume or skills.
New grads may want to volunteer at an institution or organization that syncs with their values or, perhaps, pursue opportunities in sectors of the economy where they’d like to work later on (i.e., at a hospital).
On top of all these potential plus sides, volunteering just feels good. It makes people feel happier. And, after all of the stress that accompanies finishing up college, volunteering afterward could be the perfect way to recharge.
5. Serving Abroad
Similar to the last option, volunteering abroad can be attractive to some graduates. It may help grads gain similar skills they’d learn volunteering here at home, while also giving them the opportunity to learn how to interact with people from different cultures, try to learn a new language, and see new perspectives on solving problems.
Though it can be beneficial to the volunteers, volunteering abroad isn’t always as ethical as it seems. And, not all volunteering opportunities always benefit the local community.
It could take research to find organizations that are doing ethically responsible work abroad. One key thing to look for is organizations that put the locals first and have them directly involved in the work.
6. Taking a Gap Year
According to the Gap Year Association , a gap year is “a semester or year of experiential learning, typically taken after high school and prior to career or post-secondary education, in order to deepen one’s practical, professional, and personal awareness.”
While a gap year is generally taken after high school or after college, one common purpose of the gap year is to take the time to learn more about oneself and the world at large—which can be beneficial after graduating from college and trying to figure out what to do next.
Not only might a gap year help grads build insights into what they’d like to do with their later careers, it may also help them home in on a greater purpose in life or build connections that could lead to future job opportunities.
Graduates might want to spend a gap year doing a variety of activities—including:
• trying out seasonal jobs • volunteering • interning • teaching or tutoring • traveling
A gap year can be whatever the graduate thinks will be most beneficial for them.
7. Traveling Before Working
Going on a trip after graduation is a popular choice for graduates that can afford to travel after college. Traveling can be expensive, so graduates may want to budget in advance (if they want to have this experience post-graduation.
On top of just being really fun, travel can have beneficial impacts for an individual’s stress levels and mental health. Research from Cornell University published in 2014 suggests that the anticipation of planning a trip might have the potential to increase happiness.
Traveling after graduation is a convenient time to start ticking locations off that bucket list, because graduates won’t be held back by a limited vacation time. Going abroad before working can give students more time and flexibility to travel as much as they’d like (and can afford to!).
With proper research, graduates can find more affordable ways to travel—such as a multi-country rail pass, etc. It doesn’t have to be all luxury all the time. Budget travel is possible especially when making conscious decisions, like staying in hostels and using public transportation.
If graduates are determined to travel before working, they can accomplish this by saving money and budgeting well.
Navigating Post Graduation Decisions
Whether a recent grad opt to start their careers off right away or to pursue one of the above-mentioned things to do after college besides work, student loans are something that millions of university students have taken out.
After graduating (or if you’ve dropped below half-time enrollment or left school), the reality of paying back student loans sets in. The exact moment that grads will have to begin paying off their student loans will vary by the type of loan.
For federal loans, there are a couple of different times that repayment begins. Students who took out a Direct Subsidized, Direct Unsubsidized, or Federal Family Education Loan, will all have a six month grace period before they’re required to make payments. Students who took out a Perkins loan will have a nine month grace period.
When it comes to the PLUS loan, it depends on the type of student that’s taken one out. Undergraduates will be required to start repayment as soon as the loan is paid out. Graduate and professional students with PLUS loans will be on automatic deferment while they’re in school and up to six months after graduating.
Some graduates opt to refinance their student loans. What does that mean? Well, refinancing student loans is when a lender pays off the existing loan with another loan that has a new interest rate. Refinancing can potentially lower monthly loan repayments or reduce the amount spent on interest over the life of the loan.
Both US federal and private student loans can be refinanced, but when federal student loans are refinanced by a private lender, the borrower forfeits guaranteed federal benefits—including loan forgiveness, deferment and forbearance, and income-driven repayment options.
Refinancing student loans may reduce money paid to interest. For graduates who have secured well-paying jobs and have improved their credit score since taking out their student loan, refinancing could come with a competitive interest rate and different repayment terms.
Graduating from college means officially entering the realm of adulthood, but that transition can take many forms. There are various financial tips that recent graduates may opt to look into.
Thinking about refinancing your student loans? With SoFi, you could get prequalified in just two minutes.
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Investing is an important part of saving for the future, but many people are wary of putting their money into the stock market. Stocks can be volatile, with prices that change every day. If you can’t handle the volatility and risk of stocks or want to diversify your portfolio into a less risky investment, bonds are a good way to do so.
As with many types of investments, you can invest in bonds through a mutual fund, which gives you easy diversification and professional portfolio management — for a fee.
Are bond mutual funds a good addition to your portfolio? Here are the basics of these investment vehicles.
What Is a Bond?
A bond is a type of debt security. When organizations such as national and local governments, government agencies, or companies want to borrow money, one of the ways they can get the loan they need is by issuing a bond.
Investors purchase bonds from the organizations issuing them. Typically, bonds come with an interest rate and a maturity. For example, a company might sell bonds with an interest rate of 5% and a maturity of 20 years.
The investor would pay the company $1,000 for a $1,000 bond. Each year, that investor receives an interest payment of $50 (5% of $1,000). After 20 years, the investor receives a final interest payment plus the $1,000 they paid to buy the bond.
What Is a Mutual Fund?
A mutual fund is a way for investors to invest in a diverse portfolio while only having to purchase a single security.
Mutual funds pool money from many investors and use that money to buy bonds, stocks, and other securities. Each investor in the fund effectively owns a portion of the fund’s portfolio, so an investor can buy shares in one mutual fund to get exposure to hundreds of stocks or bonds.
This makes it easy for investors to diversify their portfolios.
Mutual fund managers make sure the fund’s portfolio follows their stated strategy and work towards the fund’s stated goal. Mutual funds charge a fee, called an expense ratio, for their services, which is important for investors to keep in mind when comparing funds.
Pro tip: Most mutual funds can be purchased through the individual fund family or through an online broker like Robinhood or Public.
Types of Bond Mutual Funds
There are many types of bond mutual funds that people can invest in.
Government bond funds invest most of their money into bonds issued by different governments. Most American government bond funds invest primarily in bonds issued by the U.S. Treasury.
U.S. government debt is seen as some of the safest debt available. There is very little chance that the United States will default on its payments. That security can be appealing for investors, but also translates to lower interest rates than other bonds.
Corporate bond funds invest most of their assets into bonds issued by companies.
Just like individuals, businesses receive credit ratings that affect how much interest they have to pay to lenders — in this case, investors looking to buy their bonds. Most corporate bond funds buy “investment-grade” bonds, which include the highest-rated bonds from the most creditworthy companies.
The lower a bond’s credit rating, the higher the interest rate it will pay. However, lower credit ratings also translate to a higher risk of default, so corporate bond funds will hold a mixture of bonds from a variety of companies to help diversify their risks.
Municipal bonds are bonds issued by state and local governments, as well as government agencies.
Like businesses, different municipalities can have different credit ratings, which impacts the interest they must pay to sell their bonds. Municipal bond funds own a mixture of different bonds to help reduce the risk of any one issuer defaulting on its payments.
One unique perk of municipal bonds is that some or all of the interest that investors earn can be tax-free. The tax treatment of the returns depends on the precise holdings of the fund and where the investor lives.
