Will Low Rates Doom the Savings Account?
Six long years of interest rates near zero just might bring about the demise of the regular savings account.
It won’t help certificates of deposit much either.
After all, isn’t one of the primary purposes of a regular savings account to earn some interest on idle funds until you need them for some emergency or specific purpose like a down payment on a house or to buy a new car?
Going back many years, one of my dreams for retirement was to amass $1,000,000 in a savings account or CD by the time I reached age 65. Then, assuming a rational 5% rate of interest, my one million dollars would generate $50,000 in interest each year – enough to live on for many people.
Today if you had one million dollars in a regular savings account or a bunch of CDs, you’d fall far short of $50,000 in interest each year.
In the late 1970s I was the retail marketing manager for a major bank in Chicago. I still remember my controversial recommendation to the director of marketing that we do away with regular savings accounts – replacing them with a tiered-rate checking account where checking balances and savings balances were held in one account that earned interest.
To me, a regular savings account just seemed like a waste of time and money. I feel the same way today.
Why not keep all your money in one account – your checking account?
I was reminded of my thoughts about savings accounts the other day upon encountering the following full page ad from Ally Bank. It appears on page 47 in the February 6, 2012 issue of Fortune magazine.
Here we have the marketing folks at Ally Bank promising not to charge us for trying to save money in one of their online savings accounts. The subhead under the stylized “a” promises the online bank charges no monthly maintenance fees.
With today’s laughable low rates, any maintenance fee would quickly consume any interest earned.
I immediately thought about my recommendation years ago to simply keep all your money in your checking account.
Today, that would enable most consumers to avoid the monthly service fee by meeting any minimum monthly balance requirement.
Okay, about now I can hear many readers groaning that this would never work for most people. They need a separate account where their savings are protected from daily use.
Well, that may have been true decades ago when to get access to your savings account you had to drop into the local branch, passbook in hand, and make a physical withdrawal.
But today, thanks to the ubiquitous ATM, the debit card, online access, automatic transfers, mobile access, Pay Pal, and automatic bill payments, getting to your savings dollars is super easy – too easy, in fact.
Of course, the folks at TD Bank are throwing up a road block of sorts here.
In December, the bank introduced a $9 per transaction fee for money removed from a regular savings account beginning with the seventh transaction in any month. Online transfers and online bill payments counted towards the six free withdrawals.
Still, from my perspective, ease of access coupled with almost zero interest rates means the regular savings account should be high on the endangered species list of bank products.
As consumers, if you really want to help your local bank save money, close your regular savings account and simply allow excess funds to accumulate in your checking account.
After all, you should have the necessary will-power to avoid carelessly spending these monies on frivolous things. If not, you probably aren’t much of a saver anyway.
As for credit union members, the key to your membership is the savings account. But for most credit unions, you need only keep one dollar in this account. Keep the rest in your checking account.
And here’s a really big side benefit for both community banks and credit unions – the average balances in those free checking accounts will jump dramatically.
Perhaps then, many of the “experts” calling for the end of free checking will move on to something else to whine about – like reducing the deficit so we can bring back realistic interest rates on savings balances.