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SunTrust Bank Reviews — Checking, Savings, CD, Money Market, and IRA Accounts

The editorial content on this page is not provided by any financial institution and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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Since opening its doors in Atlanta, Georgia in 1890, SunTrust Bank has grown considerably, operating some 1,400 branches and 2,160 ATMs in states such as North Carolina, Florida, Georgia, and Virginia. Along with banking products, they also offer investment, mortgage, and asset management services.

Rates for SunTrust Bank’s checking and savings accounts are lower compared to its competitors, but many of these are online banks, meaning you may not get access to in-person customer service. Their money market, CD, and IRA accounts aren’t as low - though depending on the term, their rates are comparable to other banks.

This SunTrust Bank review will look at all available savings accounts, including account types, features, and interest rates. Keep in mind that rates vary based on region, so the rates listed are ones closest to the bank’s headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia.

SunTrust Checking Account Options

Get free checks and cash deposit bonuses, but at the expense of low rates and possible monthly maintenance fees.

Balanced Banking

The Balanced Banking checking account is designed as a basic account which can also help you save on fees by preventing overdrafts. SunTrust automatically provides account holders with overdraft coverage. It’s designed so that your account will decline any ATM or debit card transactions which would cause an overdraft on your account. If an item (such as a check) is returned because of insufficient finds, you’ll pay a reduced fee of $20 instead of the standard $36.

Account holders can also opt into the overdraft protection plan, which is an upgrade option that links your checking to another SunTrust deposit account or credit card. You’ll be charged a $12.50 transfer fee for each day you’ll need to transfer money between accounts. If you choose to link an Overdraft Assurance line of credit, you’ll be charged a $7 monthly fee.

You do not earn any interest with a Balanced Checking Account, but you do get a debit card, a free starter pack of 25 checks (or 50% off personalized ones), and a 10% cash deposit bonus if you redeem the cash back into your checking account when using a SunTrust Cash Rewards credit card. There are no ATM fees at any SunTrust machines, but you do not get reimbursed for using out of network ones.

Essential Checking

The Essential checking account is designed for those who prefer to keep a lower minimum balance and may not need overdraft protection. All you need is a minimum of $100 to open the account. However, your card may still be declined for insufficient funds like the Balanced Banking account. If you get any item returned (such as a bounced check), you’ll have to pay the standard $36 fee. You can also choose overdraft protection which has the same features as the balanced checking account.

There is no interest earned with this SunTrust checking account, but you get a free starter pack of 25 checks (or 50% off personalized ones), a debit card, and a 10% cash deposit bonus if you redeem the cash back into your checking account when using a SunTrust Cash Rewards credit card. You can avoid the $7 monthly maintenance fee if you keep a $500 minimum daily balance or in qualifying monthly direct deposits per statement cycle.

Essential Checking for Students

This account is meant to help students manage their money easily as well as the ability to save on monthly fees. You won’t be charged monthly maintenance fees for up to five years as long as you’re opening a new checking account and can provide proof of active enrollment at any qualifying school. This includes high school or colleges.

Other than the differences mentioned above, the Essential Checking Account for students has the same features as the standard Essential Checking Account.

Select Checking

APY

Minimum Amount to Open

0.01%

$100

Rates as of 1/8/2017

The Select Checking Account is for those who want to earn interest on their deposits and intend on making more transactions. Upon account opening, you’ll receive a free starter pack of 100 checks or 50% off personalized ones. You’ll earn only 0.01% interest on qualifying deposits which is significantly lower than other banks.

In addition to not paying any fees at SunTrust ATMs, you’ll get reimbursed for two out of network ATM transactions every statement cycle.

There is a $15 monthly maintenance fee, but you can get that waived if you keep a $2,000 minimum daily balance, have at least $2,000 in qualifying direct deposits, maintain $10,000 across linked SunTrust accounts, or if you have a linked small business checking account. You can also get the monthly maintenance fees waived for up to three essential checking accounts.

Signature Advantage

APY

Minimum Amount to Open

0.01%

$100

Rates as of 1/8/2017

The Signature Advantage checking account is meant for those who intend on making large and frequent transactions. After a $100 minimum opening amount, you’ll need to keep at least $25,000 in balances across your SunTrust accounts to avoid the $25 monthly maintenance fee.

This includes your balance in your checking accounts plus IRA or brokerage accounts through SunTrust and any linked accounts such as money market, CDs, savings, checking, and trust accounts.

You get unlimited free personalized checks and earn interest at 0.01%, which is very low compared to other banks. Account users get a debit card and unlimited transactions. You’ll also get all ATM fees reimbursed and waive the monthly maintenance fees for up to four essential checking accounts.

How SunTrust Bank’s checking accounts compare

Even though SunTrust offers services like in-person customer service and digital payments like Apple Pay®, their rates fall way short when stacked against other competitors' checking accounts rates. Other places offer the ability to earn interest no matter what type of checking account you choose. They also have no monthly maintenance fees whereas SunTrust only waives them if you maintain a minimum amount. While SunTrust has no ATM fees on some of their accounts, other major competitors offer unlimited domestic ATM reimbursement for all their accounts.

If you have existing accounts with SunTrust or enjoy in-person customer service and a wide variety of products with one bank, this bank can be a good choice. However, if you want to earn more than 0.01% APY, then you’re better off going elsewhere.

How to get a SunTrust Bank checking account

To open a SunTrust checking account, go to their website and fill out an online application. You’ll need to provide personal details including your phone number, address, Social Security number and a government-issued ID. You can also do so at your local branch. You can only open a Student Essential Checking Account in person.

SunTrust Savings Account Options

Low opening minimum deposit amounts and the ability to earn interest, but rates are lower than competitors.

Essential Savings

The Essential Savings account is a basic savings account for those who don’t need a lot of bells and whistles. There is no minimum opening deposit or monthly maintenance fees, though you need to have at least a balance of $0.01 to prevent account closure. To avoid a $3 monthly statement fee, opt for electronic instead of paper statements.

Your money is insured up to the FDIC limit ($250,000) and you can link this account for overdraft protection with your other accounts. There is access to in-person, online, and telephone banking, but you do not have the ability to write checks. The Essential Savings Account does not earn you any interest.

Since this is a savings account, federal banking regulations only allow you up to six withdrawals per month. Otherwise, you’ll be charged $6 per withdrawal with a maximum of six every month.

Select Savings

APY

Minimum Amount to Open

0.01%


*Earn an annual 1% bonus, up to $25,
if you link your account to a Select Checking or
Signature Advantage Checking account.

None

Rates as of 1/8/2017

The Select Savings Account gives you a bonus for customer loyalty. You’ll need a minimum opening deposit of $100 and your money is insured up the maximum amount set by the FDIC. You also have the same access as the Essential Savings Account, including the withdrawal limits set by federal banking regulations.

However, there is a $7 monthly maintenance fee. You can get that waived if you maintain a $1,000 daily collected balance or set up an automatic transfer of $25 from a SunTrust personal checking account. All deposit amounts earn 0.01% APY.

How SunTrust Bank’s savings accounts compare

If you’re looking to open an account to link other SunTrust products, a savings account is a great way to get overdraft protection. However, if you’re only looking at the rates, you’re better off looking elsewhere.

Many online banking options provide at least 10 times what SunTrust is offering with no account minimums or monthly maintenance fees. You do earn a bonus if you opt for the Select Savings account, but it may not negate the higher rates competitors are offering on savings accounts.

How to get a SunTrust Bank savings account

You can open a SunTrust savings account by filling out an application on their website. To complete an application you’ll need to provide personal details including your phone number, address, Social Security number, and a government-issued ID. You can also complete an application at your local branch.

SunTrust CD Rates

Offers competitive rates and a lower minimum deposit amount compared to other banks.

