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Here are the 5 best high-yield savings accounts of May 2020

CNBC Select reviewed dozens of high-yield savings accounts. Here are the top 5 that offer some of the best APYs and zero monthly fees.

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Editor's Note: APYs listed in this article are up-to-date as of the time of publication. They may fluctuate (up or down) as the Fed rate changes. CNBC will update as changes are made public.

When it comes to building an emergency fund or saving up for a large expense, such as a down payment on a home, putting your money in a high-yield savings account can help you reach your goals quicker.

Unlike traditional savings accounts, high-yield savings accounts reward you with a higher interest rate and your money grows even faster thanks to compound interest — which lets you earn interest on interest. The higher your annual percentage yield (APY), the faster your money grows and you get a better return than you would with a traditional savings account.

The national average APY on savings accounts is just 0.06%, according to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC). That's 25 times less than what the highest-yield savings accounts offer.

To determine which high-yield savings accounts are the best overall, CNBC Select analyzed and compared dozens of savings accounts offered by online and brick-and-mortar banks, including large credit unions. We found that although most online banks don't have physical branch locations, they typically offer higher APYs, lower fees and overall better benefits than national brick-and-mortar banks.

When rating our top five, we considered each account's APY, its ease of use, account accessibility, as well as the cons, such as monthly fees and minimum balance requirements.

The savings accounts we selected for our ranking offer an APY over 1% to all customers (no matter your balance), are FDIC-insured, have zero monthly maintenance fees and low (or no) minimum balance requirements. (See our methodology for more information on how we choose the best high-yield savings accounts.)

Here are CNBC Select's picks for the top high-yield savings accounts:

Best overall

Marcus by Goldman Sachs High Yield Online Savings

Marcus by Goldman Sachs High Yield Online Savings
Information about the Marcus by Goldman Sachs High Yield Online Savings has been collected independently by CNBC and has not been reviewed or provided by the bank prior to publication. Goldman Sachs Bank USA is a Member FDIC.
  • Annual Percentage Yield (APY)

    1.30%

  • Minimum balance

    None to open; $1 to earn interest

  • Monthly fee

    None

  • Maximum transactions

    Up to 6 free withdrawals or transfers per statement cycle

  • Excessive transactions fee

    None

  • Overdraft fees

    N/A

  • Offer checking account?

    No

  • Offer ATM card?

    No

See our methodology, terms apply.

Pros

  • Strong APY
  • No minimum balance (just $1 to earn interest)
  • No monthly fees
  • Up to 6 free withdrawals or transfers per statement cycle
  • Easy-to-use mobile banking app
  • Offers no-fee personal loans

Cons

  • No option to add a checking account
  • No ATM access
  • You can't deposit a check via the mobile app

Who's this for? As the consumer banking arm of Goldman Sachs, Marcus offers a few financial products including the Marcus by Goldman Sachs High Yield Online Savings. We rated this our best overall pick for a few reasons. Marcus offers a high APY, no fees whatsoever and easy mobile access. It is the most straightforward savings account to use when all you want to do is grow your money with zero conditions attached.

The account offers a healthy 1.30% APY with no monthly fees and no minimum deposits. Users start earning interest with a minimum of $1 in your account. While there are no associated fees, the bank's site does say that it may close your account if you do not maintain a positive balance for 60 days.

The Marcus account also stands out thanks to its new mobile banking app, which is simple to use and allows you to set up recurring deposits, track your savings goals and see how much interest you've earned this year. The bank's U.S.-based contact center is open seven days a week for live customer support over the phone or through online chat.

Account holders can withdraw money from their Marcus savings account online and by phone through ACH or by free wire transfer to a linked account at another bank. You can also request a withdrawal by check mailed to you.

To add money to your account, you can transfer funds, make direct deposit payments, send a check or make a wire transfer. There is no option to deposit checks via the mobile app, which some of the accounts on this list offer.

Marcus doesn't charge a fee if you link other bank accounts for incoming and outgoing transfers, but keep in mind that your other bank might. As required by law, Marcus savings account holders can make up to six free withdrawals or transfers per statement cycle.

While there are no ATM cards or checking account options available through Marcus, the bank does offer a variety of no-fee personal loans as well.

