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Banking

If you’ve been paying attention to high yield savings rates over the past few months, you may have noticed they’re on their way up.  No, not to the 4% – 5% levels we saw about a decade ago, but slowly, interest rates are creeping in a positive direction.

SmartyPig is one of the high yield savings accounts that has always led the way with top interest rates. Keeping with that trend, right now they currently offer a great interest rate, making it worth considering for your new savings account.

SmartyPig High Yield Interest Rates

SmartyPig current offers four different tiers when calculating interest for its consumers, and they do so based on the average daily balance on the account.  So, for example, if today you had $3,000 in your SmartyPig savings account, you would earn 0.90% APY for that day.  If tomorrow, you deposited another $8,000, then that day would earn 0.95% APY on the $11,000 total in the account.  These tier levels are not like tax tables, either… the full balance of your account will earn the APY in the active tier.

  1. $0.01 – $2,500 — 0.85% APY
  2. $2,500.01 – $10,000 — 0.90% APY
  3. $10,000.01 – $50,000 — 0.95% APY
  4. $50,000.01+ — 1.12% APY

In today’s online savings account market, earning 0.85% – 0.95% is still good. However, there are competitors that can do better.  For example, Ally Bank currently offers 1.05% APY on all accounts, regardless of amount deposited. For this reason, SmartyPig is geared much more toward savers that can keep over $50,000 in their account at all times.

SmartyPig Savings Goals

One of the features that SmartyPig has employed since the very first day it became an online bank was to allow users to create internal savings goals.

For example, if I wanted to create a $5,000 savings goal for a family vacation, I could set up recurring transfers from an external account into my SmartyPig account to track my savings progress.  Or, I simply draw from my primary SmartyPig savings account into my goal account.  During the process of saving, I can track my progress toward my goal; once the goal is reached, funds are released back into my primary SmartyPig savings account.

The SmartyPig Savings Goals section is largely symbolic.  There are no interest rate benefits or negatives to creating goals. If you decide to scrap a goal early, the funds are immediately placed back into your primary SmartyPig account with all interest earned.  The idea behind the goals section is that visualizing the goal and keeping track of the amount being saved can go a long way in actually completing the task you have set.

Resource: Setting Goals You’ll Actually Achieve

Opening Up a SmartyPig Account

The process to open up a SmartyPig account takes all of five minutes.  You’ll need your personal information, including social security number and a cell phone, plus a few moments to complete a three-step online application.

  • Step 1 – Create your login details and enter your cell phone number.
  • Step 2 – Verify your cell phone number by using the 4 digit code SmartyPig will send you (the stated timeline to complete this step is 14 days before your account will be closed).
  • Step 3 – Verify your identity by entering your personal information and answering four security questions.

After these steps have been completed, you’ll have your very own SmartyPig high yield savings account.  The last thing to do is verify your email address, which is required after your account is active, but before you can set up any external funding source.  The login dashboard for SmartyPig will look like this:

Setting Up External Transfer Accounts

In order to fund your Smarty Pig account, you must set up an external funding source.  SmartyPig is not a bank in and of itself, it’s simply a “product of sorts” offered by Sallie Mae. So, the only way to get money into the account is by transferring it from another account.  SmartyPig and Sallie Mae are FDIC insured for the full $250,000 per depositor, but there are currently no physical locations where you can deposit your funds. Therefore, direct deposit and external transfer are your options.

After creating an account and setting up a savings goal (optional), I entered my first external funding source.  After doing so, I was asked to go through the standard verification step of having SmartyPig make two small deposits which I would need to verify.  This process can take a few days depending on the bank you use. Once the small deposits are verified, you’ll be ready to use your external funding source to deposit directly into your SmartyPig primary account, or goal account.

Related: How Automating Your Finances Can Save You Time and Money

How Much Can SmartyPig Earn You?

Why use SmartyPig?  Well, when compared to other popular high yield savings accounts, SmartyPig carries with it one of the best interest rates (for accounts w/ greater than $50,000).  Very popular banks like Discover, American Express, Ally, Capital One, and Goldman Sachs Bank USA offer interest rates above 1% APY, but below the 1.12% APY that SmartyPig is able to offer

Let’s run a small example of how much money a SmartyPig account can earn you on top of the others:

  • As of 5.24.2017, the interest rate at Ally Bank is 1.05%.  If you were to deposit $100,000 into your Ally account today and let it accrue interest (compounded daily) at the current rate, you would have $105,393 after five years.
  • If you did the same with your SmartyPig account and it’s 1.12% interest rate, the ending balance after five years would be $105,762. This means SmartyPig will earn you an additional $369.

