What Is a Savings Account — and Should You Open One?

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Maybe your piggy bank is overflowing, or the space beneath your mattress is filling up. Wherever you’ve been putting your money, you’re now interested in storing it more safely.

But if you’re new to saving with a brick-and-mortar or online bank, you could be stuck on a basic question: What is a savings account?

What is a savings account?

A savings account is a financial tool provided by a bank that allows you to keep your money safe. In fact, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation insures accounts for up to $250,000 at reputable banks.

There are all sorts of savings accounts. But at its core, a savings account can allow you to grow your money. Your account balance can earn interest over time.

A savings account can also help you save for a short-term goal, such as building an emergency fund.

Types of savings accounts

All kinds of banks are competing for your money. Ultimately, a bank might entice you to open different types of savings accounts with different perks.

For instance, a bank often advertises an account’s annual percentage yield. That’s the amount of interest that can accrue on your deposits.

APY also represents one of the main differences between savings accounts and checking accounts.

Typically, checking accounts are for storing your money temporarily, and they might not allow you to earn interest. Instead of awarding you an APY for your checking account, a bank will hand you a debit card that can be used for purchases.

Savings accounts come with an ATM card. They allow you to withdraw cash from a bank teller or an ATM.

Beyond basic savings accounts, there are two other types of savings accounts that could allow you to score more interest.

  1. Certificate of deposit (CD): You lock in an APY by depositing a large amount of money for a fixed period, usually three to five years. Withdrawing your money early would result in a penalty.
  2. Money market (MM): You deposit a large amount of money to earn a higher APY and must maintain a minimum balance to avoid fees. You might receive the benefit of a debit card or checkbook.

How to choose a savings account

There are different factors you might consider when choosing a savings account.

Depending on your priorities, they could include the number of nearby ATMs or account fees. More likely, you’ll want to earn as high an APY as possible.

A general rule of thumb: The less access you have to your money, the higher the APY you’ll be awarded.

Many top online banks with high-yield accounts don’t offer access to ATMs, for example, but do offer 1.00% or higher in interest. A national bank, on the other hand, might have ATMs on every corner of the country but stick you with an APY as low as 0.01%.

You don’t need to know exactly how savings account interest works to know that 1.00% helps your money grow a lot faster than 0.01%. But our savings calculator below will drive the point home for you.

If you have a lump sum of money and don’t need to access it routinely, you might pick from CD or MM accounts that have high APYs.

Picking an account type will help you choose a bank. Your options include:

  • National banks: Aside from having access to more ATMs, you could manage all your finances under one roof.
  • Local banks: What you might lose in accessibility, you could gain in a higher APY.
  • Online banks: With lower overhead costs, an online bank should offer higher APYs and better online banking tools.
  • Credit union: These nonprofit member-owned banks frequently beat national banks’ APYs.

How to open a savings account

Opening a savings account is the easy part. Instead of walking into your nearest branch, you could complete the whole process online or over the phone.

If you’re opening your first account, however, you might benefit from hands-on service inside of a bank. Then you can ask the right questions before opening a savings account.

Regarding what you need to open a bank account, have your Social Security and state ID numbers handy. You might also want to have your employer’s information ready if you plan on setting up a direct deposit from your paycheck to the new account.

Your new bank might require an initial deposit when you’re setting up a new savings account. It could be as little as $1 for basic accounts.

You might also consider opening a checking account with the same bank. This way, you’ll have one account for saving and one account for spending.

At many banks, you can set up overdraft protection or automatic transfers between the two accounts. When your checking account hits zero, your savings account can replenish it.

Keep in mind that the Federal Reserve requires banks to allow six automatic savings account transfers per month before it charges you fees.

Start saving up today

Now that you feel confident enough answering the question, “What is a savings account?” perhaps you might be asking, “Is putting money in a savings account a waste?”

There are higher-risk ways of saving your money that could earn you more, such as through investment accounts. You might consider the beginner’s guide to investing to learn about those options.

But a savings account is a safe way to keep and grow your money in the short term. Unlike with an unwise investment, a savings account will never decrease in value on its own.

If you open a savings account, you’ll at least see modest returns, which is more than you can say about stuffing money in your piggy bank or under your mattress.

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1 Important Disclosures for College Ave.

CollegeAve Disclosures

College Ave Student Loans products are made available through either Firstrust Bank, member FDIC or M.Y. Safra Bank, FSB, member FDIC. All loans are subject to individual approval and adherence to underwriting guidelines. Program restrictions, other terms, and conditions apply.