Best for checking/savings combo

Ally Online Savings Account

Ally Online Savings Account
Information about the Ally Online Savings Account has been collected independently by CNBC and has not been reviewed or provided by the bank prior to publication. Ally Bank is a Member FDIC.
  • Annual Percentage Yield (APY)

    1.25%

  • Minimum balance

    None

  • Monthly fee

    None

  • Maximum transactions

    Up to 6 free withdrawals or transfers per statement cycle

  • Excessive transactions fee

    $10 per transaction

  • Overdraft fees

    $25

  • Offer checking account?

    Yes

  • Offer ATM card?

    Yes, if have an Ally checking account

See our methodology, terms apply.

Pros

  • Strong APY
  • No minimum balance
  • No monthly fees
  • Up to 6 free withdrawals or transfers per statement cycle
  • Option to add a checking account
  • ATM access if you have a checking account

Cons

  • $10 fee per transaction if you make more than 6 in a statement cycle
  • $25 overdraft fee

Who's this for? Ally is a good choice for anyone looking to do all their banking in one place. While the Ally Online Savings Account is a good high-yield account on its own, account holders can enjoy even more benefits if they also have an Ally checking account.

In addition to earning a solid 1.25% APY, no minimum account balance and no monthly maintenance fees, with an Ally checking and savings account, you also have access to over 43,000 free Allpoint® ATMs, making it easy to withdraw cash when you need to. If you only have the online savings account, you won't have access to a debit card.

If you use an out-of-network ATM, Ally doesn't charge a fee and if the ATM provider does, Ally will reimburse those fees up to $10 per month.

Not all online banks also offer a checking account option. Saving your money with a bank that doesn't offer a checking account means you would have to transfer your money between banks, which could take a couple days. By law, account holders with Ally can withdraw or transfer money online up to six times per month with no penalty (after, Ally charges $10 per transfer). You can also call the bank to request a mailed check, which doesn't count as one of your six transactions.

You can't deposit cash in your Ally savings account, which is standard for many online banks, but you can deposit checks remotely with eCheck Deposit on the mobile appp. Account holders can organize their saving goals by creating up to 10 different "buckets" within the same savings account. For example, you can create a designated fund for a "Future Vacation" and another for "Emergency Savings."

Ally is also a consumer favorite because of its easy-to-use mobile app and 24/7 live customer service that is available over the phone, through online chat or on the Ally mobile app. 

Best for easy access to your cash

Synchrony Bank High Yield Savings

Synchrony Bank High Yield Savings
Information about the Synchrony Bank High Yield Savings has been collected independently by CNBC and has not been reviewed or provided by the bank prior to publication. Synchrony Bank is a Member FDIC.
  • Annual Percentage Yield (APY)

    1.30%

  • Minimum balance

    None

  • Monthly fee

    None

  • Maximum transactions

    Up to 6 free withdrawals or transfers per statement cycle

  • Excessive transactions fee

    None, but may result in account closure

  • Overdraft fees

    N/A

  • Offer checking account?

    No

  • Offer ATM card?

    Yes

See our methodology, terms apply.

Pros

  • Strong APY
  • No minimum balance
  • No monthly fees
  • Up to 6 free withdrawals or transfers per statement cycle
  • Easy ATM access
  • 1 physical branch (in Bridgewater, New Jersey)

Cons

  • Account could close if you make more than 6 transactions in a statement cycle
  • No option to add a checking account

Who's this for? Withdrawing money is quick and easy when you have a Synchrony Bank High Yield Savings account. There is no minimum balance requirement, no monthly fees and a strong 1.30% APY. But what makes this account stand out is its convenient withdrawal options.

Synchrony Bank offers an optional ATM card to its savings account holders. You can access your money by ATM, wire transfer (up to three free per statement cycle) or through an electronic transfer to or from accounts you have at other banks.

Though you are limited to the six free withdrawals or transfers per statement cycle, Synchrony Bank allows you to conduct unlimited transactions at an ATM. The bank won't charge an ATM fee, but the ATM provider may. For these charges, Synchrony Bank refunds ATM fees in the U.S. up to $5 per statement cycle.