Admittedly, $369 spread across five years ($74 per year) is not a large amount of money when considering the initial deposit is $100,000. However, we’re all here to save money.  If it’s no extra skin off your hide to spend five minutes creating a SmartyPig account and then another 10 minutes to set up your external funding source and make the deposit, why wouldn’t you?

Additional SmartyPig Benefits

SmartyPig was initially launched around a decade ago and was more focused on spending than actually saving.  Backed at the time by BBVA Compass, the bank offered gift cards instead of actual cash when cashing out a goal and earning interest.  The benefit then was that specific cards and stores would offer a premium on their gift cards, so an account holder could earn much more than the current interest rate offered.  When Sallie Mae took control of the bank last year, the account structure shifted to a more strict savings approach.

However, there is still one feature of the old bank present in SmartyPig.  Every account holder has the ability to buy Amazon gift cards within their account.  There is no added bonus to do so, though, and your account must be opened for 60 days before being able to purchase an Amazon gift card. So, in terms of how this plays into the SmartyPig platform, it doesn’t.  The best I can do is describe it as an oddity that I suspect will change in the near future.

Other benefits of owning a SmartyPig account are as follows:

  • Refer a Friend Bonus – Every friend you refer to SmartyPig will earn you $10 after they’ve opened an account and deposited $25 within the first 30 days.  The maximum number of new account referrals is capped at 100, meaning an extra $1,000 for you (money deposited directly into your SmartyPig account).
  • Joint or Limited Access to Goals – One of the cool things about your SmartyPig interface is that with each goal you set up, you have the ability to share that goal with family and friends.  You can choose to allow them to simply view and keep track of the goal, or to have account access to the goal, where they can deposit funds via their own external funding source.

SmartyPig is a great place to park your savings if you have over $50,000 to do so.  Its interface is clean, getting set up is easy, and tracking your progress when creating a goal is a neat way to stay on top of your savings.  If you currently have your money parked in a different online savings account and would benefit from the higher interest rate SmartyPig provides on big balances, then consider making the switch.

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Banks continue to pay bonuses to attract new customers. The latest offer comes in the form of a CIT Bank bonus of up to $400. If you’re looking for a safe place to tuck away your emergency fund or vacation savings,

Everybody needs a safe place to tuck away their emergency fund or vacation savings. A high yield savings account is a great option. Considering that the average savings accounts earn a measly 0.06%, however, you’ll want to make sure to find the absolute highest rate that you can.

This is where CiT Bank comes in. You may not have even heard of them before. The small bank was founded in 2009 and has only 71 branch locations (all clustered in California). However, they are hanging with the likes of GS Bank and Ally by offering an excellent online savings account rate: 1.05%. While one percent doesn’t sound like a whole lot, this is the top of the line right now, folks. But that’s not all.

There’s also a bonus of up to $400.

Why CiT?

CiT Bank’s high-yield online savings accounts offer competitive perks, including the obvious – a great APY – as well as $0 maintenance fees on your account. There aren’t any fees to open the account, either, and there’s only a small $100 opening deposit minimum.

Other banks offering the same impressive rate of 1.05% include GS Bank, Synchrony, and Ally Bank.. However, if you’re looking to park your money somewhere with a great rate that will also put a little extra cash in your pocket, CiT Bank’s bonus promotion is an excellent opportunity.

How to Get Your Bonus, Up to $400

All you have to do is open and fully fund an account by June 30, 2017. This need to be new funds, not simply moving those that are already on deposit through CiT or OneWest banks. The bonus itself is tiered, based on the amount you deposit and your average monthly balance for the first three months.

The bonus amounts are $100 (for a monthly average between $15,000 and $99,999), $250 (average balance of $100,000 to $299,999), and an impressive $400 (for balances of $300,000 or more). Again, you have to hold this average monthly balance for three full months after you open the account, or the bonus is forfeited.

cit bank bonus

Is It Right For You?

If you have some savings that you’d like to tuck away in a high yield, online savings account – such as your emergency fund – CiT Bank is worth a look. This is particularly true if your savings is greater than $15,000 and you can take advantage of the bonus being offered through June 30, 2017.

No promo code is needed, simply visit their website (or, if you’re located in central CA, find one of their 75 branches) and sign up.

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We’ve always been fans of Quicken here at Consumerism Commentary, and we’ve got a lot of reviews floating around to prove it. But you don’t really need reviews of Quicken from five years ago. You just need to know what to expect from the latest version: Quicken 2017.

Here, we’ll give you the highlights, and we’ll also talk you through the basics of using this interface.

quicken guide

The Highlights

Quicken still provides everything you’ve come to expect, including the ability to track all of your money in one place. If you’re big on tracking your net worth, it’ll help you do that. It tracks both assets and debts, and it will also track investments. (Though if you’re a serious investor, you may want to upgrade to Quicken Premier.)