Term

APY

6 Month CD

0.35%

12 Month CD

1.25%

18 Month CD

1.34%

36 Month CD

1.49%

58 Month CD

1.98%

Rates as of 1/8/2017

SunTrust’s CDs are FDIC insured and features terms from 6 months to 10 years. You’ll need a minimum of $2,000 to open an account and your rate is guaranteed based on your opening deposit amount. You’ll start earning interest from the date you make your deposit and is compounded daily. You can keep interest earned in your CD account or withdraw it into another account.

SunTrust’s CDs are automatically renewed. You’ll be sent a reminder a minimum of 10 days before your account matures. During this grace period, you can either choose to renew the CD, withdraw it, or transfer it to another type of account.

Early withdrawal penalties are based on the amount of time that is left until the maturity date. Keep in mind that you may have to pay the penalty using the principal amount if the interest earned is not enough to cover it.

The early withdrawal penalties are as follows:

  • 1 to 30 days remaining: 7 day’s interest
  • 32 to 90 days remaining: 1 month’s interest
  • 91 days to 11 months remaining: 3 month’s interest
  • 1 to 3 years remaining: 8 month’s interest
  • 3 years to 7 years remaining: 12 month’s interest
  • 7 years and over: 24 month’s interest

How SunTrust Bank CD rates compare

SunTrust Bank’s CD rates are pretty comparable to its major competitors. Their 6-month and 18-month CD rates are slightly lower than other banks, but other terms fall significantly lower. In addition, their minimum opening deposit amount is higher for shorter terms. Other places also offer a wider variety of CD accounts, including those that have the potential for rate increases.

How to get a SunTrust Bank CD

You can fill out an online application to open a CD account. To complete the application, you’ll need to provide your personal information such as your address, Social Security number, and a federal issued ID. If you have a co-applicant, they’ll also need to provide their details. Once the application is complete, you can then find your CD at your local branch or online using an external bank account.

Otherwise, you can head to your local branch to open an account.

SunTrust Money Market Rates

Rates are comparable to other major banks, but only for its introductory rate.

Signature Money Market

APY

Minimum Amount to Open

0.01%

$100

Special intro rate of 1.01% for the first three months

$10,000

Rates as of 1/8/2017

The SunTrust Signature Money Market Account only requires a $100 minimum opening deposit, but you’re not earning any significant interest at 0.01% APY. However, SunTrust offers an introductory rate of 1.01% for the first three months if you make a $10,000 opening deposit. After this period, you will be reverted to their standard APY of 0.27%. Interest is compounded daily and is credited to your account every month. For balances below $10,000, you’ll need to contact SunTrust customer service to ask as they differ depending on if you’re opening a new account or not.

There is a monthly maintenance fee of $15 for this account. However, you can get that waived if you have at least a daily collected balance of $5,000 or make one automated transfer from a SunTrust checking account of $100. You are also limited to six withdrawals as per federal banking regulations. If you make more than six withdrawals during a statement cycle, you’ll be charged a $15 excessive withdrawal fee with a maximum of six.

How SunTrust Bank’s money market account compares

While the introductory rate for balances of $10,000 and above is pretty high compared to other banks, this account falls short in amounts less than that.

Their minimum opening is lower, but that’s not necessarily an advantage since you’ll need to pay a monthly maintenance fee for balances below $5,000 or if choose not to make monthly automatic transfers. Other competitors don’t charge fees on their money market accounts.

Some even give you a free debit card as well as the ability to link multiple accounts and write checks.

How to get a SunTrust Bank money market account

Opening a SunTrust Bank money market account is the same process as any checking or savings account. The fastest way to do it is online. Once you provide all necessary details including those of your co-applicants, you’ll then need to find your account online or at your local branch.

SunTrust IRA Rates

IRA CDs

Term

APY

12 Month CD

1.25%

18 Month CD

1.35%

36 Month CD

1.50%

58 Month CD

2.00%

Rates as of 1/8/2017

SunTrust Bank’s IRA CDs require a $2,000 minimum opening deposit and your rate will be based on how much you initially deposit. You can earn tax-deferred earnings and your account is insured up to the FDIC limit. You’ll earn interest from the date you make a deposit and it’ll be compounded daily. Depending on your status, you may be subject to contribution limits so it’s best to check with a SunTrust advisor.

Any interest earned can be rolled into the principal or withdrawn. You’ll earn only 0.01% interest on qualifying deposits which is significantly lower than other banks.ther account. You can see how your investment is doing anytime by logging into SummitView®, which is SunTrust’s wealth management software. Also, your IRA CD will be automatically renewed once the 10 day grace period (including non-business days) is over. You will be sent a reminder when the IRA CD reaches maturity, but there will not be a confirmation of renewal.

Like their regular CDs, there are early withdrawal penalties or if you decide to transfer ownership of your CD before the maturity date. These penalties are based on how much time is left until your maturity date.

The early withdrawal penalties are as follows:

  • 1 to 30 days remaining: 7 day’s interest
  • 32 to 90 days remaining: 1 month’s interest
  • 91 days to 11 months remaining: 3 month’s interest
  • 1 to 3 years remaining: 8 month’s interest
  • 3 years to 7 years remaining: 12 month’s interest
  • 7 years and over: 24 month’s interest

If you haven’t earned enough interest to cover the early withdrawal penalty, SunTrust will use some of the principal amount to cover it. In addition, you may be subject to an additional tax penalty by the IRS if you’re less than 59 ½ years old.

How SunTrust Bank IRA CD rates compare

SunTrust Bank’s CD rates are higher than the national averages. Their 12-month CD IRA, however, falls short, as other institutions offer IRA CD rates that are much higher. SunTrust also doesn’t offer shorter terms and their minimum opening deposit is higher compared to competitors.

How to get a SunTrust Bank IRA CD

To open a SunTrust Bank IRA CD, you’ll need to call the SITS client advisory center at 1-877-962-9032 to speak to a representative.

Overall review of SunTrust Bank

SunTrust Bank’s CD and IRA rates have competitive rates and the bank offers a wide variety of terms. However, their checkings and savings accounts fall short, with many of them not earning you any interest. If this is important to you, then you’re better off looking elsewhere. Many alternative online banks offer much higher rates with no monthly maintenance fees.

However, SunTrust does provide a wide variety of banking and investment products. You can choose anywhere from the most basic of accounts to products intended for frequent use. SunTrust also gives you the ability to link multiple accounts and offers financial incentives to do so.

If you like brick and mortar banks as well as keeping all your finances in one place, SunTrust is a good option. Even if their savings and checking accounts don’t have the best rates, you may be able to make up for it with their CDs and IRAs.

Sarah Li Cain
Sarah Li Cain |

Sarah Li Cain is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Sarah Li here

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Review of Wells Fargo CD Rates

The editorial content on this page is not provided by any financial institution and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Review of Wells Fargo CD Rates
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Wells Fargo offers numerous products and services, including savings and checking accounts, insurance and investment products. They also offer certificates of deposit (CDs), though their rates are significantly lower compared to other big name competitors. Keep in mind that their rates will differ depending on where you live. The rates you’ll see in this article are based on their headquarters in San Francisco. If you want an accurate list of Wells Fargo CD rates based on your location, head over to their rates page and type in your ZIP code.

Wells Fargo’s fixed-rate CDs

Wells Fargo’s Standard CD Rates

CD Term

Annual Percentage Yield (APY)

Minimum Deposit Amount

3 months

0.01%

$2,500

6 months

0.01%

$2,500

1 year

0.05%

$2,500

As of 1/3/2018

The Wells Fargo Standard CD ensures that you get a guaranteed return for the entire CD term. Your rate is locked in once you make an opening deposit into your account. Anyone can open an account online or in person as long as they have a minimum of $2,500 to deposit into an account.

Wells Fargo’s Standard CD Bonus Rates

CD Term

APY

Minimum Deposit Amount

3 months

0.06%

$2,500

6 months

0.06%

$2,500

1 year

0.10%

$2,500

As of 1/3/2018

You can get the Wells Fargo Standard CD bonus rates if you link your CD to a Portfolio by Wells Fargo® account and make a $2,500 minimum deposit. This product is their upgraded checking account which offers better interest rates across many Wells Fargo products. You also get certain fees waived from your account, discounts on loans, as well as additional credit card benefits. This includes avoiding the $30 maintenance fees if you have $25,000 in qualifying linked bank deposits or more than $50,000 in qualifying linked bank, brokerage and credit accounts. All you need to open this checking account is a minimum opening deposit of $25.

