If a big hit to your investment portfolio or fears about losing your job have prompted you to set aside more cash, chances are you’re looking for the best ways to maximize your return on that money.
There's a myriad of new options out there, from rewards checking accounts to liquid certificates of deposits CDs, offering relatively attractive interest rates, but the offers often come with convoluted guidelines, such as transaction minimums or maximum deposits.
“It’s important to find a saving option that fits your money usage habits, and the time frame under which you need access to your money,” says Josh Schanker, a founder of BankFox.com, a financial website that compares banks based on a number of criteria.
And if sorting through all the possibilities and fine print seems a bit much, you might want to peruse the growing universe of personal finance blogs.
Many are written in a diary format by authors, who offer a revealing—if anonymous-- look at their finances.
Some bloggers discuss bank products and promotions, and invite readers to weigh in. The comments section becomes an online forum, where users write in, also anonymously, about their own experiences with a specific product such as a credit card or a money market account.
Reading through the comments gives one a quick overview—in plain English—of the various requirements of an account. Often, a user will also reveal useful tips or strategies for how to best take advantage of the account’s features.
It’s similar to the user reviews found on websites such as Amazon.com, CitySearch and Tripadvisor, where readers weigh in on books, restaurants and hotels. It’s not scientific, but it provides a personal testimony, from which you can make a better decision.
For example, the author of one of the more popular sites, GetRichSlowly.org, recently wrote a post about saving for the short term. He weighed in various approaches and zeroed in on different types of FDIC-insured accounts: high-yield savings accounts, CDs, and rewards checking accounts.
The article generated nearly 50 comments (as of the time of this writing). One reader said he was getting 5 percent interest on his rewards checking account, while others described their experiences with CD ladders and municipal bonds. Pros and cons were included for each option.
BankFox focuses not only on interest rates, but also the overall user experience, such as the bank’s financial health, whether an account offers a debit card or checks or early withdrawal. The website also encourages readers to write reviews of bank products and sign up for email alerts whenever their bank changes its rates (as banks often can do this, without giving notice).
“It’s tough to get unbiased information from a bank’s website,” Schanker says. “I think it’s incredibly important to get information from either blogs or comparison websites to make an informed decision. For example, reviews are important in finding out, does a bank have a history of bad customer service?”
After culling information from these websites, it’s still a good idea to contact the bank directly. That is what Aravind Moorthy did when he recently discovered the Evantage Rewards Checking Account while doing an online search for high-yield money market accounts.
“When I found what rewards checking accounts were I found they had by far the highest interest rates,” says Moorthy, a Ph.D. student in Economics at UCLA. “I started a Google search for rewards checking and that led to mymoneyblog.com. This is where I found out about the Evantage Rewards Checking account.”
“There was an article in the archives talking in general about the highest interest rates, the pros and cons of chasing down interest rates. [The blogger] was skeptical of it but said some of these were good deals. He talked about his own process for going through and figuring out about these deals that were out there. Then there were a bunch of comments underneath, and people were giving more information about rewards checking in general.”
Using tips he found on the blog’s comment board, Moorthy researched Evantage’s parent bank, Southwest State Bank, and found that it scored highly in online security ratings. He used Bankrate.com to see how Southwest State Bank’s interest rates compared with others historically. Finally, using all this information, he prepared a list of questions and called Evantage directly. Eventually, he opened the account.
The original post on mymoneyblog served as a jumping-off point, from which Moorthy could better understand the fine print (for the Evantage account, one requirement is ten check-card transactions a month).
“If I had seen these deals anonymously, I just wouldn’t have had the confidence to put some time and effort into it,” says Moorthy. “The first place I’d probably go to now if I were to look for another money-related question, is one of these money blogs. I would have a more ready set of questions. I would know some of the terminology better, and that would change the way I go about the research.”