Still, you should be wary how much you withdraw from an ATM because the fees, even with a $5 refund, can really add up. According to Bankrate, ATM operators charge customers an average fee of $3.09. Just going to the ATM twice in one month would already put you over the refundable amount.

To deposit money into your savings account at Synchrony Bank, you can make an electronic transfer from an external bank account that you've linked, do direct deposit, make a wire transfer, mail a check or use the bank's mobile app to deposit a check.

Synchrony Bank's customer service line is available seven days a week by phone or online chat, as well as 24/7 through its app so you can manage your account on-the-go. Additional customer perks include complimentary identity theft assistance, travel discounts and free webinars.

Best for earning a high APY

Vio Bank High Yield Online Savings Account

Vio Bank High Yield Online Savings Account
Information about the Vio Bank High Yield Online Savings Account has been collected independently by CNBC and has not been reviewed or provided by the bank prior to publication. Vio Bank is a division of MidFirst Bank, Member FDIC.
  • Annual Percentage Yield (APY)

    1.50%

  • Minimum balance

    $100 to open

  • Monthly fee

    None, if you opt for paperless statements (otherwise, $5 per month)

  • Maximum transactions

    Up to 6 free withdrawals or transfers per statement cycle

  • Excessive transactions fee

    $10 per transaction

  • Overdraft fees

    N/A

  • Offer checking account?

    No

  • Offer ATM card?

    No

See our methodology, terms apply.

Pros

  • Strong APY
  • No monthly fees, if you opt for paperless billing
  • Up to 6 free withdrawals or transfers per statement cycle
  • Easy-to-use mobile banking app

Cons

  • $100 minimum balance to open account
  • $5 monthly maintenance fee, if you don't opt for paperless billing
  • $10 fee per transaction if you make more than 6 in a statement cycle
  • No option to add a checking account
  • No ATM access

Who's this for? Vio Bank, the online division of MidFirst Bank, offers one of the highest APY rates for high-yield savings accounts at 1.50%. There is a minimum $100 deposit required to open an account, which is lower than what some of the other high APY savings accounts require.

With the Vio Bank High Yield Online Savings Account, there are no additional monthly charges if you opt to go paperless. Otherwise, there's a $5 monthly fee for anyone receiving paper billing.

Vio Bank doesn't charge fees for incoming wire transfers (the cost for sending a domestic wire transfer is $30) or fees for outgoing or incoming external transfers. You'll want to make sure you keep your account active because if you go 12 months without making any transactions (a deposit or a withdrawal), you will be charged a $5 dormant account fee every month. Account holders are given the six free withdrawals per month as required by law (after, Vio Bank charges $10 per transaction). 

Vio Bank does not offer a checking account nor ATM network, but if you want to stash your cash and watch it grow, this high-yield savings account is a smart choice with its generous APY. Account holders can reach customer service easily by phone seven days of the week or through the live chat available on the bank's site.

Best if you want extra help saving

Varo Savings Account

Varo Savings Account
Information about the Varo Savings Account has been collected independently by CNBC and has not been reviewed or provided by the bank prior to publication. Bank Account Services are provided by The Bancorp Bank, Member FDIC.
  • Annual Percentage Yield (APY)

    1.41% (with option to earn up to 2.80% if meet requirements)

  • Minimum balance

    None

  • Monthly fee

    None

  • Maximum transactions

    Up to 6 free withdrawals or transfers per statement cycle

  • Excessive transactions fee

    None

  • Overdraft fees

    None up to $50; anything greater, Varo would decline the transaction

  • Offer checking account?

    Yes

  • Offer ATM card?

    Yes, if have a Varo checking account

See our methodology, terms apply.

Pros

  • High APY and option to earn even higher
  • No minimum balance
  • No monthly fees
  • Up to 6 free withdrawals or transfers per statement cycle
  • No penalty for overdrafts up to $50 (anything greater, Varo declines the transaction)
  • Option to add a checking account
  • ATM access if you have a checking account
  • Offers 2 programs to help automate your savings

Cons

  • Overdrafts over $50 will cause transactions to be declined
  • Cash deposits are only available through third-party services, which may charge a fee

Who's this for? Varo Money, Inc. is a San Francisco-based online bank that was founded in 2015. It is an all-mobile national bank, so for those looking to save and don't mind banking completely over the phone or online, the Varo Savings Account makes a good option.