If your CD is no longer linked to your Portfolio by Wells Fargo® account, the bonus CD rate will revert back to the standard rate.

Wells Fargo’s Special CD Rates

CD Term

APY

Minimum Deposit Amount

9 months

0.40%

$5,000

19 months

0.90%

$5,000

39 months

1.01%

$5,000

58 months

1.50%

$5,000

As of 1/3/2018

To open a Wells Fargo’s Special CD, you’ll need a minimum opening deposit of $5,000. Additionally, these rates only apply to the initial agreed term. Once your CD matures, it’ll automatically renew to the standard rates.

Wells Fargo’s Special CD Bonus Rates

CD Term

APY

Minimum Deposit Amount

9 months

0.45%

$5,000

19 months

0.95%

$5,000

39 months

1.06%

$5,000

58 months

1.55%

$5,000

As of 1/3/2018

To be eligible for the special bonus CD rates, you’ll need to meet the same requirements as the regular Special CD, plus link your account to a Portfolio by Wells Fargo® and make a $5,000 minimum deposit. This will revert back to standard rates once it matures and you decide to renew your CD. You may be eligible for the bonus Standard CD rate upon renewal.

How to get one of Wells Fargo’s fixed-rate CDs

To open a fixed rate CD, you can apply online using their secure online application form. During the application process, you’ll be asked to choose the term you want and submit details such as your Social Security number, funding account information and a valid ID. You can fund your CD using any bank account, credit card or by mailing a check or money order after you submit your application. (Note: Using a credit card to fund a CD only makes sense if you’re paying off the credit card balance in full. Otherwise, credit card finance charges could significantly outweigh CD interest earnings.) Once you complete the application, you’ll get instant notification of your application status and possible next steps.

Wells Fargo Step Rate CDs

CD Term

APY

Minimum Deposit Amount

24 months

0.16%

$2,500

As of 1/3/2018

The Step Rate CD offers multiple rate increases and a penalty-free withdrawal every six months as long as you are able to maintain the minimum opening balance. You’re guaranteed automatic rate increases at seven, 13 and 19 months into your CD term. At these times, the interest rate (not APY) goes up in increments of 0.10%:

  • 1 to 6 months: 0.01%
  • 7 to 12 months: 0.11%
  • 13 to 18 months: 0.21%
  • 19 to 24 months: 0.31%

To make your penalty-free withdrawals, you’ll need to do it within five business days at the start of the days when your interest rate goes up. If the rate increase happens to fall on a weekend or on a holiday, the withdrawal period will begin on the next business day. Once your account matures, the CD will be automatically renewed and reverted to a standard 24-month fixed rate CD.

Wells Fargo Step Rate Bonus CD

CD Term

APY

Minimum Deposit Amount

24 months

0.21%

$2,500

As of 1/3/2018

To be eligible for the bonus rate, you’ll need to link your Step Rate CD to a Portfolio by Wells Fargo® account. Keep in mind that there is a monthly maintenance fee of $30 for the checking account unless you have at least $25,000 in qualifying bank deposits or $50,000 in qualifying brokerage, bank and credit balances.

You’ll also get rate increases and penalty-free withdrawals every six months as long as you keep the minimum opening balance. You are subjected to the same interest rate increases and requirements as the regular Step Rate CD.

Upon account maturity, your CD will automatically renew into a standard fixed rate bonus CD. If you don’t have a Portfolio by Wells Fargo® account, your rate will revert back to the standard rate.

How to Get a Wells Fargo Step Rate CD

You can only open a Step Rate CD in person at any Wells Fargo branch. You can show up at any one of their physical locations. You can also make an appointment online or by calling 1-800-869-3557.

Here’s how Wells Fargo CD rates compare to other banks

Wells Fargo rates don’t even come close to the top competitors’ offers, even with the bonus rates. Those better CD rates often also come with a lower minimum deposit than what Wells Fargo requires. However, competitors with the highest rates tend to be online-only banks, which is only a disadvantage if you prefer to bank in person. If it’s important to you to keep all your banking products in one place, then Wells Fargo may be worth considering, though that strategy isn’t a financial advantage, as far as CDs go.

Additional information about Wells Fargo CDs

Founded in 1852, Wells Fargo is considered the third largest bank in the U.S. This FDIC insured bank provides retail, commercial and corporate banking services through its branches and online in the U.S. and internationally. Wells Fargo has over 13,000 ATMs and 6,000 branch locations across the country.

All rates earned are compounded daily and interest starts to accrue as soon as you make your deposit, as long as it’s on a business day. Otherwise it’ll begin on the next available business day. Any interest earned is paid out monthly and deposited into a checking account, savings account or via check. You could also opt to leave it your CD until maturity. You can also choose to have your interest payments paid out annually, semi-annually or when your CD matures. The only exception is for CD terms 12 months or more, where you can’t choose to have your interest paid out at maturity.

There are penalties if you make early withdrawals on fixed-rate CDs. You either have to pay the early withdrawal fee or be subjected to the Regulation D penalty.

Those who may need to pay the Regulation D penalty include those who make withdrawals within seven days of account opening. This penalty also applies if you make withdrawals during the grace period and the withdrawal is more than any additional deposits during that time. Regulation D penalty means you’ll need to pay seven days’ simple interest.

Any withdrawals after the first seven days are subjected to the following early withdrawal fee:

  • 90 days or less: one month’s interest
  • 90 days to a year: three months’ interest
  • 12 to 24 months: six months’ interest
  • 24 months and over: 12 months’ interest.

If you make a withdrawal on a Step Rate CD or the Step Rate Bonus CD, the early withdrawal fee will apply if the money you take out will cause the balance to be under the minimum opening deposit. The penalty will be based on the whole amount taken out. You’ll also be subject to early withdrawal penalties if you make a withdrawal on days other than the five day withdrawal period when interest rates increase.

There are some exceptions where you may be able to get early withdrawal penalties waived. Common ones include death of the account owner, but you’ll need to contact Wells Fargo customer service to chat about your exact situation and circumstances. (This exception isn’t unique to Wells Fargo.)

Wells Fargo will send you a notice to remind you of the CD maturity date about a month before it happens. When your CD actually matures, you have a seven day grace period. You can either renew the CD or choose to change the terms (such as linking your Portfolio by Wells Fargo® account). Other options include closing the CD, making another deposit or withdrawing money as long as the remaining balance can meet minimum balance requirements.

If you choose not to do anything, the CDs renew automatically. However, no interest will be paid during the seven day grace period if you don’t choose to reinvest your CD or you take money out of the account.

Overall review on Wells Fargo CD rates

Although Wells Fargo offers a myriad of services, including the ability to link your checking account to your CD, their rates fall short compared to other financial institutions as well as national averages. There are online banks that offer much better rates and with lower minimum deposits.

Sarah Li Cain
Sarah Li Cain |

Sarah Li Cain is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Sarah Li here

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Earning Interest

Review of USAA CD Rates

The editorial content on this page is not provided by any financial institution and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

USAA CD rates
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Founded and based in San Antonio, USAA is an FDIC-insured bank, insurance and financial services company that serves current and former military members and their families. Started by 25 U.S. Army officers, USAA has since grown to more than 11 million members. Most of their products are only available to USAA members, who are military members or their families.

USAA won a number of awards in 2016, including the title World’s Most Ethical Company from the Ethisphere Institute. It scored top rankings in the bank, insurance, and credit card categories in the Temkin Customer Service Ratings from 2013 to 2016.

Looking beyond high customer service standards, USAA CD rates are pretty comparable to the national average, though with some products they are significantly lower. Minimum deposit requirements are lower than with many similar products, though there are CDs out there with better rates and lower minimum deposits than USAA's CDs. If you’re a member of the military (or a family member of military member) and looking for a bank that offers a wide variety of products as well as excellent customer service, USAA could be a good bet if you’re will to make the tradeoff for lower CD rates.

