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CFPs weigh in: Here's the best place to put your money when saving for a house

Setting aside funds for a down payment on a home? Put that cash in an accessible savings account.

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Although only 19% of consumers believe that it's a good time to buy a home, according to a recent survey by Fannie Mae, it's never too early to start building a down payment fund.

Money earmarked for a big investment, such as a house, should be kept in a savings account where it can grow while also still being protected through FDIC insurance. Soon-to-be homeowners should avoid investing their down payment money unless homeownership is a far-off goal in the distant future.

CNBC Select spoke with two certified financial planners about their advice.

How much money you should save to buy a house

Before we dive in, you should first calculate how much cash you'll need to save up to buy your home. Conventional loans typically require a down payment of 3% to 20% of the home's value. However, the average down payment for first-time buyers in the U.S. is about 6%. On top of that, you need to factor in closing costs and other fees, which can be another 2 to 5% of your home's purchase price, according to the real estate site Zillow.

Then, experts recommend setting aside cash reserves to cover at least three months of living expenses, to play it safe — this is also known as an emergency fund. And all of that is before factoring in homeowner's insurance, furnishings and other move-in costs.

Don't miss: How to figure out if you actually have enough money to buy your first home

How to save money for a house

Lauryn Williams, a Texas-based CFP and founder of Worth Winning, suggests putting your cash into any type of savings account. Ideally, choose one offering a higher interest rate than your traditional savings or checking account.

Examples include a high-yield savings or money market account. Though savings rates are lower across the board when compared to stock market returns, these types of savings accounts can still earn you much more than the national 0.40% or 0.07% average Annual Percentage Yields (APY) on savings and interest-bearing checking accounts, respectively.

With a money market account, users still get a few checking account features, such as check-writing privileges, debit cards and ATM access. Savings accounts, on the other hand, are not set up for making very many withdrawals and transactions, but you can still access the cash should you ever need it.

CNBC Select analyzed and compared dozens of savings accounts offered by online and brick-and-mortar banks, including large credit unions. Below are some of our top-rated high-yield savings accounts and money market accounts. They each offer interest rates higher than the national average, plus they are all FDIC-insured and have $0 monthly maintenance fees and require $0 minimum deposits to open an account. As the Fed continues to raise interest rates, banks are responding by paying out higher annual percentage yields, or APYs, to their customers.

LendingClub High-Yield Savings

LendingClub Bank, N.A., Member FDIC
  • Annual Percentage Yield (APY)

    5.00%

  • Minimum balance

    No minimum balance requirement after $100.00 to open the account

  • Monthly fee

    None

  • Maximum transactions

    None

  • Excessive transactions fee

    None

  • Overdraft fees

    N/A

  • Offer checking account?

    Yes

  • Offer ATM card?

    Yes

Terms apply.

Marcus by Goldman Sachs High Yield Online Savings

Goldman Sachs Bank USA is a Member FDIC.
  • Annual Percentage Yield (APY)

    4.40% APY

  • Minimum balance

    None

  • Monthly fee

    None

  • Maximum transactions

    At this time, there is no limit to the number of withdrawals or transfers you can make from your online savings account

  • Excessive transactions fee

    None

  • Overdraft fee

    None

  • Offer checking account?

    No

  • Offer ATM card?

    No

Terms apply.

Synchrony Bank High Yield Savings

Synchrony Bank is a Member FDIC.
  • Annual Percentage Yield (APY)

    4.75% APY

  • Minimum balance

    None

  • Monthly fee

    None

  • Maximum transactions

    Up to 6 free withdrawals or transfers per statement cycle

  • Excessive transactions fee

    None

  • Overdraft fee

    None

  • Offer checking account?

    No

  • Offer ATM card?

    Yes

Terms apply.

American Express® High Yield Savings Account

American Express National Bank is a Member FDIC.
  • Annual Percentage Yield (APY)

    4.25% APY as of 4/25/2024

  • Minimum balance

    Min balance to open = $0

  • Monthly fee

    $0

  • Maximum transactions

    No limits

  • Excessive transactions fee

    None

  • Overdraft fee

    None

  • Offer checking account?

    No

  • Offer ATM card?

    No

  • Terms apply.

  • American Express National Bank is a Member FDIC.

