2/23/11 UPDATE - Finally an increasing rate - Ally just upped the rate to 2.40% APY.
Many brokerage accounts are currently paying a whole lot of nothing, by which I literally mean a 0.00 percent APY return. Even my relatively generous Alliant Credit Union savings account dropped its rate to 1.15 percent APY. That's the bad news. The good news is that I'm happy to say I know an unlikely place to stash your cash and get a decent return.
To be more precise, it's not actually one place - it's ten. I opened many different five-year Ally Bank CDs for money I might need as soon as four months.
Ally Bank 5-Year CD
I've written about the Ally Bank five-year CD before in Four CDs that Protect Against the Bond Bubble. Though it yields only 2.39% APY as of 2/8/11, what makes this CD so spectacular is that it has a 60 day simple interest early withdrawal penalty. This feature suddenly makes this a "near cash" equivalent, as noted in the Mint.com blog by Matthew Amster-Burton entitled "Finding Higher Yields in Unlikely Places."
Note that you can lose money if you withdraw the funds before the first two months. That's why I call this "near cash" rather than cash. But after only four months, the APY nets out to be 1.21%, which is slightly higher than Alliant Credit Union.
An added benefit is that the rate can't go down over the five-year period as it can with nearly every money market and savings account. And over a one year period, it yields 2.00% after paying the penalty. That's nearly a full percentage point over the best savings account alternative.
No Partial Withdrawals
Ally Bank doesn't allow partial withdrawals on the five-year CD. Thus, if you put in $100,000 and find yourself in need of $10,000, you'd have to cash in the whole CD and hope that rates are still as high.
This may seem like a deal breaker, yet the problem is easily solved. Rather than open up a $100,000 CD, I opted for ten $10,000 CDs. So any cash I need, I can take out in chunks of $10,000. The customer representative was actually willing to open up a hundred $1,000 CDs, but I opted for the simpler approach.
Ever the skeptic, I examined these CDs from every possible angle, and frankly don't know why Ally Bank does this, though I do know it's FDIC insured. That said, the bank could change its terms, including rates and penalties, at any time. To cover those bases, I urge you to do your own due-diligence.
Consider opening up an Ally Bank money market account as well so that, when you need the cash, you can move it to your money market account and have immediate access to it. Even the money market account pays a 1.09% APY, so it's a good place to leave money that you have converted from your near cash CDs.
The financial services industry makes a fortune by paying us nothing for our cash. That lack of return amounts to another hidden fee. Make sure you're the only one who profits from your cash.
If you have $50K in cash earning nothing, spending an hour to earn two percent pays a handsome $1,000 for that hour!
Author's Note: This is updated from a posting that originally appeared on 9/20/10. To see rates then, check out Where to Stash Your Cash.