USAA Fixed-Rate CDs

A USAA fixed-rate CD is for those who intend to make one deposit to get a guaranteed rate of return over the agreed-upon term. Once you make your initial deposit (which differs depending on the type of CD you choose), your interest rate is set for the duration of the CD term. You are not allowed to make any additional deposits into your CD account after the initial amount.

Interest accumulates daily, and you have the choice to keep any interest earned in the CD until it matures (the interest will compound monthly) or have it paid out monthly to an account of your choosing. The CD will not be renewed automatically once it matures, though you have the option to do so if you want. If not, all the money in the account will be paid into an investment account until you withdraw it or invest it in another type of account.

Early-withdrawal penalties apply depending on the term of your CD:

  • Terms of 30 days or less: 30 days’ worth of interest
  • 30 days to 364 days: 90 days’ interest
  • 365 days to five years: 180 days’ interest
  • Five years or more: 365 days’ interest

Also, if you make a withdrawal within six calendar days of a deposit or another withdrawal, you’ll have to pay at least seven days’ worth of interest.

Standard rates

A standard CD requires a minimum deposit of $1,000 and up to a maximum of $95,000. This type of account is best for those who do not have a large amount of money to invest and want a guaranteed rate for their savings.

CD Term

APY

91 days

0.30%

182 days

0.56%

7 months

0.56%

270 days

0.66%

1 year

0.71%

15 months

0.95%

18 months

0.76%

2 years

0.81%

30 months

1.26%

3 years

0.91%

4 years

1.46%

5 years

1.06%

7 years

1.06%

As of 1/3/2018

USAA fixed jumbo CD rates

Fixed jumbo CDs require a minimum deposit of $95,000 and a maximum amount up to $175,000.

CD Term

APY

30 days

0.22%

91 days

0.35%

120 days

0.45%

150 days

0.50%

182 days

0.61%

7 months

0.61%

270 days

0.71%

1 year

0.76%

15 months

1.00%

18 months

0.81%

2 years

0.86%

30 months

1.31%

3 years

0.96%

4 years

1.51%

5 years

1.11%

7 years

1.11%

As of 1/3/2018.

USAA fixed super jumbo CD rates

Fixed super jumbo CDs require a minimum deposit of at least $175,000 with no maximum amount. However, FDIC only insures up to $250,000.

CD Term

APY

30 days

0.22%

91 days

0.35%

120 days

0.45%

150 days

0.50%

182 days

0.61%

7 months

0.61%

270 days

0.71%

1 year

0.76%

15 months

1.06%

18 months

0.81%

2 years

0.86%

30 months

1.36%

3 years

0.96%

4 years

1.56%

5 years

1.11%

7 years

1.11%

As of 1/3/2018

USAA Adjustable-Rate CDs

Like the fixed-rate CDs, the interest rate is locked for the entirety of the agreed term with an adjustable-rate CD. All interest is compounded daily starting on your settlement date (the actual date when your deposit goes into your account) and the interest either paid out monthly or kept in the account until your CD matures. Your CD will not be automatically renewed. Instead the money will be put into an investment account until you decide to put it back into another CD account or withdraw the entire balance.

Unlike with the fixed-rate CD, however, you can adjust your rate once during your CD term as well as make one other deposit when you request a rate adjustment. If rates go up, you can make an adjustment up to a 2 percent increase. The additional deposit needs to be a minimum of $25.

Early-withdrawal penalties are the same as with the fixed-rate CD:

  • Terms of 30 days or less: 30 days’ worth of interest
  • 30 days to 364 days: 90 days’ interest
  • 365 days to five years: 180 days’ interest
  • Five years or more: 365 days’ interest

In addition, you will be required to pay at least seven days’ worth of interest if you withdrawal money within six calendar days of either a deposit or another withdrawal from your account.

Standard rates

The minimum opening deposit for an adjustable standard CD account is $1,000. You’re allowed up to a maximum of $95,000. Otherwise, you will need to open an adjustable jumbo CD account.

CD Term

APY

3 years

0.12%

4 years

0.31%

5 years

0.43%

7 years

0.43%

As of 1/3/2018

Jumbo rates

Adjustable Jumbo CDs need a $95,000 minimum deposit and rates are applicable up to $175,000.

CD Term

APY

3 years

0.17%

4 years

0.36%

5 years

0.48%

7 years

0.48%

As of 1/3/2018

Super jumbo rates

Adjustable super jumbo CDs have a minimum deposit of $175,000 with no limits on how much you can keep in your account. Keep in mind that FDIC insures up to $250,000 in your account.

CD Term

APY

3 years

0.17%

4 years

0.36%

5 years

0.48%

7 years

0.48%

As of 1/3/2018

USAA variable-rate CDs

This type of CD account is best suited to those who want the ability to make more than one deposit any time they choose. The rate tends to be lower than the other CDs of the same term length, but you are allowed to make as many additional deposits as you like without extending the maturity date, as long it’s $25 or more each time. This could help you earn more on your deposits than you would with a traditional savings account, though there are better rates to be had among those products, as well.

Unlike the fixed- and adjustable-rate CDs, the interest rate on a variable-rate CD may fluctuate daily so earnings may be affected. However, interest is compounded daily and just like the other CD accounts and you can either keep earned interest with the CD balance and allow the interest to compound, or you can have it paid out to another account every month.

There are also early-withdrawal penalties with a variable rate CD. You’ll be charged 30 days’ worth of interest if you take your money out before the maturity date.

CD Term

APY

Minimum Deposit Amount

182 days

0.46%

$250

1 year

0.46%

$250

As of 1/3/2018

Overall review on USAA’s CD rates

Above all, it’s important to remember that only USAA members can get its products, so if you’re not eligible for membership, USAA CDs aren’t an option for you.USAA’s CD rates are not as competitive as other institutions’ products (you can see the best CD rates in our monthly roundup). While the $1,000 minimum deposit requirement is lower than some other banks that offer higher APYs on their CDs, you can get a better CD rate on accounts with deposit requirements as low as $500. While the rates for jumbo and super jumbo CDs are better than its standard offers, you can find better rates.

One of the main advantages of opening a CD with USAA is the ability to bump up your rate with an adjustable-rate CD, as other banks don’t always offer this option.. It’s important to note that a rate increase is not guaranteed. However, you are given an opportunity to make another deposit into your account before maturity.

As for USAA’s variable-rate CD, you may be better off opening a high-interest savings account if you’re looking for an account with a good APY and some liquidity.

Overall, if you want a bank with excellent customer service and the ability to choose from a wide variety of services, USAA is a good option. USAA may be your best choice if you want your CDs at a bank that understands needs specific to military members and their families. But if high yields are your priority, you’re better off looking elsewhere.

Sarah Li Cain
Sarah Li Cain |

Sarah Li Cain is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Sarah Li here

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Review of Northwest Bank’s Deposit Rates

The editorial content on this page is not provided by any financial institution and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Formerly called Northwest Savings Bank, Northwest Bank offers a range of personal banking products and services including loans and insurance. Headquartered in Warren, Pa., Northwest Bank has 175 locations throughout New York, Pennsylvania and Ohio.

Northwest
Northwest Bank was on Forbes’ list of the Most Trustworthy Companies in 2016. JD Power touted Northwest for the "Highest Customer Satisfaction with Retail Banking in the Mid-Atlantic Region" in the same year.Customer service and trustworthiness don’t necessarily translate to the best rate for customers, however. Compared with the rates at other banks, like Ally, Goldman Sachs Bank USA, and Synchrony Bank, Northwest Bank’s deposit account rates are significantly lower for similar products.

When learning about the various accounts available at Northwest Bank, keep in mind that their rates vary depending on where you live. The rates listed below are based on the area closest to the bank’s headquarters. To get list of rates based on your region, please head over to the rates section of the bank’s official website and enter your ZIP code.