Some mutual fund companies design special municipal bond funds for different states, giving investors from those states an option that provides completely tax-free yields.
The tax advantages municipal bond funds offer can make their effective yields higher than other bond funds that don’t offer tax-free yields. For example, someone in the 24% tax bracket would need to earn just under 4% on a taxable bond fund to get the equivalent return of a tax-free municipal bond fund offering 3%.
High-yield bond funds invest in bonds that offer higher interest rates than other bonds, like municipal bonds and government bonds.
Typically, this means buying bonds from issuers with lower credit ratings than investment-grade bonds. These bonds are sometimes called junk bonds. Their name comes from the fact that they are significantly riskier than other types of bonds, so there’s a higher chance that the issuer defaults and stops making interest payments.
Bond mutual funds diversify by buying bonds from hundreds of different issuers, which can help reduce this risk, but there’s still a good chance that some of the bonds in the fund’s portfolio will go into default, which can drag down the fund’s performance.
Foreign governments and companies need to borrow money just like American companies and governments. There’s nothing stopping Americans from investing in foreign bonds, so there are some mutual funds that focus on buying international bonds.
Each country and company has a credit rating that impacts the interest rate it has to pay. Many stable governments are seen as highly safe, much like the United States, but smaller or less economically developed nations sometimes have lower credit ratings, leading them to pay higher interest rates.
Another factor to keep in mind with international bonds is the currency they’re denominated in.
With American bonds, you buy the bond in dollars and get interest payments in dollars. If you buy a British bond, you might have to convert your dollars to pounds to buy the bond and receive your interest payments in pounds. This adds some currency risk to the equation, which can make investing in international bond funds more complex.
Some bond mutual funds don’t specialize in any single type of bond. Instead, they hold a variety of bonds, foreign and domestic, government and corporate. This lets the fund managers focus on buying high-quality bonds with solid yields instead of restricting themselves to a specific class of bonds.
Why Invest in Bond Mutual Funds?
There are a few reasons for investors to consider investing in bond mutual funds.
Reduce Portfolio Risk and Volatility
One advantage of investing in bonds is that they tend to be much less risky and volatile than stocks.
Investing in stocks or mutual funds that hold stocks is an effective way to grow your investment portfolio. The S&P 500, for example, has averaged returns of almost 10% per year over the past century. However, in some years, the index has moved almost 40% upward or downward.
Over the long term, it’s easier to handle the volatility of stocks, but some people don’t have long-term investing goals. For example, people in retirement are more concerned with producing income and maintaining their spending power.
Putting some of your portfolio into bonds can reduce the impact of volatile stocks on your portfolio. This can be good for more risk-averse investors or those who have shorter time horizons for their investments.
There are some mutual funds, called target-date mutual funds, that hold a mix of stocks and bonds and increase their bond holdings over time, reducing risk as the target date nears.
Bonds make regular interest payments to their holders and the majority of bond funds use some of the money they receive to make payments to their investors. This makes bond mutual funds popular among investors who want to make their investment portfolio a source of passive income.
You can look at different bond mutual funds and their annual yields to get an idea of how much income they’ll provide each year. For example, if a mutual fund offers a yield of 2.5%, investors can expect to receive $250 each year for every $10,000 they invest in the fund.
Pro tip: Have you considered hiring a financial advisor but don’t want to pay the high fees? Enter Vanguard Personal Advisor Services. When you sign up you’ll work closely with an advisor to create a custom investment plan that can help you meet your financial goals. Read our Vanguard Personal Advisor Services review.
Risks of Bond Funds
Before investing in bonds or bond mutual funds, you should consider the risks of investing in bonds.
Interest Rate Risk
One of the primary risks of fixed-income investing — whether you’re investing in bonds or bond funds — is interest rate risk.
Investors can buy and sell most bonds on the open market in addition to buying newly issued bonds directly from the issuing company or government. The market value of a bond will change with market interest rates.
In general, if market rates rise, the value of existing bonds falls. Conversely, if market rates fall, the value of existing bonds rises.
To understand why this happens, consider this example. Say you purchased a BBB-rated corporate bond with an interest rate of 2% for $1,000. Since you bought the bond, market rates have increased, so now BBB-rated companies now have to pay 3% to convince investors to buy their bonds.
If someone can buy a new $1,000 bond paying 3% interest, why would they pay you the same amount for your $1,000 bond paying 2% interest? If you want to sell your bond, you’ll have to sell it at a discount because investors can get a better deal on newly issued bonds.
Of course, the opposite is true if interest rates fall. In the above example, if market rates fell to 1%, you could command a premium for your bond paying 2% because investors can’t find new bonds of the same quality that pay that much anymore.
Interest rate risk applies to bond funds just as it applies to individual bonds. As rates rise, the share price of the fund tends to fall and vice versa.
Generally, the longer the bond’s maturity, the greater the effect a change in market interest rates will have on the bond’s value. Short-term bonds have much less interest rate risk than long-term bonds. Bond funds usually list the average time to maturity of bonds in their portfolio, which can help you assess a fund’s interest rate risk.
Bonds are debt securities, meaning they’re reliant on the bond issuer being able to pay its debts.
Just like people, companies and governments can go bankrupt or default on their loan payments. If this happens, the people who own those bonds won’t get the money they lent back.
Bond mutual funds hold thousands of bonds, but if one of the issuers defaults, some of the fund’s bonds become worthless, reducing the value of the investors’ shares in the fund.
Bonds issued by organizations with higher credit ratings are generally less risky than those with poor credit ratings. For example, most people would consider U.S. government bonds to have a very low credit risk. A junk bond fund would have much more credit risk.
Foreign Exchange Risk
If you’re buying shares in a bond fund that invests in foreign bonds, you should consider foreign exchange risk.
Currencies constantly fluctuate in value. Over the past five years, $1 could buy anywhere between 0.80 and 0.96 euros.
To maximize returns, investors want to buy foreign bonds when the dollar is strong and receive interest payments and return of principal when the dollar is weak.
However, it’s incredibly hard to predict how currencies’ values will change over time, so investors in foreign bonds should consider how changing currency values will affect their returns.
Some bond funds use different strategies to hedge against this risk, using tools like currency futures or buying dollar-denominated bonds from foreign entities.
Mutual funds charge fees, which they commonly express as an expense ratio.
A fund’s expense ratio is the percentage of your invested assets that you pay each year. For example, someone who invests $10,000 in a mutual fund with a 1% expense ratio will pay $100 in fees each year.
Expense ratio fees are included when calculating the fund’s share price each day, so you don’t have to worry about having cash on hand to pay the fee. The fees are taken directly out of the fund’s share price, almost imperceptibly. Still, it’s important to understand the impact fees have on your overall returns.
If you invest $10,000 in a fund that produces an annual return of 5% and has a 0.25% expense ratio, after 20 years you’ll have $25,297.68. If that same fund had an expense ratio of 0.50%, you’d finish the 20 years with $24,117.14 instead.
In this example, a difference of 0.25% in fees would cost you more than $1,000.
If you find two bond funds with similar holdings and strategies, the one with the lower fees tends to be the better choice.
Bond mutual funds are a popular way for investors to get exposure to bonds in their portfolios. Just as there are many different types of stocks, there are many types of bonds, each with advantages and disadvantages.
If you don’t want to pick and choose bonds to invest in, bond funds offer instant diversification and professional management. If you want an even more hands-off investing experience, working with a financial advisor or robo-advisor that handles your entire portfolio may be worth considering.
