We have all heard and (hopefully) heeded the advice to keep between three and six months’ worth of expenses aside as an emergency fund. Even if you feel like you have a handle on budgeting for your day-to-day expenses, what happens when the unpredictable hits with the potential to set your finances back? This stash is not meant for buying a home or going on a trip, it is for real emergencies. It’s a good idea to make growing an emergency fund a priority and where we keep this money can make a big difference. It’s important for the money to be accessible, but it can also be earning interest while waiting to be tapped. If you are building up your emergency fund and looking for a better place to keep it than under the mattress, check out these options of places to park your emergency fund.
Online Savings Account
Traditional savings accounts can be great for those of us who like to play it safe, but interest rates will not do much for you. Online banks do tend to offer slightly higher rates and lower fees so you could see a little more growth. Furthermore, it’s important to keep your emergency savings fund away from your normal checking account so you have some separation between your spending cash, cash for other savings goals and your emergency cash.
Money Market Account
This is a common place for emergency funds for those looking to get better interest rates. They are similar to regular savings accounts in terms of FDIC insurance and limits on the number of withdrawals you can make each month, but typically require a higher minimum deposit and they sometimes carry higher fees. It’s a good idea to read the fine print before choosing which account to keep your emergency fund in.
Since you need the money to be accessible, regular certificates of deposit with established time limits are not always going to work, but there are some no-penalty options. These typically have lower rates than traditional CDs, but offer higher yields than traditional savings accounts. You just need to look for banks that offer these and, again, read the fine print carefully.
These are also typically seen as a long-term investment, but I-bonds can offer more flexibility. You can own some for as little as one year and do not need much capital to get started. The interest rate is better than other, more liquid vehicles but the interest is taxable and if you need to cash them in before five years, you will forfeit some of the interest you have earned.
Most experts will tell you to avoid touching your retirement savings until actual retirement. This is generally good advice as you want to make sure you have enough money left to fund your golden years. But if you have to tap your retirement funds for emergencies, it’s good to understand the different tax implications and penalty fees associated with each type of account. 401(k) accounts generally (there are exceptions like the Roth 401(k) option) hold funds that you contributed before paying taxes. So if you take out money before you are 59½ (besides for a few particular exceptions) you will have to pay an early withdrawal penalty and taxes. Since you contribute to a Roth IRA account with after-tax money, you may still pay a penalty but can withdraw the original contributions (not the interest earned) without paying additional taxes.
Where you keep your emergency fund is up to you, and you may even choose to use a combination of locations to ensure your stash is safe, liquid and reliable. Do your research before carefully considering the best location for your money — there is no one right answer, just as long as you have a place for it.
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