Northwest Bank CD Rates

The CDs at Northwest are locked in based on the term you choose, and interest earned can be compounded or paid out via check or direct deposit into a Northwest Bank account.

Term

APY

Minimum Deposit Amount

12-17 Months

0.30%

$500

18-23 Months

0.35%

$500

24-29 Months

0.45%

$500

30-35 Months

0.55%

$500

36-47 Months

0.60%

$500

48-59 Months

0.75%

$500

60-71 Months

0.90%

$500

72-120 Months

1.00%

$500

Rates current as of 1/3/2018

Northwest Bank’s CD accounts offer higher rates for longer terms. When a CD matures, you have a seven-day grace period where you can opt to roll over the account or take it out in cash.

There are early withdrawal penalties which vary depending on the term:

  • Account terms up to 181 days: one month of interest
  • Account terms 182 days to 364 days: three months of interest
  • Account terms 24 to 47 months: six months of interest
  • Account terms 48 months or longer: 12 months of interest

To withdraw money, you can do so easily using online or mobile banking or by calling your local branch. Early withdrawals will require you to call Northwest Bank; as long as you acknowledge and understand the penalties involved, you can access your cash.

How Northwest Bank’s CDs compare

Compared with competitors, Northwest Bank falls short in terms of APY. With its highest APY at 1.00%, it lags other banks offering almost double that. There are much better CD rates elsewhere and ones with shorter terms. However, the minimum deposit requirement at Northwest Bank is significantly lower than what you’ll find at many competitors, making this account more accessible to those who do not have large amounts to invest.

How to get a Northwest Bank CD

To open an account, you can call Northwest’s toll-free number at 1-877-672-5678, apply online or do so at your local branch.

Northwest Bank Savings Account Rates

Northwest Bank offers two different savings account options. The Statement Savings account is best for those who do not intend to keep a large balance in their accounts and don’t want to pay a monthly fee. The Insured Money Fund is best for those who seek more interest, want access to a Visa debit card and intend to keep larger sums banked.

Statement Savings

You can get access to free online and mobile banking and over 55,000 ATMs, but at the cost of a low APY.

APY

Minimum amount to open

Minimum balance requirement

0.05%

$50

$100

As of 1/3/2018

Interest earned on Northwest Bank’s Statement Savings account compounds and deposits monthly. In order to earn interest, you need to keep an average balance of at least $100.

With your account, you get access to eStatements and a free ATM card. If you already have a checking account with Northwest, you can link your account to your Visa debit card.

You can make deposits or withdrawals using your ATM card, online, via a mobile app or at a branch. However, you can only make unlimited withdrawals in person, by mail or at an ATM. Online withdrawals are limited to six withdrawals a month.

Insured Money Fund

Northwest Bank's Insured Money Fund provides access to a Visa debit card and unlimited ATM and in-person transactions.

Minimum balance requirement

APY

Minimum amount to open

Up to $2,499.99

0.05%

$50

$2,500.00-$9,999.99

0.10%

$50

$10,000.00-$74,999.99

0.15%

$50

$75,000-$4,999,999.99

0.25%

$50

$5,000,000.00 and over

0.25%

$50

As of 1/3/2018

Compared with Statement Savings, you need to keep a higher balance but you get a higher APY that’s compounded monthly. As long as you keep an average daily balance of $2,500, you will not be charged a service fee. Any lower than that and you’ll have to pay $10 every month.

This account gives you a free Northwest Visa debit card. You can also write checks, deposit money at a qualifying ATM, and have access to monthly statements and direct deposit. You can access your money online, in person or through Bankline, a 24/7 automated telephone banking service. You also get unlimited ATM or in-person transactions.

How Northwest Bank’s Statement Savings a Insured Money Fund compare

The minimum opening balance is on par with some similar offerings from other competitors. However, the rates are much lower compared with what’s out there. You can easily find a savings account with 1.30% APY these days, some with no minimum requirements to open an account.

However, Northwest Bank offers more access to your money compared with others that only allow ACH transfers and check-writing capabilities. Many comparable banks also do not offer in-person customer service or debit cards. You can also make unlimited withdrawals at ATMs, compared with six per month with some of the other banks out there.

Other Northwest Bank Savings Accounts

Club Accounts

Club Accounts are designed to help you reach short-term savings goals, but you can do the same with money market accounts from competitors.

Account name

APY

Minimum amount to open

Term

Holiday Club

0.05%

$1.00

Nov.-Oct.

Vacation Club

0.05%

$1.00

May-Apr.

As of 1/3/2018

The Club Accounts are designed to help you reach your short-term savings goals for the busiest times of the year, whether for a vacation or gift giving. These as sub-accounts are designed for a specific purpose similar to a one-year CD. You choose the type of account based on when you want to access your savings, as both accounts offer the same APY and minimum opening deposit.

You fund your account in person, online, via direct deposit or by setting up an automatic transfer. Once the money is in the account, you cannot access it for the duration of the account. At the end of the savings period, you can have a check mailed to you or have it automatically transferred to a Northwest savings or checking account.

Compared with a one-year CD, this account falls short. For one, the rates are significantly lower, with some banks offering at least 1.75% APY for a 12-month CD with a minimum deposit of $500. However, you can access the cash earlier if you’re willing the face the penalties. If you have less than a few hundred dollars for an opening deposit, then the Club Accounts may be a good alternative.

Health Savings Account

Northwest Bank's Health Savings Account allows you to access pretax funds easily for your medical needs, but at a lower rate compared with some competitors.

Minimum balance requirement

APY

$1,000.00-$4,999.999

0.05%

$5,000.00-$14,999.99

0.10%

$15,000.00 and over

0.15%

As of 1/3/2018

Opening a Health Savings Account (HSA), can help you set aside money for out-of-pocket medical expenses. As long as you’re covered under a qualified high-deductible health plan, you can use this account for pre-tax savings to help you cover health care costs.

Northwest Bank’s HSA account requires that you maintain an average daily balance of at least $1,000 if you want to earn interest and avoid a $3 monthly service fee. Like other accounts offered, you get access to online and mobile banking and ATMs. You also get a Northwest HSA debit card which is accepted by Visa merchants worldwide.

Competitors offer similar services with higher rates. However, some of these banks have mandatory monthly service fees of up to $4. With these accounts, you can access your cash the same way, except some offer Mastercard debit cards instead.

How to get a Northwest Bank savings account

You can open an account by phone, online or in person. You’ll need your social security number, personal information and a government issued ID.

Northwest Bank Checking Account Rates

MyNorthwest Interest Checking

This account offers one of the lowest interest rates, but has unlimited ATM transactions and a GO! Rewards account.

APY

Minimum balance requirement

Minimum amount to open

0.01%

$1,500

$50

As of 1/3/2018

MyNorthwest Interest Checking requires a minimum daily balance of $1,000 or else you face a $10 monthly service charge. There is also an overdraft fee of $35 with no grace period. However, you can opt in to a premium service that costs $12 a year. This service links your checking and savings accounts so that any possible drafts from one account will be withdrawn from the other.

Like the savings account, you get access to free ATMs, electronic statements, and online and mobile banking. You also get access to online bill pay and a Northwest Visa debit with Go! Rewards. With this program you earn points with each purchase to redeem for merchandise as well as the ability to use Apple, Android, and Samsung Pay.

How MyNorthwest Interest Checking compares

Compared to other banks' checking accounts, Northwest’s checking account has a much lower rate. However, it offers free access to ATMs and rises above its competition with its Visa debit card. Not many banks offer GO! Rewards, which could be a huge advantage if you’re interested in earning rewards and plan on using your card often.

How to get a Northwest Bank checking account

To open a checking account, you’ll need your Social Security number, government-issued ID, and account information for existing bank accounts you want to transfer to Northwest Bank.

Northwest Bank IRA Account Rates

IRA CDs

Northwest Bank's IRA CDs offer one of the lowest minimum deposit amounts, at the expense of a lower APY.