As traditional banks struggle with customer frustration over hidden fees and insultingly low interest rates, Ally Bank has positioned itself as the antidote to these problems.
1Y CD Rate
J.D. Power Rating
4.2 / 5.0
SimpleScore Ally Bank 4.2
Savings APY 5
1Y CD APY 5
Customer Satisfaction 4
Mobile App 3
By and large, it has succeeded, becoming one of the best all-around options for online banking today and The Simple Dollar’s pick for the best all-around savings account for 2018.
Ally, previously known as GMAC Bank, launched in 2009. It was rebranded after parent company GMAC — the financial arm of General Motors — received billions in bailout money from the U.S. government during the subprime mortgage crisis.
Despite its rocky beginnings, Ally Bank has grown and flourished. It now has more than a million customers, likely due to its appealing blend of competitive interest rates and low, clearly disclosed fees.
In this article
Ally Bank at a Glance
If you’re just looking for basic checking or savings products, Ally has a particularly strong lineup. Here are the products and services you’ll find:
Savings: Ally offers two main options: an online savings account and a money market account.
Checking: There’s just one checking option, but it’s a good one: no-fee interest checking.
CDs: Choose from three account options: the High-Yield CD, with seven terms ranging from three months to five years; the Raise Your Rate CD, with a two- or four-year term; or the 11-month No Penalty CD.
IRA savings and CDs: Ally offers an IRA online savings account, or you can choose an IRA High-Yield CD or an IRA Raise Your Rate CD.
IRA plans: Traditional, Roth, and SEP IRAs are available, too.
Ally also has a sizeable auto loans business, but you can’t apply for financing online — it’s only available at select dealers, including GM, Chrysler, and Maserati. It also has a business financing division, but only for sizeable transactions of more than $15 million. There are no mortgages, personal loans, business checking or savings accounts, credit cards, or non-IRA investment accounts.
No minimum deposit: You don’t need any certain amount to open your account, unlike some other banks that will require an initial deposit of $250, $500, or even $1,000 or more.
No account maintenance fees: You also won’t pay a monthly fee to keep your account open, regardless of your balance.
A very high interest rate: Your deposits will earn 0.50% APY currently.
Mobile check deposit: It’s as simple as snapping a photo of a check with your smartphone using Ally eCheck Deposit.
24/7 account access and customer service: Get the convenience of online banking or connect with a customer service agent regardless of the time.
Simple transfers: Move your money easily by scheduling transfers up to a year in advance, and link up to 20 external accounts to your Ally account.
The major benefit with Ally’s Online Savings is the interest rate, which is compounded daily. At 0.50% APY, it’s one of the most competitive rates in online banking. While this kind of interest certainly isn’t going to make you rich, it’s a lot better than the 0.01% (effective as of 10/14/2019. Interest rates are variable and subject to change) APY you might receive with Chase Savings℠, Bank of America, or another major brick-and-mortar bank.
Another big benefit is the generous number of external accounts you’re allowed to link up: 20. It’s common for other banks to limit you to three linked accounts, so this could be a big advantage for anyone who wants to move money between several accounts. You can also open, nickname, and link multiple savings accounts all in one go if you want to maintain separate accounts for separate savings goals.
Ally is also impressively clear about its fees. As I mentioned above, you won’t pay for monthly account maintenance. You also won’t pay for unlimited deposits, transfers to non-Ally accounts, incoming wires, online statements, postage-paid deposit envelopes, or cashier’s checks. (There are still some fees to note, but they are reasonable — they include $9 for overdrafts, $10 for excessive transactions, and $20 for outgoing wires.)
As for cons, there aren’t many. But if you’re used to depositing cash, that won’t be an option for you with Ally.
Ally Money Market Account
Ally also offers an outstanding money market account with a lot of the same features as its online savings account. For instance, there is no minimum deposit, there are no monthly maintenance fees, and you still have the option of mobile check deposits.
The major difference is that you’ll be getting a slightly lower interest rate, currently 0.50%, in exchange for a couple of nice conveniences. With the money market account, you’ll get a debit card and checks. And you can use your debit card at any ATM nationwide without paying steep fees: Ally won’t charge you, and it will reimburse any fees that other banks charge for using their ATMs.
No maintenance fees or minimums: Some banks charge monthly maintenance fees or require you to have a certain balance to avoid them. Not so with Ally.
No ATM fees: Ally doesn’t charge you for ATM withdrawals, and it will reimburse you at the end of the month for any fees that other banks charge.
Mobile check deposit: It’s as simple as snapping a photo of a check with your smartphone using Ally eCheck Deposit.
Easy to pay other individuals: With the Popmoney feature, you can easily send money to anyone else who has a bank account as long as you know their email address or cell phone number.
Earn interest on your balance: Ally’s Interest Checking earns 0.10%–0.25%.
One of the biggest benefits of Ally’s Interest Checking is the lack of ATM fees. Considering you can expect to pay an average of $4.35 every time you get money from an out-of-network ATM, not having to plan ahead to avoid fees is a nice convenience.
Of course, the absence of monthly maintenance fees and minimums is also appreciated — my own bank requires me to keep a pretty substantial balance to avoid shelling out $11 each month. Checks are free with Ally, too.
There are still other fees, including 1% for foreign transactions, $9 for overdrafts, $15 to stop payment, and $20 for outgoing wires. These fees are a good bit lower than industry averages, but note that if you travel abroad frequently or are concerned about overdraft fees, Capital One 360 doesn’t charge either one. (Note that you can protect yourself from overdraft fees by linking an Ally savings or money market account to your checking. Ally will pull money from the linked accounts in $100 increments to cover the overdraft, but you obviously have to have the funds in the linked account to avoid fees.)
There are also some better options out there if you’re looking for the best interest rate in a checking account. For instance, Bank5Connect offers 0.20% APY on any balance over $100, and FNBO Direct offers 0.25% with no minimum balance. However, since it doesn’t make much sense to think of a checking account as a long-term place to grow your money, I don’t consider this a major con.
Ally Certificates of Deposit
None of Ally’s CDs require a minimum deposit to open, which is a rare benefit. Interest is compounded daily. Ally also offers a 10-day Best Rate Guarantee on its CDs, which ensures you can snag the best rate Ally has within 10 days of opening or renewing your account. Here’s a rundown of your CD choices with Ally:
High-Yield CD: This type of CD gives you the most flexibility on term: Go as short as three months or as long as five years. Of course, the shorter the term, the lower your interest rate, but a 12-month CD currently earns 0.55% APY. This CD is available for Ally IRAs.
Raise Your Rate CD: You’ll only be able to choose a two- or four-year term with this option. However, you get the chance to bump up your rate (once for a two-year CD, twice for a four-year CD) if Ally’s rates go up after you’ve funded your CD. This is also available for Ally IRAs.
No Penalty CD: If the prospect of early-withdrawal fees is keeping you from opening a CD, Ally’s No Penalty CD lets you skip them entirely. The convenience means you’ll be getting a lower rate, and there is only one term available (11 months).
Getting Started with Ally
Ally has a streamlined, easy-to-understand website, and opening an account is easy. In fact, you can open multiple account types at once, even linking a newly opened checking and savings account for overdraft transfer service right away.
If you prefer, you can also open an account over the phone or by mailing in an application. Online chat is available if you have any quick questions during account opening.