What’s new with the 2017 version? Not a whole lot has changed, but there are a couple of upgrades you should know about, including:

  • Mobile: Now you can download the Quicken app to track your investments and budget on the go. The mobile app has a nice interface with everything you’ll find in the desktop version. Plus, you can add budget line items as you spend.
  • Advanced Search: You can find mobile transactions more easily with the mobile advanced search feature.
  • Refresh: Quicken got a refresh this year. The screen looks nicer, and the interface is a little more user-friendly. It’s not a major overhaul, but it’s easy on the eyes.
  • Zillow: You can connect with Zillow to automatically import your home’s estimated value. While Zillow may not be the most accurate option if you’re actually getting ready to buy or sell a home, this is a simple way to get a ballpark idea of your home’s value when calculating your net worth.
  • Alerts: You can get alerts sent to your phone or email inbox when bills are due or when you’re about to go over your budget.
  • Receipt Storage: Need to track expense receipts, but tired of paper clutter everywhere? You can snap photos of your receipts and store them with the mobile app.

Related: How to Track and Manage Receipts with Google Docs

Once you get set up, keeping track of everything in Quicken is relatively simple. Here’s what it all looks like:

First, import your accounts

As with other popular budgeting and financial tracking software, Quicken will automatically sync with your bank and credit card accounts, as well as your investment accounts. This makes it easy for you to track transactions without having to enter them manually.

In fact, the very first thing Quicken asks you to do after you enter your credentials is to sync a new account. To make it happen, you’ll just need your account’s login information. You can import all sorts of accounts, even to the basic version of Quicken, though investment tracking is more robust with the higher-level versions.

Next, check your recent transactions

When your accounts are imported, it can seem a little overwhelming at first. Quicken automatically categorizes your transactions, but you’ll likely have to go through a recategorize many of them. Quicken will give you the last thirty days’ worth of spending information to work with.

I do like how the system breaks everything down graphically. Once you set all of your transactions into categories, you can see what percentage of your budget goes to each category, and check out a corresponding chart breaking down your spending. It looks like this:

Quicken 1

You can see that Quicken will alert you when there are uncategorized transactions. You can click into that directly to see those transactions. Then, you can sort your transactions by account, date, and type of spending (with or without taxes).

You can also click into spending categories to figure out which transactions Quicken has placed into which categories. Chances are you’ll want to change some of those if you’re a budgeting stickler!

Quicken 2

Related: A 10-Minute Budget That Actually Works

Try the bill reminder system

Once you’ve been in the spending category interface, you can use the bill system to remind you when your bills are due. It’ll look at your last two months’ worth of transactions and find recurring bills and their due dates. The system will also track any paychecks you have automatically deposited to your bank account.

Quicken 3

You can then set up the reminders, which will alert you when bills are due and project your checking account balances over the next 12 days, based on your upcoming income and expenses.

Quicken 4

Since it’s not accounting for one-off spending like groceries and gas, this balance isn’t very accurate. At least not for me! But it can be a helpful way to stay on top of your bills so you don’t miss any due dates.

Learn More: Track Your Cash Flow with Google Docs

You can also sign up to have Quicken actually pay your bills for you. This requires a validation of your bank account and a monthly payment of $9.95. Since many banks offer free bill pay services, this one may not be worth the additional spend.

Create a budget

As with other pieces of this interface, Quicken will automatically create a budget for you based on past spending. However, this spending is according to Quicken’s categorizations. If you think Quicken has gotten a few things wrong, it’s best to re-categorize your existing transactions before delving into the budget tab.

Once you do, though, you can get access to a quick budget that you can change from there. The budget interface now looks very similar to Intuit’s Mint.com, which features slider bars to show how close you are to the budget limit in each category.

Quicken 5

You can, of course, change the budget for each category depending on your preferences and needs. You can also look at the budget in terms of only certain bank accounts, toggling between transactions in each account on the left sidebar.

One of the interesting things about this budget interface is that you can run various reports. These come out as very nice, color-coded documents that you could print off or store electronically, for an over-time view of your personal finances.

You can run reports for a variety of scenarios, including spending by category, spending versus available budget, income versus expenses, or spending for the month versus average spending by category. These over-time reports will become more useful the longer you use Quicken, which gives it more data to pull from. But some of the reports look like this:

Quicken 6

These reports could be really helpful if you’re trying to meet specific financial goals, like reducing spending in a few categories or tracking your budget over time.

What about upgrades?

My review has been based on the Quicken Starter option, but there are other options currently available, too. Here’s a quick breakdown of what they offer:

Quicken Deluxe

Quicken Premier

Quicken Home & Business

Quicken Rental Property Manager

Is Quicken right for you?