Term

APY

Minimum deposit amount

12-17 Months

0.30%

$500

18-Month Variable

0.35%

$25

18-23 Months

0.35%

$500

24-29 Months

0.45%

$500

30-35 Months

0.55%

$500

36-47 Months

0.60%

$500

48-59 Months

0.75%

$500

60-71 Months

0.90%

$500

72-120 Months

1.00%

$500

As of 1/3/2018

With the IRA CD, you can deposit money any time and in any increment you wish. Interest is compounded and credited every quarter. However, the interest rate is not fixed, meaning that the interest rate may fluctuate on the last day of each quarter.

When your IRA matures, you have a seven-day grace period in which to make withdrawals or roll it over. Early withdrawals are subject to the same penalties as their regular CD accounts

How Northwest Bank’s IRA CDs compare

The minimum opening deposit is one of the lowest out there, compared with some other IRA CDs that ask for a $1,000 minimum for an 18-month IRA CD. Like Northwest Bank’s other products, their IRA CDs offer a much lower rate, at least half of what its competitors offer.

How to get an IRA CD from Northwest Bank

You will need to apply for an IRA CD at the nearest branch.

IRA Tiered Money Fund

This account offers higher rates than their IRA CD, but still falls short compared with other banks.

Minimum balance requirement

APY

Up to $2,499.99

0.10%

$2,500.00-$9,999.99

0.10%

$10,000.00-$74,999.99

0.10%

$75,000.00 and over

0.25%

As of 1/3/2018

Like the IRA CD, you only need a minimum of $25 to open an account and deposit money as often as you want. There is a tiered interest based on balance, and interest is compounded and deposited every month. As well, there are no withdrawal restrictions, unlike the IRA CD where you may be penalized for early withdrawals.

If you’re looking for a similar product else with higher rates, you can consider a savings or checking account that may have tiered APYs.

How to get an IRA Money Fund from Northwest Bank

Visit your local branch to open an IRA Money Fund. You cannot open one online.

Bottom line

Although Northwest Bank offers free ATM access as well as a wide variety of customer service options, its rates are significantly lower than you’ll find with competitors. If you’re looking for a bank that offers more competitive rates with similar services, you may be better off looking elsewhere.

Sarah Li Cain
Sarah Li Cain |

Sarah Li Cain is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Sarah Li here

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Personal Loans

No Credit? Personal Loans and Other Loan Options

The editorial content on this page is not provided by any financial institution and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

no credit loans

What is credit and why does it matter?

A good credit score can have a positive impact on your life in many areas, such as purchasing a house, car or even getting a lease on a new apartment. Your credit score is a number that helps businesses make decisions about whether or not to grant you a loan — and, if so, how much risk they are taking on in the process.

Your score can also impact the terms of the loan, such as how long you have to pay back the balance and what interest rate you’ll have to pay.

The standard FICO score, which is the most widely used among lenders, can range anywhere from 300 to 850. The higher that number, the higher the likelihood that you’ll get better terms. A higher score indicates to lenders that you’re perceived as less of a risk, so companies are more willing to give you more favorable terms for loans. If you’re considered a high risk to a lender, you may find it difficult to get loans and may find yourself stuck with the worst rates.

Experian breaks down score bands by score range well in this graphic:

A credit score of 700 or higher is usually considered a good credit score and a score 800 or above is considered excellent. People who have fair or poor credit may start to find it hard to get competitive rates on loans.

What if you have no credit or a thin credit file?

People who have thin credit files or no credit history at all might find it difficult to qualify for loans, credit cards or a mortgage, among other things. Because credit reports are used by lenders often to tell whether or not an individual is a responsible borrower, if that report is empty or nearly empty, it’s difficult for them to make a call one way or another.

That’s because without a credit history, lenders won’t be able to give you a credit score. Yes, there’s a big difference between your credit score and your credit report.

To think of it a different way, imagine that you’re a college student. Each of your exams is one part of your credit report and your credit score is based on how your perform on all of your exams so far. If it’s your first day on campus and you haven’t taken any exams yet, it would be very difficult for someone to determine whether you’re a good student or not.

“The problem is if a person hasn’t borrowed money, he or she can't get a credit score,” Jennifer Hemphill, AFC® says. “It’s hard because you’ll end up either getting denied outright or pay absorbent interest rates even if you can get a loan.”

The more often you use credit, the richer your credit report will be. The information recorded in your report includes the types of loans you have, how much you owe and whether or not you make timely payments. With that information at hand, lenders then can calculate your credit score and grant you access to loans.

The key measures lenders use to calculate your credit score are as follows:

  • Are you making on-time payments? (35% of your score)
  • How much credit debt are you using compared to the credit that’s available to you? (35% of your score)
  • How long you’ve been using credit (15% of your score)
  • How many different types of credit you have used (10% of your score)
  • How many times you apply for new credit (10% of your score)

If you’re more of a visual person, here’s how it breaks down in a chart, courtesy of MyFICO:

Jennifer suggests that to build up your credit, you need to understand factors that determine your credit score and make sure to follow them.

“Your payment history, number of loans, how many inquires you’ve had and the length of credit history all play a part in determining your credit score,” she says. “If you make sure you pay your loans on time and not take out too many loans, you’ll be able to get a good score much faster.”

Keep in mind that there are different credit rating bureau, meaning that your score could be different depending on the bureau lenders look at. This is because credit bureaus don’t necessary share information with each other. Furthermore, your lender is required to report accurate information to any one of the three major credit bureaus (Experian, Equifax, TransUnion) but they don’t need to report it to all three credit bureaus. If this happens, there may be a delay in the types of information shared which could affect your credit score.

Loan options for people with no credit score

If you have a thin credit file, don’t worry. Everyone starts from somewhere.

To start building a good credit history, you’ll need to apply for credit. There are lenders who are willing to approve loans for people with no credit, but your options will be more limited. Here are some options on how to get a loan with no credit:

Secured credit cards

A secured credit card requires a deposit upfront. Then, you’ll make monthly payments for a certain period of time. Those payments will be reported to a credit bureau and your score should improve so long as you make all your payments on time and keep your utilization low. Just be careful to pay the card off each month, because you don’t want to get stuck paying high interest fees on top of it. Some secured card lenders will upgrade you to a regular credit card after you’ve proven you can manage a secured card. This option is best for those who want a credit card and have exhausted all options for unsecured credit cards.

Student credit cards

Many lenders offer students credit cards despite their thin credit files in the hopes they’ll become lifelong customers. All you need to is to show you have some income to make the monthly minimum payments. However, you may only get a low credit limit and high interest rates. Check out our list of the best student credit cards here.

Retail credit cards

Retail cards are generally fairly easy to get approved for, because retailers know that the harder it is for people to apply for credit, the less money they stand to earn from credit card users. It’s no secret that retail credit cards often come with scarily high interest rates. So we’ll offer a word of caution: If you do apply and get approved, be sure you’re only using it a credit building tool. That means you’re spending only what you can afford to spend and you pay it off in full each month. The downside of retail cards is that you may not be able to use them anywhere except for the retailer itself, but you may find co-branded cards out there that have wider acceptance.

Joint credit cards

Those who want to build their credit scores could benefit from a joint credit card. For example, two spouses could apply for one card but both hold responsibility for payments. If the two people are responsible, great. But there’s a risk, too. It also means if one or both of you aren’t making on-time payments, both of your scores could suffer.

Becoming an authorized user on a credit card

If your partner or family member has good credit, you might want to be added on as an authorized user on their card to build up your credit. The primary cardholder holds liability for making on-time payments, while your score will benefit from their good behavior. However, the primary cardholder can remove you from the account at any time.