Online, all you’ll need to enter is your name, date of birth, Social Security number, email address, mailing address, and phone number. You’ll be able to fund your new account right away if you link a non-Ally account and transfer money electronically (you will have to verify ownership of the account). You can also mail a check, use mobile deposit to submit a check, or set up a wire transfer.
For savings and checking accounts, direct deposits are available the same day. You’ll wait up to three business days for transfers you request from linked non-Ally accounts. For most check deposits, you’ll have access to $200 within one business day and $4,800 in two business days. Any amounts over $5,000 won’t be available until the fifth business day. Ally may apply five-day holds for customers who’ve had a history of overdrafts.
Who is Ally Best For?
Ally is going to be one of your strongest overall options for online banking, but there are a few scenarios where it should definitely be your first choice:
You want the best combination of high interest rates, low fees, and no minimums: Ally is very near the top of the heap on interest rates across the board. Of course, nothing is stopping you from chasing the very highest rate you can find, but the trade-off for that rate is often higher fees and high account minimums. If you’ve got a lot of money to stash, that might not be a concern, but for the average Joe, it’s a good compromise.
You prize transparency: Ally is by far the clearest about fees of any of the banks I’ve researched, whether online or brick and mortar. Each product has a “Straight Talk Product Guide” that lays out everything you need to know about fees as well as important details such as when your money will be available.
You want to bank online, but you don’t want to skimp on customer service: Ally has 24/7 customer service, and the time you’ll wait to speak to a representative is disclosed at the top of the website (it was never more than a few minutes each time I visited). If phone calls aren’t your thing, you can still email a representative, search a comprehensive set of FAQs, or start an online chat session.
Who Might Want to Skip Ally?
Of course, there are also a couple of situations where Ally might fall short:
You want a one-stop shop: If you prefer to keep most or all of your financial dealings with one bank, Ally might not be the best option for you. It lacks several relatively common products, including mortgages, small-business accounts, and brokerage accounts. If this kind of variety is important to you, you’ll probably need a brick-and-mortar bank; if you want to stay with an online bank, Capital One 360 would be worth a look.
You want to build a personal relationship with a bank: For all of its plusses, there is one thing Ally (and all online-only banks) can’t offer: the chance for you to be more than a number. While its customer service availability is as good as it gets for an online bank, some customers may find comfort in the facetime they can get at their community bank branch. These relationships may come in handy when you’re in a bind, and one common customer complaint about online banks is that problems can take a long time to get resolved.
You need your money fast: Funds availability may be the Achilles heel of all online banks. While Ally isn’t the slowest online bank when it comes to transferring your money and making deposits available, it still generates plenty of complaints from customers who say holds were extended beyond what was promised, sometimes without explanation.
Ready to Bank With Ally?
Ally’s well-rounded personal account offerings should satisfy most of your everyday needs. The savings and checking options are particularly strong, or you can nab some of the benefits of both with a money market account.
I’m an entrepreneur and just so happen to be in the business of providing other entrepreneurs with financial advice. But I don’t typically offer up the usual status quo advice that tells you to do things that aren’t always in alignment with growing your business.
My views originate from my experiences and at times are contrarian to what’s being recommended by the usual tax preparer and other financial advisers, because I am in the trenches running a business just like you. I know what it takes to grow a business, make payroll, deal with IRS notices and manage cash flow.
The truth is that being an entrepreneur can be isolating at times as a result of being wrapped up in the day-to-day of running your business. When you are hyper-focused on your business, it is difficult to also be an expert at managing the profits of the company. You may be great at making money, but once it’s made, what do you do with it?
Thinking differently about your company and how you will use it to build wealth is the key to true financial success.
In this article, I’ll outline five ways you can shift your mindset about money to transform how you define and operate your business and approach your financial decisions. It will help you identify what you really want to achieve: A Self-Managing Company®, a term coined by Dan Sullivan of Strategic Coach.
Mind Shift No. 1: Understand that Retirement Savings Plans Don’t ‘Lower’ Your Tax Bill
As a business owner, you are probably time-starved and used to making fast decisions. And you may be tempted to make fast decisions at tax time, especially when your tax preparer suggests that tax-deferred investments are the answer to lower your tax bill and save some money for retirement. Easy enough, right?
This is what I like to call a half-truth. It’s true that you’ll get the deduction for that year’s taxes. But the other half of the story uncovers the problem with the use of SEP IRAs, 401(k)s and other tax-deferred options to “lower” your tax bill. The reality is that you are taking money from your business where you have some level of control and redirecting those dollars into the stock market where you have absolutely no control. The money is tied up until you are 59½ years old and face potentially higher tax liabilities than you previously owed with no access to your cash if it is needed for growing or sustaining your business.
When you own a business, the half-truths you hear from many finance professionals and the mainstream media can at times negatively impact your ability to grow your business and protect your interests. I have found there are other, more productive ways to build wealth outside of your business, beyond the base-level concepts of investing or putting money in an IRA or 401(k).
Mind Shift No. 2: View Your Company Not as Your Job, but as a Tool for Building Your Wealth
If you run a healthy business, you have a long-term strategy. You know what the end-goal is. You think about the business as a whole, rather than focusing on simply the day-to-day tasks.
We’ve all heard the old adage: Work on your business, not in your business. That’s because if you’re working in your business all the time, you’ve only created a job for yourself. The goal is to build systems and develop people to slowly work yourself out of the role you have and allow the business to run on its own. The sooner you shift your mindset to this way of thinking, the sooner you can begin to experience the results.
First, carve out the time in your day to think about your business. Many business owners I talk to don’t do this, because they are buried in the work. Take time to talk to your future self about what you want your life to look like in the future. What would your future self say to you about the decisions and choices you are making? It helps to outline your thinking time, keep a journal of your discoveries, meditate to de-stress, and use the time to reflect on what you are trying to accomplish in the business.
Next, think about your business as a piece of your financial plan. How much time and capital are you investing into the business, and what are you getting out of it? What is your ROI? I’ve found that a business can offer the biggest opportunity to build wealth, and in many cases — depending on your results — it can offer more than what you might get from investing in the market.
Finally, think with the end in mind. At the end of the day, what are you trying to get out of your company? To build wealth through your business, you must identify what will build its value.
Building value revolves around creating a self-managing company, one that runs without you and has a strategy to sustain itself into the future. This allows you to sell it for maximum value, or even create a passive income stream without actually having to work in the business.
Shifting your mindset is important, because you probably didn’t start your business that way. Many business owners don’t, and that’s OK while you’re getting things up and running. But it’s important to remember that what got you started will not get you to the next level and will not build the wealth needed to successfully exit the business.
Mind Shift No. 3: Master Your Cash Flow
I tend to bust a lot of myths when it comes to financial matters, and one of them has to do with cash flow. This is especially important to understand as an entrepreneur. Your cash flow is not there to simply pay your bills. Yes, you must pay your bills of course, but there is more to it than simply making payroll.
Cash flow is a tool to help you build wealth and the value of your company. Healthy cash flow allows for you to control your money, and there are strategies you can explore to help you maximize it.
I recently spoke with a partner of a business who was earning a W-2 salary of $400,000 per year. In working with his CPA, we were able to rework his partnership agreement, removing him as an employee and adding him as a consultant of his own LLC. While this simple strategy reduced his tax liability by $20,000, implementing this strategy was about more than just lowering taxes. This was about cash flow – everything is always about cash flow. By making this little tweak, he increased his cash flow by $1,666 per month.
