This is an article from Jim over at bargaineering.com. Jim runs a tight ship over there and if you're looking for some good sound financial advice, his site is a great place to go. Feel free to subscribe to his RSS or check out his site for daily updates!
One day the stock market is down 300 points, the next it's up 300; it's a hard time to invest in the stock market isn't? It's like seeing a swarm of sharks in the water and trying to convince yourself it's OK to jump in. I totally understand because I feel the exact same way. When you have the government threatening to change the rules of the game, it's difficult to remain confident in the time tested approach of wealth accumulation through investing. That's why, outside of my retirement investments, I haven't invested a single dollar in the stock market. I'm not equipped to fight off sharks. :)
So what have I done with our savings? Well, our emergency fund is laddered into twelve year-long CDs. Outside of our emergency fund, we've been in lockdown mode, much to the chagrine of the economy, and have been putting into ultra-safe, principal-protected “investments.” If you're looking for something that's 100% safe, defined as being backed by the full faith and credit of the United States Government, here are a few options:
High Yield Savings Accounts
I'm sure you're all familiar with online banks and their savings account offerings. The yields aren't as good as they once were, most are in the 2-3% APY range, but they are all FDIC insured. Some may be in a more perilous financial situation than others but when you are FDIC insured, your assets are protected up to $250,000 or more, depending on your account type. 2-3% may not seem like a lot, but it's greater than zero and you have no risk of losing your principal! How can these banks offer yields that are much higher than their brick and mortar counter parts? A leaner operation. They don't run branches, they don't hire tellers or branch managers, they don't mail out statements, and they can outsource their call centers. All these cost cutting measures mean you get a higher interest rate.
Reward Checking Accounts
Reward checking accounts are a special type of checking account that give high yields as long as you satisfy certain conditions. Today, the best reward checking rates are around 5% if you satisfy the conditions, less than 1% if you fail to meet them. The conditions are usually not difficult to achieve. The first common requirement is to have 10+ debit transactions a month. The second requirement is to have at least one direct deposit, such as a paycheck. A third, less common, requirement is that the customer must log into their online account a specified number of times a month. They are able to pay such high yields because they earn transaction fees off the debit transactions.
Certificates of Deposit
If you want to do better, you'll have to take a look at a certificates of deposit. They are less flexible than a savings account but require less work than a reward checking account. The best CD rates for 12- or 18- month CDs is just under 4% and the highest short-term CD rate is under 2.50% APY. They're not incredible rates but they are guaranteed, unlike checking and savings accounts. When the CD matures, you get your funds back. The funds are locked in but if you need your money before maturity, you can get it after paying a small penalty.
Treasury Securities & Bonds
This is often called “public debt,” because the government borrows money through the sale of Treasury Securities and Bonds. The Treasury products come in two types, securities which you can buy and sell on the secondary market; and bonds, which you can only buy and sell to the Treasury through Treasury Direct. You'll have to do some research yourself on the current rates, because they change from week to week, but this debt is backed by the full faith and Credit of the United States Government. In addition to that high level of safety, many have special tax considerations that may make them more appealing than a CD, depending on what your tax bracket is.
If you're looking for safety, I think you cannot go wrong with one of these four options. They may not have the most attractive of yields but you'll be hard pressed to find an alternative that is as safe and so easy to get in and out of.