Personal loans for those with poor credit

Getting a personal loan is another way to build up your credit score. The following lenders works with those who are applying for loans with no credit:

  • OppLoans - This is an online lender who works with people who don’t have robust enough credit histories to have a credit score yet. Their online application process takes minutes and you can find out if you’re approved for a loan up to $5,000 without impacting your credit score. Keep in mind that their loans aren’t available in all states. Depending on location, their rates start at 36% with terms from 9 to 24 months.
  • Upstart - This lender will consider applicants who don’t have a score. You may be able to borrow from $1,000 to $50,000 with three or five year terms. Their APRs range from 9.56% to 29.99% as of Dec. 15, 2017. Most applicants are able to get funds after one business day once they accept their terms.

Before you apply for credit, you should request a free annual credit report from all three credit reporting agencies. Even though you may not have enough information to generate a credit score, you never know if there is an error in your credit report. Things like a lender reporting incorrect transactions, mixing up identities or someone trying to steal your identity could happen, so dispute any errors if you see any.

To get your free credit report, visit AnnualCreditReport.com or call 1-877-322-8228

Get prequalified. You should also check to see if a lender offers a pre-approval form, which only requires a soft credit pull and won’t harm your credit. A positive pre-approval doesn’t 100% guarantee you’ll ultimately be approved, you can at least take a calculated risk before you apply for credit full-stop, since that will trigger a hard pull on your credit report and could hurt your score.

If you’d rather get a personal loan than a credit card, here are more options to check out:

  • LendingTree. Lending Tree, which is the parent company of MagnifyMoney, partners with many different lenders. By filling out a short online form on the personal loan page, you may receive quotes from several lenders, including lenders who may be willing to work with people with poor credit or very little credit history. Pick and choose ones with better rates or terms.
  • LendingClub. This is a peer-to-peer marketplace lender. Borrow up to $40,000 and receive your money in as little as seven days. Fixed APRs range from 5.99% to 35.89%, however, if your poor credit you likely will be stuck with the highest rates. You can choose between a three or five year term with no prepayment penalties. LendingClub does charge an origination fee, however, which will be charged as a one-time fee of 1-6%. And since it’s charged when you receive your loan, it’s deducted from your loan balance, which means you’ll get the amount you applied for, less the origination fee.
  • Avant. Borrow from $2,000 to $35,000 with fixed APRs ranging from 9.95% – 35.99% and loan terms of 24 to 60 months. Not available for Colorado, Iowa, West Virginia, and Vermont residents.
  • Prosper - Prosper is similar to LendingClub and is also a peer to peer lender. Borrow anywhere from $2,000 to $35,000. Fixed APRs range from on 5.32% to 35.97% on 3 and 5 year terms.
  • Credit unions and local banks. Don’t forget to check credit unions to see what they could offer you. Theses institutions may have competitive rates and offer smaller loan amounts for its members. Loan officers may even more be willing to work with you on getting a loan compared to bigger companies.

How to build your credit score

Building your credit score doesn’t have to be hard. It will not be a quick process, but as long as you are consistent and exhibit all the signs of a trustworthy borrower, you’ll be able to build a good credit score.

Make payments on time. First and foremost, making payments on time will significantly impact your credit score. You want to show lenders that you can make at least the minimum payments every month. Any late payments will most likely show negatively on your report.

Keep your balances low. You should strive to pay as much of your balance off each month as possible. You can get away with making minimum payments, but you won’t help your utilization rate that way, and utilization rate is also a large component of your credit score, as we discussed in beginning of this post. The closer your balances are to your credit limit, the more negatively it’ll impact your score.

Don’t open too many new accounts in close succession. You’ll also want to consider how often you apply for credit. Every time you apply for a loan, you’ll get what’s called a hard inquiry on your report. One or two credit inquiries may not affect your score significantly, but if you apply for multiple loans or credit within a short period of time, your credit score may fall.

If you follow these steps consistently, over time you’ll be able to build your credit score.

Things to watch out for

Just because there are many products and services to help you build your credit, doesn’t mean they’re all equal. No check or instant approval credit loans such as payday, title or no check credit loans may seem like a good idea as they offer access to cash quickly. However, they often come at a steep price.

Payday loan companies have you write a check for however much you want to borrow in addition to a set fee. You’ll borrow that amount and hold onto the check until your loan’s due date which is usually your next payday. The problem is that they come with high rates and you could find it hard to pay back the loan. If this happens, you’ll pay more fees to extend the loan and pay even more in interest.

Title loans are often no better. Instead of using your paycheck as collateral, you put up your car’s title as collateral for a loan. The loan amount is usually the equivalent of your vehicle’s appraised value. The term is typically around 30 days and also come with high APRs. If you can’t pay back to loan, you’ll end up paying more fees or run the risk of having your car repossessed.

These options aren’t a good idea if you want to build a good credit score. All of these loan options are extremely expensive for borrowers and have severe consequences for delinquent payments. If you don’t have credit, you can use options that are much cheaper and with more favorable terms.

Sarah Li Cain
Sarah Li Cain |

Sarah Li Cain is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Sarah Li here

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Won’t impact your credit score

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College Students and Recent Grads, Reviews

Discover Student Loans: In-Depth Review

The editorial content on this page is not provided by any financial institution and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

college-grad (1)

Have you exhausted all your options with federal student aid, and still need extra help covering the costs of college? Applying for a private student loan may be your next step.

Keep in mind private student loans don’t offer many of the benefits federal student loans do. Interest rates are often higher, and repayment assistance isn’t always available. That’s why it’s recommended you fill out a FAFSA and submit it first – you’ll want to claim any grants and scholarships available to you before turning to private student loans, as grants and scholarships don’t have to be paid back.

Discover is one of many private lenders that offers undergraduate student loans, so if you need more money to cover tuition, here’s what you need to know about Discover’s offers.

What does Discover offer undergraduates?

Undergraduate Student Loan

Fixed APR range

6.49%-11.99%

Variable APR range

4.62%-10.62%

Loan terms offered

15 years after deferment period

Fees

None

Loan amount

A minimum of $1,000 up to the entire school-certified cost of attendance after financial aid. Aggregate loan limits apply.

Repayment plans

  1. You can pay a fixed monthly payment of $25 while in school or during grace period

  2. You can defer payments until 6 months after graduation, or when you’re enrolled less than half-time

  3. And you can also make additional payments while in school to reduce your costs by the time your regular monthly payments come due.

Discover also offers some repayment options for borrowers experiencing financial difficulties. It recommends borrowers call the Repayment Assistance Department at 1-800-STUDENT to talk about options such as deferment, early repayment assistance program, payment extension, reduced payment, forbearance or hardship.

Cosigner release

None for loans originated by Discover. Cosigner release for previous CitiAssist Loan purchased by Discover is available. You must be at least 18, a U.S. citizen or permanent resident, and meet the repayment, credit history and income requirements.

Savings opportunities

  1. Reduce your rate by 0.25% if you opt into automatic payments during repayment period.

  2. Get a one-time cash reward of 1% of your student loan amount (for loan applications submitted on or after May 1, 2014) if you maintain a 3.0 GPA or equivalent.

As of Jan. 8, 2018

Discover’s undergraduate student loan claims to be a “zero fee loan” as there are no application, origination or late fees associated with it. On top of that, you can apply to cover 100 percent of your cost of attendance (the minimum loan amount is $1,000).

Discover lists out its eligibility requirements on its website:

  • You need to be enrolled at least half time in a bachelor’s or associate degree program, be working toward a degree and make satisfactory academic progress, as your school defines it.
  • You can be a U.S. citizen, permanent resident, or international student, though international students need a cosigner who is a U.S. citizen or permanent resident.
  • You must be at least 16 years old to apply.
  • You need to pass a credit check.

If you don’t have an extensive credit history, Discover encourages you to apply with an eligible cosigner. This may increase your chances of being approved for a loan with more favorable terms and rates. Be aware there’s no cosigner release with a Discover student loan – the cosigner is on the loan for the entire duration.

What can Discover offer to graduate students?

Discover offers loans for various graduate programs with zero fees (meaning no origination, application or late fees). The company offers loans with a $1,000 minimum and a 20-year repayment period. Like the undergraduate loans, you may also be eligible for savings opportunities, as well as the ability to add a cosigner onto your loan.