I’m not a CPA and don’t provide tax advice, but I ask a lot of questions and propose many scenarios for the tax professionals to consider – scenarios that can increase cash flow for business owners. Increasing and optimizing your cash flow should be a top priority for your business.
Mind Shift No. 4: Be Your Own Bank
Companies with cash are able to do many things without having to rely on a bank or other source of funding. In essence, they can be their own bank. Think about it. When you have cash, you can use it to work on your wealth-building strategy. You could buy a company, invest in equipment, hire more people (maybe even a replacement for yourself who can run the company while you collect passive income), buy property, or take advantage of any other opportunity that may come your way.
But there is another way you can be your own bank. Maybe you’ve heard of the concept of “BUILD Banking™,” a cash flow strategy using a specially designed life insurance contract. It’s a strategy that I use personally and with many of my clients who want to have greater control of their cash flow. It frees them from dependence on banks for capital infusions and avoids government red tape when they need to access their money.
For more information about BUILD Banking™, visit www.buildbanking.com.
This strategy enables business owners to grow assets tax-free and have access to those funds whenever they’re needed. In essence, you’re accessing cash when it is needed while having uninterrupted compounding growth for your future.
Mind Shift No. 5: Understand Your Legal Exposures and Protect Yourself
You likely have some form, or forms, of insurance in place for your business. And you may believe that these policies have you covered. Well, they may, and they may not. The coverage you need goes far beyond liability, even extending into punitive damages.
It’s important to work with an insurance professional who specializes in business coverage to ensure that you have the right type of policies and the proper level of protection for your specific business.
There are also certain types of insurance policies (including the BUILD Banking strategy I’ve described above) that can serve a strategic purpose for your business. It’s common, and valuable, for business owners to have a life insurance contract as part of their succession plan, acting as a funding mechanism for the beneficiary to purchase the deceased owner’s share of the business.
Again, you will want to have a collaborating team of insurance professionals who have expertise in their vertical and who understand your business, your goals and what you are trying to accomplish. It’s also a good idea to include your CPA, attorney and financial planner in on those discussions.
These five financial planning tips and mindset shifts will help you use your business as a tool to start building wealth (or build greater wealth). They may be things you’ve never thought about, or things you’ve considered but haven’t been able to implement. Putting these ideas to work can get you on the path to true business success.
Results may vary. Any descriptions involving life insurance policies and their use as an alternative form of financing or risk management techniques are provided for illustration purposes only, will not apply in all situations, may not be fully indicative of any present or future investments, and may be changed at the discretion of the insurance carrier, General Partner and/or Manager and are not intended to reflect guarantees on securities performance. Benefits and guarantees are based on the claims paying ability of the insurance company.
The terms BUILD Banking™, private banking alternatives or specially designed life insurance contracts (SDLIC) are not meant to insinuate that the issuer is creating a real bank for its clients or communicating that life insurance companies are the same as traditional banking institutions.
This material is educational in nature and should not be deemed as a solicitation of any specific product or service. BUILD Banking™ is offered by Skrobonja Insurance Services LLC only and is not offered by Kalos Capital Inc. nor Kalos Management.
BUILD Banking™ is a DBA of Skrobonja Insurance Services LLC. Skrobonja Insurance Services LLC does not provide tax or legal advice. The opinions and views expressed here are for informational purposes only. Please consult with your tax and/or legal adviser for such guidance.
This article was written by and presents the views of our contributing adviser, not the Kiplinger editorial staff. You can check adviser records with the SEC or with FINRA.
Founder & President, Skrobonja Financial Group LLC
Brian Skrobonja is an author, blogger, podcaster and speaker. He is the founder of St. Louis Missouri-based wealth management firm Skrobonja Financial Group LLC. His goal is to help his audience discover the root of their beliefs about money and challenge them to think differently to reach their goals. Brian is the author of three books, the Common Sense podcast and blog. In 2017 and 2019 Brian received the award for Best Wealth Manager and in 2018 the Future 50 St. Louis Small Business.
Marcus by Goldman Sachs is a smart choice for growing your money through its modern solution for online banking.
J.D. Power Rating
3.5 / 5.0
SimpleScore Marcus by Goldman Sachs 3.5
Savings APY 3
Customer Satisfaction N/A
Product Variety 2
Goldman Sachs is a financial behemoth most well-known for its wealth management and investment services. Marcus by Goldman Sachs is the institution’s foray into personal and online banking by offering certificates of deposit, personal loans and savings accounts. The original Goldman Sachs was founded in 1869 by Marcus Goldman and is headquartered in New York City, New York. The subsidiary, Marcus by Goldman Sachs, was brought to the market in 2016 as a way to help individuals reach their financial goals, without fees or unnecessary complexity.
Although it lacks brick-and-mortar locations, Marcus by Goldman Sachs benefits users with no fees, high APY and no minimum deposit.
Marcus by Goldman Sachs at a glance
J.D. Power Survey Score
Marcus by Goldman Sachs
High yield with no minimum deposit
*Rates accurate as of May 2021
What we like about it
Marcus online savings accounts offer excellent perks without the usual drawbacks of traditional banks like service fees and minimum deposits. There’s no minimum required to open a savings account. In fact, you can open up an account without any funds at all. There are also no monthly fees, transaction fees or service charges. Best of all, a 0.50% APY is a competitive rate that can help you grow your money over time.
If you like to bank on the go, the Marcus app is free to use and enables you to connect all of your Marcus accounts, talk to customer support agents and see how much interest you’ve earned in your savings account.
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Things to consider
The Marcus high yield savings account has no option for a corresponding checking account, but you can get a CD account or personal loan. Marcus is only useful if you’re using a checking account somewhere else.
While Marcus won’t charge you any fees, your outside bank might charge fees for transfers and transactions. Furthermore, there is no ATM network to use for withdrawals and no branches for in-person banking services. If you want to deposit money via check, you’ll have to send it in via U.S. Mail — which is significantly more hassle for people accustomed to a few quick photos for a check e-deposit and near-instant fund availability.
What you need to know
The Marcus savings account delivers tons of benefits for users who want to benefit from the high APY of 0.50%. You can even open up your account without any funds, but you’ll need to deposit money within the first 60 days of account opening.
Marcus doesn’t use an automated phone system during business hours, so when you call the Marcus savings account support line, you’ll be able to talk to a U.S.-based representative. This is a huge perk for people who want to avoid talking to a robot on the other end of the line.
Marcus by Goldman Sachs savings accounts boast FDIC insurance coverage, just like traditional bank savings accounts. This means you’ll be covered for up to $250,000 if the bank fails.
To put money in your account, you can set up a direct deposit, use an electronic funds transfer, wire transfer or mail a check. To withdraw money, you can use an e-transfer or a wire transfer. Customers are limited to six withdrawals or transfers per monthly statement period, which is on par with other banking institutions. This is to help maintain a bank’s reserve, in accordance with a federal law called Regulation D.
To get the most bang for your buck with Marcus, view it as a complementary banking tool to your financial portfolio. A checking account somewhere else is necessary, especially if you want to be able to withdraw money from an ATM and e-deposit paper checks. However, if you don’t mind needing another financial institution to fill those needs, Marcus savings accounts can still be a boon for individuals who want to focus on growing their money.