Ally Bank® CDs

Ally Bank® is a Member FDIC.
  • Annual Percentage Yield (APY)

    From 3.00% to 4.50% APY

  • Terms

    From 3 months to 5 years

  • Minimum balance

    None

  • Monthly fee

    None

  • Early withdrawal penalty fee

    High Yield CDs and Raise Your Rate CDs have early withdrawal penalties that vary based on your CD term. With the No Penalty CD, withdraw all your money any time after the first 6 days following the date you funded the account and keep the interest earned with no penalty.

Terms apply.

What not to do with your down payment savings

Because of the risk that comes with putting your money in the market, do not invest that cash you are stockpiling to buy a home in four years or less, suggests Douglas Boneparth, a New York City-based CFP, president of Bone Fide Wealth and co-author of The Millennial Money Fix.

"If you have a little more time on your side or are OK with losing some money, you could consider a very low-risk investment portfolio, but there's no guarantee," Boneparth adds.

The stock market offers the potential for much higher returns than the interest you'd earn in a savings account. The average stock market return has historically hovered around 10% per year, while annual percentage yields on high-yield savings accounts in recent months reached just over 4% at best.

But Williams points to the last few years as an example of how volatile investing can be: The sharp decline in the S&P 500 (an index that reflects the overall U.S. stock market) back in February and March 2020 at the onset of the pandemic was unprecedented — and a decline we hadn't experienced since the stock market crash of 1929 during the Great Depression. Trading platform Robinhood points out that it took just 22 trading days for the S&P 500 to drop 30% (from Feb. 19 to March 20, 2020).

"Imagine you have been saving up $100,000 over the last five years to get ready for a down payment," Williams says. "You decided to do this in an investment account. You find the perfect home and then...Covid hits. Overnight, your $100,000 turned into $60,000. Now, you have to either lock in losses to use the remainder to purchase your home or wait for the market to bounce back to purchase."

FAQs

What is the fastest way to save money for a house?

There is no one-size-fits-all method to save money quickly for a house. However, when beginning to save for a down payment, cutting back on extra expenses can free up some room in your budget to increase savings. Housing costs are often the biggest monthly expense so if you're able to do so, consider moving back in with family (even for a little while) to cut your current housing costs.

It's also a smart idea to tuck away tax refunds or bonuses from work and set up automatic transfers from your checking account to maintain a regular savings routine.

What is the 50/30/20 rule for buying a house?

The 50/30/20 rule is a general standard for saving money, not just when saving money for a house. The rule suggests that you should allocate 50% of your income for needs, 30% for wants and 20% for savings and debt repayment. These savings might include retirement accounts, emergency funds or high-yield savings accounts.

What is the 3X rule for buying house?

The 3X rule suggests that you should be shopping for houses no more than triple your annual household income. For example, if your annual household income is $60,000, the 3X rule suggests that you should look for homes that cost around $180,000.

What is the 28/36 rule?

The 28/36 rule is commonly used by mortgage lenders to determine a borrower's eligibility for a loan based upon the borrower's income and financial obligations. This rule suggests that, in order to qualify for a loan, your total housing expenses, including mortgage principal and interest, property taxes and homeowners' insurance, should not exceed 28% of your monthly income. Further, your total debt, including housing expenses, student loans, auto loans, medical debt, credit card payments and any other debt obligations, should not exceed 36% of your monthly income.

What is the minimum FICO score to qualify for a home loan?

The minimum FICO score, which is the credit score used by 90% of U.S. lenders, required to qualify for a home loan can vary depending on several factors. It's generally recommended that conventional loan borrowers should have a healthy credit score, one of at least 620. However, FHA loan borrowers may qualify with a lower minimum credit score, one around 500 or 580. Buyers with credit scores of 760 or greater typically qualify for better interest rates on their home loan.

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Bottom line

Knowing your timeline for buying a house will help you determine where you should be putting your money to save for a future down payment. If it's in the short-term (four years or less), keep that money in an FDIC-insured savings account that earns above-average interest and lets you access it should you need to.

For those homeowners-to-be planning further out into the future, you may consider taking on slightly more risk by investing that money in the market to potentially earn a higher return. If you know home ownership is one of your goals, talk to a trusted financial planner well ahead of time, or just stick to a savings account to keep things simple.

Catch up on CNBC Select's in-depth coverage of credit cardsbanking and money, and follow us on TikTokFacebookInstagram and Twitter to stay up to date.

Information about Marcus by Goldman Sachs High Yield Online Savings has been collected independently by Select and has not been reviewed or provided by the banks prior to publication. Goldman Sachs Bank USA is a Member FDIC.

*American Express National Bank is a Member FDIC

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