(1)All rates shown include the auto-pay discount.  The 0.25% auto-pay interest rate reduction applies as long as a valid bank account is designated for required monthly payments. Variable rates may increase after consummation.

(2)This informational repayment example uses typical loan terms for a freshman borrower who selects the Deferred Repayment Option with a 10-year repayment term, has a $10,000 loan that is disbursed in one disbursement and a 8.35% fixed Annual Percentage Rate (“APR”): 120 monthly payments of $179.18 while in the repayment period, for a total amount of payments of $21,501.54. Loans will never have a full principal and interest monthly payment of less than $50. Your actual rates and repayment terms may vary.

(3)As certified by your school and less any other financial aid you might receive. Minimum $1,000.

Information advertised valid as of 11/08/2019. Variable interest rates may increase after consummation.


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Discover Disclosures

  1. Students who get at least a 3.0 GPA (or equivalent) qualify for a one-time cash reward on each new Discover undergraduate and graduate student loan. Reward redemption period is limited. Please visit DiscoverStudentLoans.com/Reward for any applicable reward terms and conditions.
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  3. Aggregate loan limits apply.
  4. Lowest rates shown are for the undergraduate loan and include an interest-only repayment discount and a 0.25% interest rate reduction while enrolled in automatic payments. The interest rate ranges represent the lowest interest rate offered on the Discover Undergraduate Loan and highest interest rates offered on Discover student loans, including Undergraduate, Graduate, Health Professions, Law and MBA Loans. The fixed interest rate is set at the time of application and does not change during the life of the loan. The variable interest rate is calculated based on the 3-Month LIBOR index plus the applicable Margin percentage. The margin is based on your credit evaluation at the time of application and does not change. For variable interest rate loans, the 3-Month LIBOR is 2.50% as of July 1, 2019. Discover Student Loans will adjust the rate quarterly on each January 1, April 1, July 1 and October 1 (the “interest rate change date”), based on the 3-Month LIBOR Index, published in the Money Rates section of the Wall Street Journal 15 days prior to the interest rate change date, rounded up to the nearest one-eighth of one percent (0.125% or 0.00125). This may cause the monthly payments to increase, the number of payments to increase or both. Please visit discover.com/student-loans/interest-rates for more information about interest rates.
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Offered terms are subject to change and state law restrictions. Loans are offered through CommonBond Lending, LLC (NMLS #1175900).

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Citizens Disclosures

Undergraduate Rate Disclosure: Variable rate, based on the one-month London Interbank Offered Rate (“LIBOR”) published in The Wall Street Journal on the twenty-fifth day, or the next business day, of the preceding calendar month. As of November 1, 2019, the one-month LIBOR rate is 1.80%. Variable interest rates range from 2.90% – 11.16% (2.90% – 11.01% APR) and will fluctuate over the term of the loan with changes in the LIBOR rate, and will vary based on applicable terms, level of degree earned and presence of a co-signer. Fixed interest rates range from 4.72% – 12.19% (4.72% – 12.04% APR) based on applicable terms, level of degree earned and presence of a co-signer. Lowest rates shown requires application with a co-signer, are for eligible applicants, require a 5-year repayment term, borrower making scheduled payments while in school and include our Loyalty and Automatic Payment discounts of 0.25 percentage points each, as outlined in the Loyalty Discount and Automatic Payment Discount disclosures. Subject to additional terms and conditions, and rates are subject to change at any time without notice. Such changes will only apply to applications taken after the effective date of change. Please note: Due to federal regulations, Citizens Bank is required to provide every potential borrower with disclosure information before they apply for a private student loan. The borrower will be presented with an Application Disclosure and an Approval Disclosure within the application process before they accept the terms and conditions of the loan.

Citizens Bank Student Loan Eligibility: Borrowers must be enrolled at least half-time in a degree-granting program at an eligible institution. Borrowers must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident or an international borrower/eligible non-citizen with a creditworthy U.S. citizen or permanent resident co-signer. For borrowers who have not attained the age of majority in their state of residence, a co-signer is required. Citizens Bank reserves the right to modify eligibility criteria at anytime. Interest rate ranges subject to change. Citizens Bank private student loans are subject to credit qualification, completion of a loan application/consumer credit agreement, verification of application information, and if applicable, self-certification form, school certification of the loan amount, and student’s enrollment at a Citizens Bank- participating school. 

Please Note: International Students are not eligible for the multi-year approval feature.

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