The Marcus mobile app lets you check balances, schedule transfers to and from other banks and make loan payments. Marcus also allows you to monitor your progress toward any financial goals you’ve set. Plus, you can set up AutoPay and create a recurring deposit to increase savings.
With its intuitive graphics and user-friendly design, the Marcus app gives you simple insight into your accounts and goals. You can receive in-app alerts, review your bank statements, review tax documents and access customer support. All personal data is encrypted, and you can use multi-factor authentication to log in.
Fees and penalties
Marcus by Goldman Sachs has no monthly fees or overdraft fees to worry about eating into your savings. With that said, your external bank or third-party entities might charge you for transfers or require you to pay service fees.
You can make up to six withdrawals or transfers, but you’ll need to verify with your outside transfer partner (bank, app or other third-party) to determine if fees will be charged. There’s an outgoing transfer limit of $125,000 per transfer, and if you need to withdraw more, you’ll have to call the customer service line.
Marcus by Goldman Sachs vs. Citi
Citibank offers promising features with more traditional account options. Individuals will get the highest savings rates with a Citi Accelerate Savings Account. There is no required minimum amount to open a savings account, but to waive monthly account fees, you’ll need a minimum account balance. The minimum account balance ranges from $1,500 to $200,000; the amount is conditional upon the account you choose. Unfortunately, Citi charges account fees between $10 to $30, so you’ll have to keep that in mind while you’re weighing your options.
Marcus is still a better choice if you want fewer fees, but if you prefer all your banking with one entity, Citibank can give you a wider variety of accounts and services.
Compare top bank accounts
Too long, didn’t read?
For those who want to avoid unnecessary fees and already have a checking account somewhere else, Marcus by Goldman Sachs is an excellent choice. With competitive rates and easy-to-use banking features, Marcus by Goldman Sachs is a great choice for users who want convenience and a safe place to grow their money.
Starting a business is an opportunity to be your own boss, make money and grow your skill set.
There are also the not-so-great, somewhat messy and complicated parts about operating a business. If you start off solo or small, you’ll be tackling a lot of tasks yourself.
But don’t worry. In this article, we’re going to address something relatively simple in the business world: the best business checking accounts.
We’ll go into why you need one, what you should look for and several of the best ones available, both in-person and online-only.
Wait, Do I Really Need a Business Checking Account?
The purpose of a business checking account is to keep your business finances separate from your personal finances.
Technically, you might not need one depending on the legal structure of your business.
For example, if you’re a freelance writer who established a sole proprietorship and is starting slowly, you could use your personal checking account to get off the ground. But you’ll want to be extremely organized about keeping track of your business money for tax time. (Nothing will damper your momentum like getting audited.)
The type of business you’re running makes a difference here. If it’s transaction-heavy — or a particular legal structure, like a limited liability company — you might need a business checking account, full stop.
But if you’re starting any kind of business, it’s probably in your best interest to open one.
Business checking accounts make it easier to track profits, expenses and deductions, and help establish your operation if you file for business credit cards or loans down the line.
What You Need to Open a Business Checking Account
To open an account, you’ll typically need the following:
Social security number (SSN) or employee identification number (EIN)
Valid driver’s license or state ID
An initial deposit
How easy it is to open a business checking account will depend on your business. If you’re a sole proprietor, the process might feel similar to opening a personal checking account. If you have a different legal business structure, you’ll likely have to provide additional documentation (like your articles of incorporation). Requirements will vary from bank to bank.
What You Should Look for in a Business Checking Account
Before you peruse accounts, get a handle on your business needs and wants. For instance, do you make a lot of transactions? Do you want a business credit card ASAP? Do you prefer a big bank where you can pop into a different branch every half mile?
There are other considerations. Do you want your bank, credit union or financial institution to…
Offer free bank statements?
Have an app?
Offer free online banking and/or bill pay?
Have in-person locations?
Offer comprehensive customer service, i.e., allow you to talk to someone online and on the phone 24/7?
Have integration with tools, like invoicing software?
Offer multiple products, such as business credit cards, small-business loans, etc.?
There are lots of banks for small businesses to choose from, but you want one that will give you the most options. And ideally, save you some money and headaches in the process.
To choose the best business checking accounts, we focused on accounts that:
Require a low minimum initial deposit ($1,000 or less — most require only $25).
Offer a certain number of transactions for free.
Either have no monthly service fee or make it easy to have the fee waived.
We also focused on checking accounts for small and medium businesses. If you’re looking for accounts to manage a higher volume, many of the traditional institutions on our list have them, too.
Check out our current list of bank promotions for a chance to gain a monetary bonus when signing up for a new business checking account.
The 5 Best Business Checking Accounts for May 2021
We chose five institutions and a couple of different checking account options for each where available.
1. Chase: Best for 24/7 Customer Service and Overall Accessibility
Chase is a well-known brand with many physical branches and flexible options for business owners. It’s a good choice if you want to be able to find a chain easily and talk to someone in person. Chase also offers 24/7 support, so you can call and email them anytime of day. From personal experience, if you send them a secured online message, they typically follow up within 24 hours. To learn more, read our Chase Bank review.
Number of branches: Approximately 4,700
Number of ATMs: 16,000
Here’s the lowdown on Chase Business Complete Banking and Chase Performance Business Checking.
Chase Business Complete Banking
Chase Business Complete Banking (for small businesses) at a glance:
Sign-up bonus: $300 for new customers who meet certain criteria
Minimum initial deposit: $25
Monthly service fee: $15; waived if you maintain a minimum daily balance of $2,000 or link a qualifying Chase account
Cash deposits per month: Up to $5,000 without an additional fee
Free transactions per month: 100
Access to Chase online and mobile banking
Get same-day deposits on card payments at no additional cost
Chase Performance Business Checking
Chase Performance Business Checking (for medium-sized businesses) at a glance:
Sign-up bonus: None specified
Minimum initial deposit: $25
Monthly service fee: $30; waived if you maintain a minimum daily balance of $35,000 or more in qualifying accounts
Cash deposits per month: Up to $20,000 without an additional fee
Free transactions per month: 250
No charge for all incoming wires and two outgoing domestic wires per statement cycle
Interest-bearing option availableChase has business saving account, lending and credit card options, too. Chase offers several small-business credit cards, all with new card member bonuses, which include $750 cash back to 100,000 bonus points depending on the card.
2. Wells Fargo: Best for Small Business Owners Just Getting Started
Wells Fargo is another strong choice for your business checking account needs. It has many branch locations and you can call them 24/7. Its website is also easy to navigate and lets you find answers to your questions without clicking on a ton of links. Check out our Wells Fargo Bank review for more information.
Number of branches: Approximately 7,200
Number of ATMs: Over 13,000
Wells Fargo Initiate Business Checking
Initiate Business Checking (for new and small businesses) at a glance:
Sign-up bonus: None specified
Minimum initial deposit: $25
Monthly service fee: $10; waived by having a minimum daily balance of $500
Cash deposits per month: Up to $5,000 for free
Free transactions per month: 100
Customized business debit card
24/7 fraud monitoring
If you’re just getting started with your small business and don’t expect to scale right away, Initiate Business Checking is a solid, affordable account to open.
Wells Fargo Navigate Business Checking
Navigate Business Checking (for small- to medium-sized businesses) at a glance:
Sign-up bonus: None specified
Minimum initial deposit: $25
Monthly service fee: $25; waived by having a minimum daily balance of $10,000 or an average combined business deposit balance of $15,000
Cash deposits per month: Up to $20,000 for free
Free transactions per month: 250
Customized business debit card
24/7 fraud monitoring
Wells Fargo also offers small-business lending and credit card options.