Varo offers a high APY of 1.41% to all savings account holders, as well as a checking account option. Neither accounts require minimum balances to open and neither charge monthly maintenance fees. 

Varo stands out because of its uniquely tiered APY program that encourages you to save more. While you can take advantage of a 1.41% APY regardless of your account balance, you can earn up to 2.80% APY if you meet certain monthly requirements: Account holders must make a minimum of five purchases using their Varo Visa® Debit Card, have direct deposits totaling $1,000 or more each month and keep a savings account balance no higher than $10,000 (there is no minimum balance) all in the same month.

For those who want extra help saving, the online bank offers two programs that automatically transfer money from your Varo bank account to your savings account: Save Your Pay, which transfers a percentage of your paycheck into your savings, and Save Your Change, which rounds up your checking account transactions to the nearest dollar and transfers the difference to your savings.

Varo also offers an ATM network with no fees (as well as no penalty for overdrafts up to $50). For any cash deposits, note that Varo only makes these available through third-party services, which may charge a fee.

How online savings accounts work

While online savings accounts offer some of the highest APYs, it is also harder to access your money than when you bank at a brick-and-mortar institution. This is arguably a good thing if you're trying to grow an emergency savings, as you won't have as many opportunities to withdraw cash from the account.

Online savings accounts, by law, limit the number of times you can access your cash each month. High-yield savings account holders can only withdraw or transfer money (including electronic transfers, checks and wire transfers) out of their account up to six times per month without having to pay a penalty fee or risk having their account closed.

This is a federal law, known as Regulation D. It has been temporarily lifted during the coronavirus outbreak as people may need more urgent access to their money. At this time, customers can "make an unlimited number of convenient transfers and withdrawals from their savings deposits," according to a statement by the Federal Reserve Board.

Although it might seem nerve-wracking to have limited access to your savings, it can also help prevent you from frequently dipping into your savings. One of the big reasons to put your emergency fund into a high-yield account is to watch it grow, not constantly withdraw it. The higher your account balance is, the more money you will earn in compound interest over time so it's a good thing that there's a federal withdrawal limit.

Common high-yield terms you should know

  • Annual Percentage Yield (APY): The amount of interest an account earns in a year.
  • ACH transfer: When you want to make small and frequent payments electronically (direct deposit, automated bill payments, etc.); typically always free but usually takes at least one business day to complete the transfer.
  • Wire transfer: When you want to move funds from one bank account to another and have the money be available for use in the same business day; banks usually charge a fee.
  • Mobile deposit: Instead of going to the bank to deposit a check, you can use your mobile banking app to scan a photo of the check and have the funds immediately deposited into your account. It can sometimes take a day or two for the funds to be accessible.
  • ATM networks: ATMs can either be in-service or out-of-network, depending on which bank you have. When you make a transaction at an ATM that is outside your bank's network, then a fee will most likely be applied by both the ATM operator and your bank.

Our methodology

To determine which high-yield savings accounts offer the best return on your money, CNBC Select analyzed dozens of U.S. savings accounts offered by online and brick-and-mortar banks, including large credit unions. We narrowed down our ranking by only considering those savings accounts that offer an APY over 1%, no monthly maintenance fees and low (or no) minimum balance requirements.

While the accounts we chose in this article consistently rank as having some of the highest APY rates, we also compared each savings account on a range of features, including ease of use and account accessibility, as well as factors such as insurance policies and customer reviews when available. We also considered users' deposit options and each account's compound frequency.

All of the accounts included on this list are FDIC-insured up to $250,000. Note that the rates and fee structures for high-yield savings accounts are not guaranteed forever; they are subject to change without notice and they often fluctuate in accordance with the Fed rate. Your earnings depend on any associated fees and the balance you have in your high-yield savings account. To open an account, most banks and institutions require a deposit of new money, meaning you can't transfer money you already had in an account at that bank.

Editorial Note: Opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the CNBC Select editorial staff’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any third party.