Quicken offers a load of great features, and its new interface is definitely more user-friendly than the last version I reviewed in 2014. If you want a one-stop-shop for tracking all of your personal finance details — from budgeting to investments to debt — then Quicken may be a worthwhile investment.

With that said, I don’t think I’d pay for the basic version of Quicken when free tools like Mint.com can do basically the same thing. My personal preference for budgeting is YNAB, though it does come with a $5/month fee.

However, if you want to add investment tracking and detailed financial planning into the mix, Quicken Deluxe might be a good option for you. And, of course, if you run rental properties or a small business, you can’t go wrong with the robust business-oriented versions of Quicken.

So, tell us: do you think Quicken is the right option for your personal finance tracking needs?

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Have you been looking for a new online checking account? Preferably one with a higher-than-average interest rate? Then the FNBO Direct checking account may be the answer.

FNBO Direct checking

I’m a bit particular when it comes to my checking accounts. I don’t like paying any monthly fees, regardless of how much money I keep in the account. I want to be able to easily withdraw my money; I want a debit card, and I want to be able to manage my funds (including paying my bills)… oh, and I want all of that for free.

Narrows the list down a bit, huh? Luckily, the FNBO Direct Checking with BillPay offers all of that and more. Here’s what you’ll get with this account:

  • A completely free online checking account with zero monthly service fees, no matter how much money is in your account
  • Interest earned on your balance – currently 0.65% APY (as of April 7, 2017)
  • Minimum opening balance of $1 – yes, one dollar
  • Free online banking, bill pay, and account alertsfnbo
  • Complimentary FNBO Direct Visa® Debit Card
  • One overdraft fee forgiveness every 12 months (typically a $33 fee)
  • Free incoming wires
  • Free stop payments (I’ve paid as much as $35 for this before, so it’s a great bonus in my book!)
  • 24/7 access to over 2 million ATMs worldwide (no fees charged by FNBO for using out-of-network ATMs, though the machine operator may charge their own fees)

BillPay

popmoney

Being able to automate my bills is one of the biggest perks. The FNBO Direct checking account allows you to not only pay your bills online, but also set up automatic, recurring payments. That way, you’ll never miss another electric bill or charitable donation.

Need to send money to a friend or pay your babysitter? You’ll also have access to the free person-to-person money transfer app, Popmoney®, which is conveniently linked directly to your checking account. It allows you to easily and quickly send (or receive) money via mobile and email.

Earn Interest

For me, one of the best perks of this account is the interest rate. While it is subject to change, of course, the APY currently sits at 0.65%. This is significantly higher than many online savings accounts… let alone checking accounts!

The high yield – and absence of any fees – make this account a must-have for anyone looking to earn as much as they possibly can off of their money.

If you’d like to learn more about FNBO Direct checking with BillPay, or are interested in opening an account, check them out online here.

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Money Systems That Lead to Success: Automatic Savings

by Luke Landes

A while back, I wrote about the opinions of Scott Adams on his eventual success as the creator of the comic strip Dilbert. I focused on the failure aspect of the article he wrote for the Wall Street Journal and I wanted to revisit the topic, as only touched lightly on the success factors. Specifically, […]

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FNBO Direct Savings Account — Opening and a Review

by Luke Landes

While I’m generally happy with my Capital One 360 account for a good portion of my savings, I’m looking to spread the money around to take advantage of some higher interest rates. One of the banks I’ve targeted is FNBO Direct, the online arm of First National Bank of Omaha, currently offering 0.95 percent APY as […]

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How to Create the Ultimate CD Ladder

by Rob Berger

The low interest rates offered by even the highest-yield savings and money market accounts are disappointing for savers. Even as the Fed starts to raise rates, savings account yields haven’t budged. So, do we just give up the idea of earning anything on our savings? Well, not necessarily. One alternative is to create what’s called a CD […]

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Can You Earn More With a Fidelity CD Ladder?

by Mark Hull

It’s been a long time since banks offered savings accounts with decent returns. The Fed may raise interest this year, meaning rates could finally rise. In the meantime, what do you do? If you’re looking for a quick way to create an investment vehicle that is FDIC insured, and promises greater returns than online savings, […]

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Today’s Best Bank Deals, Promotions, and Bonuses

by Stephanie Colestock

When opening a bank account, there are a few things you should be looking for: low (or no) fees, the highest interest rates possible, and promotional bonus offers. With the latter, you can often score free money without doing anything extra, which is a win in my book. After all, promotional bonus cash is better […]

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Think Only the Rich Have Accounts at Goldman Sachs? Think Again

by Kevin Mercadante

You’re probably familiar with Goldman Sachs, at some level. The multinational banking firm, best known for investment banking, goes all the way back to 1869. But did you know that they also have a web-based arm known as Goldman Sachs Bank USA, or simply GS Bank? It’s an online bank that pays far higher rates […]

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