3. U.S. Bank: Best for Simple, Fee-Free Banking
While primarily located in the Midwest, this chain has lots of locations across the country. That’s great news if you’re a small-business owner looking for a simple checking account.
U.S. Bank has no monthly service fees for its Silver account, so no worries about meeting certain criteria to have the fee waived. You can also go to its website and take a short quiz to determine which account would work best for your needs.
Number of branches: 3,106
Number of ATMs: 4,842
U.S. Bank offers Silver, Gold, Platinum and Premium business checking accounts, and we’re going to outline the first two.
U.S. Bank Silver Business Checking
Silver Business Checking (best for newer or smaller businesses) at a glance:
Sign-up bonus: None specified
Minimum initial deposit: $100
Monthly service fee: $0
Cash deposits per month: 25 for free
Free transactions per month: 120 per statement cycle; 50 cents per excess transaction
U.S. Bank will charge you $5 for paper statements, so stick with online ones to save money and the planet.
Online and mobile banking
Discount on first check order
Small Business Visa credit card
Card payment processing
U.S. Bank Gold Business Checking
Gold Business Checking (for businesses with moderate transaction levels) at a glance:
Sign-up bonus: None specified
Minimum initial deposit: $100
Monthly service fee: $20; waived by satisfying one of several criteria listed on its website
Cash deposits per month: 100 for free
Free transactions per month: 300 per statement cycle; 45 cents per excess transaction
Online and mobile banking
Remote check deposits
Discount on first check order
Small Business Visa credit card
Card payment processing
Silver and Gold are good options for small businesses looking for free business checking accounts (as long as you stay within the limits). And in general, Chase, Wells Fargo and U.S. Bank are all good options for an LLC.
4. BlueVine: Best for Fee-Free, Online-Only Banking
Want to open an account on your phone and manage it entirely online? Welcome to 2021… and to BlueVine.
BlueVine boasts no hidden fees and unlimited transactions. Members can pay vendors, schedule one-time and recurring payments, and earn an impressive 1.0% on their checking account balance up to $100,000. Deposits are FDIC-insured (up to $250,000) through The Bancorp Bank.
Number of branches: 0
Number of ATMs: Users can withdraw cash fee-free at over 38,000 MoneyPass® locations in the U.S.
BlueVine at a glance:
Sign-up bonus: None specified
Minimum initial deposit: $0
Monthly service fee: $0
Cash deposits per month: Unlimited. You can deposit cash at close to 100,000 retail locations through a partnership with Green Dot. A $4.95 fee, per deposit, applies.
Free transactions per month: Unlimited
A BlueVine Business Debit Mastercard®
Access to a business line of credit
Two free checkbooks
Phone and email customer support
5. Axos Bank: Best for Business Interest Checking
Axos Bank is another online-only bank. In addition to business checking accounts that earn interest, customers can take advantage of surcharge-free ATMs across the U.S.
Number of branches: 0
Number of ATMs: You can use any ATM in the U.S. and you’ll be reimbursed for the fees
Axos Bank offers Basic Business Checking, Business Interest Checking and Analyzed Business Checking. We’re going to look at the first two.
Axos Basic Business Checking
Basic Business Checking at a glance:
Sign-up bonus: $!00 if you incorporated after June 1, 2020
Minimum initial deposit: $1,000
Monthly service fee: $0
Cash deposits per month: Up to 60 items with remote deposit
Free transactions per month: 200; afterward, 30 cents each
Pay bills with no charge through the app
First set of 50 checks is free
Compatible with QuickBooks
Axos Business Interest Checking
Business Interest Checking at a glance:
Sign-up bonus: $100 if you incorporated after June 1, 2020
Minimum initial deposit: $100
Monthly service fee: $10; waived if there’s an average daily balance of $5,000
Cash deposits per month: Up to 60 with remote deposit
Free transactions per month: 50; afterward, 50 cents each
Earn up to 0.81% APY
First set of 50 checks for free
Axos Bank also offers saving accounts and Business CDs, but no credit cards.
Regional Business Checking Account Options
Here’s a glance at three smaller, regional options for business checking accounts. If your area isn’t listed, you can research credit unions and banks near you.
America First Credit Union
This institution has branches in Nevada and Utah. America First offers four types of business checking accounts: Basic, Premier, High-Yield and Non-Profit.
The Basic Business Checking offers 250 free monthly transactions, free online bill pay, access to money market savings, lines of credit and Business Visa credit card.
This bank has branches in Tennessee, Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia and Texas. First Horizon offers BizEssentials Checking (Value, Basic, Standard and Interest) and Business Interest Checking Account, which combines the benefits of a checking and interest-earning savings account.
The Business Interest Checking Account has no minimum balance requirements, plus you’ll earn interest on your balance and have access to a Visa Business debit card.
SunTrust, Now Truist
This bank has branches in Alabama, Arkansas, Washington, D.C., Florida, Georgia, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia. SunTrust offers three types of business checking accounts: Simple Business Checking, SunTrust Primary Business Checking and SunTrust Business Advantage Plus Checking.
SunTrust Primary Business Checking has a $15 monthly fee that’s waived in the first two statement cycles and after that when you have a $1,000 minimum daily balance. Each month, you’ll get 150 free transactions and $5,000 cash processing.
What’s the Right Business Checking Account for You?
The best business checking account for you will depend on your business and needs. Whether you’re just starting out or looking to level up, there are plenty of options out there, online and off. Start your search now, so your future self — and CPA, come tax time — will thank you later.
Contributor Kathleen Garvin (@itskgarvin) is a personal finance writer based in St. Petersburg, Florida, and former editor and marketer at The Penny Hoarder. She owns a content-writing business and her work has appeared in U.S. News, Clark.com and Well Kept Wallet.
I’m in favor of anything that makes it easier to add to my savings account balance, and Digit definitely fits that bill. It’s a free-to-join, automatic savings tool that ties into your checking account, uses a sophisticated algorithm to analyze your income and spending habits, and then makes regular transfers to your FDIC-insured Digit savings account and Digit investment accounts, typically every week or every few days.
What Is Digit?
You don’t have to direct or schedule your Digit transfers in any way. In fact, you don’t even know in advance how much Digit will transfer. With its automated, hands-off saving algorithm, pretty much all you have to do is sit back and watch your savings account balance grow over time. If you’re unsatisfied with the pace of Digit’s automatic withdrawals, you can tell it to save more or less with each withdrawal.
Digit isn’t the first online tool designed to simplify and incentivize savings. There are plenty of bank-run programs, such as Bank of America’s Keep the Change, which both allow for recurring checking-to-savings transfers and small, automatic savings deposits when you make a debit card purchase. And, of course, you can set up recurring checking-to-savings transfers at banks — including online banks such as Ally Bank and Capital One Bank — without formal savings incentive programs.
The difference is that Digit is the first completely automated savings app for iOS and Android. When it first launched, the Digit app was functionally unique, although it has since spawned imitators. Digit has added features over the years, including a handy new tool that analyzes your cash flow and tells you exactly how much you can safely spend every day, and now boasts taxable and tax-advantaged investment account options too.
