Let's be honest: Interest rates on savings and money market accounts are a joke right now. You'd be hard-pressed to find a financial institution offering even a one percent APY. That doesn't come close to keeping up with inflation.
Internet banks continue to pay higher rates than traditional banks, according to a new report from MoneyRates.com. The yields at online banks are nothing to write home about, but they're significantly better than what most brick-and-mortar banks offer.
"Not only are online bank rates on average about six times the level of traditional bank rates, but those two sets of rates are going in different directions," said Richard Barrington, a senior financial analyst at MoneyRates. "Over the past six months, online bank rates have been rising while traditional bank rates have continued to fall."
Here are the rates paid in the first quarter of 2013, according to the MoneyRates survey:
Average Savings Account (annual APY)
Traditional banks: 0.015 percent
Online banks: 0.630 percent
The best rates were at Ally Bank, American Express, Sallie Mae Bank, Discover Bank and GE Capital Retail Bank.
Average Money Market Account (annual APY)
Traditional banks: 0.154 percent
Online banks: 0.661 percent
The best rates were at Sallie Mae Bank, Ally Bank, GE Capital Retail Bank, EverBank and Nationwide Bank.
(Read the complete list of America's Best Rates.)
Greg McBride, senior financial analyst at Bankrate.com, points out that if you're not comparing what you earn on your traditional savings account with what you could make at an online bank, you could be leaving money on the table.
"Yes, returns are low everywhere, but so is inflation right now," McBride said. "Squeezing out every little bit of return on your savings gives you the best shot at preserving the buying power of that savings."
Other advantages to online banks
A bank doesn't need tellers and branches to deliver good customer service. Another new MoneyRate survey finds customers who bank online are slightly more satisfied with the service they receive than those who do not.
The satisfaction rate was 86 percent for online customers and 83.7 percent those who use a brick-and-mortar bank.
"We found that customers don't seem to miss their bank tellers that much," Barrington told me.
That's because online banking is more accepted these days, Barrington explained. People feel comfortable using ATMs, computers and smart phones to interact with their bank. At the same time, banks have closed branches to cut costs. So, they're not as conveniently located as they once were.
One more benefit: Surveys show online banks tend to have fewer fees and lower fees. That's a big plus for many people in search of a new bank.
Is online banking for you?
Look at your own banking habits. If you visit your local bank a lot and like the personal interactions you have there, then you may want to stay put.
If you haven't set foot inside a branch in ages because you do all of your banking online or through ATMs, you may want to look into online banking to boost your return, lower your fees or both.
The decision between a traditional bank and an online bank doesn't have to be all or nothing.
"You can still have your checking account at the local bank, but have your savings account at an online bank to get a better return," explained Bankrate's McBride. "Then link the accounts to easily move money back and forth with a couple clicks of a mouse."