Digit is free to join and use for 30 days. After that, it carries a $5 monthly fee. A 0.10% annualized yield — or “Savings Bonus,” in Digit’s parlance — offsets this monthly charge, although Digit only pays out once every three months. There’s no minimum balance required at any time and no minimums required to earn the interest rate.
All told, this savings app has some useful advantages over any other program, account, or service on the market, plus a few drawbacks that may hamper your experience.
How It Works
Here’s how Digit works. Below, we cover the sign-up process, basic account management practices, and procedures for transfers and withdrawals.
Sign-Up for New Users
To get started with Digit, you need to provide some basic personal information and contact details. You’ll then be asked to securely link your bank account with your new Digit account. You won’t need to provide your account number or routing number, and the link usually happens near-instantaneously.
Account Management and Automated Savings
Once you’re set up with your FDIC-insured Digit savings account, the app goes to work. It uses its proprietary algorithm to get a sense of your spending (debit transactions and ATM withdrawals), income (paychecks), and recurring obligations (monthly bills).
To get the most out of Digit, you should make sure that all important bills are included in your checking account’s bill pay system — or otherwise paid out of the tied checking account — so Digit’s algorithm can see them. The same goes for paychecks and other income sources. Digit doesn’t know what goes on outside the tied checking account, so you need to make sure it has as much information as possible.
Based on your income, spending patterns, and obligations, Digit begins making transfers from your checking account to your savings account, the first typically coming within a week of sign-up. These transfers are entirely automated; you never have to set an amount or frequency. Digit’s algorithm only allows for transfers it thinks you can afford, so there’s little chance of an overdraft or cash crunch. After the first one, transfers usually happen every two or three days in relatively small amounts.
Bear in mind that you may not receive a notification of each withdrawal. However, if Digit determines at any point that you really don’t have the funds to save money right then, it simply stops making withdrawals until you can afford them again. In the meantime, Digit keeps a rolling tally of your discretionary income and tells you exactly how much you can safely spend on any given day.
You can withdraw funds held in your Digit account whenever you wish, with no daily or monthly limit, and have the money in your checking account the following business day. You can also manually override Digit’s automatic transfer algorithm and make manual deposits into your Digit account at any point, provided you have enough money in your linked account to support the transfer.
Here’s a closer look at some of Digit’s key features, including Digit’s investing and retirement platforms, Digit’s savings goals feature, and the Digit Pay bill payment feature.
Digit’s investing feature allows you to put your money to work in the stock market without assuming unwise levels of risk or setting aside more than you can afford to lose. Like Digit’s savings tool, this feature automatically transfers funds that you can safely invest into a diversified portfolio that can grow over time. Digit takes the long view, looking for sustainable, long-term opportunities rather than short-term gains.
Digit’s retirement feature matches you with the right tax-advantaged investment account for your income level and automatically reserves a portion of your savings for your retirement goals. Once per month, Digit invests those savings in a diversified portfolio. With no account minimums or deposit requirements, it’s easy to kick-start your retirement planning with Digit.
Digit lets you set savings goals for just about anything, from your next date night to a down payment on a house to an emergency fund for unexpected expenses or financial setbacks. Simply follow the prompts in the app.
Digit Pay is a free bill pay service designed specifically to help you pay down credit card debt. You can activate it when you set a “credit card debt” savings goal in the app.
No Overdraft Guarantee
Because Digit’s algorithms are designed only to withdraw what you can afford, the likelihood of a checking overdraft due to a Digit withdrawal is low. However, should Digit ever cause an overdraft, the company guarantees reimbursement of any applicable fees.
You can contact Digit directly using the onsite ticketing system. Queries typically produce responses within one to two business days.
Digit has some key advantages, including next-business-day transfers, set-it-and-forget-it automation, and unlimited savings withdrawals.
1. Next-Business-Day Transfers
If you need to withdraw from your Digit savings balance, you can have the funds in your checking account on the next business day. By comparison, transfers from savings accounts — especially from online banks such as Ally — to external accounts can take two or three business days. If you need funds fast, that can be an inconvenient time frame.
2. Set It and Forget It
Digit is unique among savings tools in that it’s completely automated. It measures your spending and income daily and uses a sophisticated algorithm to determine how much you can save without affecting your lifestyle. If you earn more and spend less, Digit automatically increases your savings. If you earn less and spend more, Digit automatically saves less.
As long as you’re satisfied with the amount you’re saving, you never have to manually transfer funds to your savings account, although you do have that option to fall back on. This setup is superior both to recurring bank transfers (which need to be manually adjusted to account for changes in income and spending) and budgeting tools such as Mint (which aren’t truly automated).
3. Unlimited Savings Withdrawals
You can make unlimited withdrawals from your Digit savings account — one per day if you like, or even multiple times per day. Savings accounts at traditional banks and credit unions, including those tied to a recurring savings plan, typically limit withdrawals to six per month. Tax-advantages savings accounts (IRAs) can be even more restrictive.
4. No Overdraft Fees
In the unlikely event that a Digit transfer results in an overdraft from your checking account, the company promises to pay any associated fees and charges. However, it doesn’t specify if there’s a limit to what it pays in this case. If your balance remains negative for many days on end, you could stretch the limits of this guarantee.
Regardless, you get no such protection from banks such as Capital One Bank, Ally, or brick-and-mortar institutions such as U.S. Bank. These charge daily or interest-based overdraft fees that can amount to $10, $20, $30, or more per day.
5. No Balance Requirements
Digit savings accounts don’t have balance requirements, allowing you to start off saving small amounts of money. That isn’t always true of comparable services offered by big banks such as U.S. Bank and Bank of America.
6. Earn a 0.10% Quarterly Savings Bonus
Digit savings accounts don’t accrue interest in the traditional sense, but they do have de facto yields: 0.10% APY, paid quarterly as a Savings Bonus. To qualify for each quarter’s Savings Bonus, you must maintain your Digit savings account for the entire three months prior. The bonus is annualized, meaning you earn 0.025% of the balance in your account at the end of each quarter.
Digit’s downsides include a monthly maintenance fee and no transaction-based withdrawals.
1. $5 Monthly Maintenance Fee
Digit has a 30-day fee-free introductory period. Eventually, however, the bill comes due. After the intro period ends, you’re automatically charged $5 per month. When you’re just starting out and your balance is low, this charge is likely to swamp your Savings Bonus.
2. You Need to Give Your Bank Account Information to a Third Party
To work properly, Digit requires your external checking account number. That’s a problem if you’re bothered by the thought of providing sensitive financial information to yet another third party and thus increasing your risk of exposure to a data breach. Safer options include bank-run savings incentive programs with checking and savings accounts under the same roof.
3. No Option for Transaction-Based Withdrawals
Digit doesn’t let you tie automatic checking-savings transfers to a debit card transaction, which is another way to make easy savings deposits — sometimes multiple deposits per day — without dramatically reducing your checking account balance. Bank of America’s Keep the Change program lets you round up debit card purchases to the next dollar and deposit the difference in your savings account.
According to CareerBuilder, nearly 80% of Americans live paycheck to paycheck. That means about 4 in 5 of us don’t save money at all. In that light, Digit’s couldn’t-be-easier savings automation tool is welcome news.
However, Digit isn’t a panacea. It only squirrels away funds on your behalf if you consistently demonstrate that you spend less than you earn. It can’t force you to rein in your spending habits or live within your means. For that, a strict personal budget and lifetime savings plan are still your best options.