All graduate and professional school loans have similar repayment plan options:

  1. You can either make a $25 monthly payment while in school and throughout grace period, or
  2. You can defer your payments until nine months after graduation or when you’re enrolled as a half-time student (or less).

After that, you’ll be required to make monthly payments as dictated by your loan term, amount and interest rate.

You can also make additional payments while in school to bring down your loan balance before you start making regular monthly payments. On its website, Discover says it offers help to borrowers experiencing financial difficulty. You can call the Repayment Assistance Department at 1-800-STUDENT to learn more about options such as deferment, early repayment assistance program, payment extension, reduced payment, forbearance and hardship.

All Discover student loans have the same policy on cosigner releases: There is no cosigner release option for loans originated by Discover, but cosigner release for previous CitiAssist Loans purchased by Discover is available. You may be eligible if you are at least 18, a U.S. citizen or permanent resident, and meet the repayment, credit history and income requirements.

Here are the different graduate and professional school loans available from Discover, as of Dec. 4, 2017:

Graduate loans

Discover’s graduate student loans are for those who are enrolled in a qualifying graduate program (master's or doctorate) at least half-time and are pursuing a degree in an eligible school. You’ll need your school to prove that you’re making satisfactory academic progress. U.S. citizens, permanent residents or international students need to be a minimum of 16 years of age when applying and meet the requirements during a credit check. You can choose to apply by yourself or with a cosigner, unless you’re an international student. In that case, you’ll need a cosigner who is either a U.S. citizen or permanent resident.

Once approved, the funds will be disbursed through the school. If you can maintain a 3.0 GPA or equivalent, you’re eligible for a one-time cash reward of 1% of your loan amount. You’ll need to redeem your cash within 6 months after the academic term for your loan is finished.

Graduate Loans

Fixed APR range

6.49%-12.99%

Variable APR range

4.62%-11.87%

Loan terms offered

20 years after deferment period

Fees

$0

Loan amount

From $1,000 up to 100% of school-certified costs after financial aid. Aggregate loan limits as set by Discover applies and varies depend on the program.

Savings opportunities

Opting into automatic payments gets your rate reduced by 0.25%.

If you maintain a 3.0 GPA (or equivalent), get a 1% one-time cash reward of your loan amount.

MBA loans

MBA loans are for students who are pursuing a degree at a qualifying business school, either for an MBA or a related graduate program. It’s the same requirements to qualify for this loan as Discover’s graduate student loan offering, and the loan amount will be disbursed through your school. You’re eligible for the one-time cash reward of you maintain a 3.0 GPA or equivalent. Check Discover’s Rewards for Good Rates page to find out your GPA eligibility.

MBA Loans

Fixed APR range

6.49%-11.99%

Variable APR range

4.62%-11.12%

Loan terms offered

20 years after deferment period

Fees

$0

Loan amount

From $1,000 up to 100% of school-certified costs after financial aid. Aggregate loan limits as set by Discover applies.

Savings opportunities

Opting into automatic payments can get your rate reduced by 0.25%.

If you maintain a 3.0 GPA (or equivalent), get a 1% one-time cash reward of your loan amount.

Health profession loans

This type of loan is for those who are pursuing programs in allopathy, dentistry, nursing, occupational therapy, optometry, osteopathy, pharmacy, physical therapy, physician assistant, podiatry and veterinary medicine. You’ll need to be pursuing a degree in an eligible school that offers these programs.

To qualify for the health profession loan, you’ll need to meet the same requirements as the MBA or graduate loans. You may also qualify for the one-time 1% cash reward if you can maintain a 3.0 GPA or equivalent. Once approved, the funds will be distributed through to your school.

Health Profession Loans

Fixed APR range

6.49%-9.99%

Variable APR range

4.62%-8.62%

Loan terms offered

20 years after deferment period

Fees

$0

Loan amount

From $1,000 up to 100% of school-certified costs after financial aid. Aggregate loan limits as set by Discover applies.

Savings opportunities

Opting into automatic payments can get your rate reduced by 0.25%.

If you maintain a 3.0 GPA (or equivalent), get a 1% one-time cash reward of your loan amount.

Law school loans

The law school loan is for graduate students who are currently enrolled in a qualifying law school. You’ll need to show that you’re doing well in school at be at least 16 years or older to qualify for a loan. Getting approved for a loan is the same process as the above loan types. As well, loan amounts are given to your school.

Law School Loans

Fixed APR range

6.49%-9.99%

Variable APR range

4.62%-8.62%

Loan terms offered

20 years after deferment period

Fees

$0

Loan amount

From $1,000 up to 100% of school-certified costs after financial aid. Aggregate loan limits as set by Discover applies.

Savings opportunities

Opting into automatic payments can get your rate reduced by 0.25%.

If you maintain a 3.0 GPA (or equivalent), get a 1% one-time cash reward of your loan amount.

Residency loans

Discover’s residency loans are meant to help residency candidates in medical school cover the cost of internship, residence, board exam reviews and relocation. To qualify, you’ll need to be enrolled at least half-time in a qualifying health-profession graduate program and making satisfactory progress. You may also qualify if you have recently graduated from medical school within the last 12 months. You need to pass a credit check and be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident. International students may apply but they’ll need a U.S. citizen or permanent resident cosigner.

Once your loan is approved, the money will be given to you via electronic deposit or a check. Unlike the other graduate loan programs, there is no 1% cash back reward but you can get an interest rate deduction if you enroll in auto pay.

Residency Loans

Fixed APR range

6.99%-9.49%

Variable APR range

5.12%-8.12%

Loan terms offered

20 years after deferment period

Fees

$0

Loan amount

$1,000-$18,000 for the allopathy, dentistry, optometry, osteopathy, pharmacy, podiatry and veterinary medicine fields

$1,000-$5,000 for the nursing, occupational therapy, physical therapy and physician assistant fields. Aggregate loan limits as set by Discover applies.

Savings opportunities

Opting into automatic payments may reduce your rate by 0.25%.

Bar exam loans

The bar exam loan is for students who are considered candidates for the bar exam. It’s meant to help you cover the cost of living expenses and bar exam prep class while you’re studying for the exam. To qualify, you’ll need to have graduated from law school in the last 6 months or be enrolled at least half-time in your final year in a law degree graduate program. In addition, you’ll need to be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident (international students will require a cosigner) and meet satisfactory credit requirements.

The funds for the loan will be given you via electronic transfer to your bank or a check. You can get a 0.25% rate reduction if you participate in auto pay.

Bar Exam Loans

Fixed APR range

6.99%-11.49%

Variable APR range

5.12%-10.12%

Loan terms offered

20 years after deferment period

Fees

$0

Loan amount

$1,000-$16,000. Aggregate loan limits as set by Discover applies.

Savings opportunities

Opting in automatic payments get your rate reduced by 0.25%

How do Discover student loans compare?

Discover student loans are fairly competitive when compared to other top student loan companies. Their rates and repayments are comparable to other large financial institutions. However, Discover falls short when compared to cosigner releases, rates compared to credit unions and loan amounts.

Where Discover stands out:

  • No fees: There are no application, origination, or late fees, whereas some other big banks do.
  • Unique rewards program: Get rewarded for good grades by getting a one-time 1% cash reward for qualifying loans. Other places only offer auto-pay discounts.
  • Competitive rates: Discover’s fixed rates are in par or lower to its competitors.

Where Discover student loans fall short:

  • No cosigner release option: Only a certain type of loan purchased by Discover is eligible for cosigner release. Otherwise, you cannot release your cosigner from a Discover student loan (unless you refinance). Other banks and credit unions offer cosigner release if the borrower has met certain requirements such as a satisfactory credit history and on-time payments.
  • High variable rates: Discover’s variable rates are considerably higher compared to other financial institutions.
  • Longer terms: Competitors offer shorter terms whereas Discover’s are anywhere from 15 to 20 after the grace period has ended.

The application process

Discover says its application takes about 15 minutes to fill out online. Before applying, have the following information ready to enter:

  • Your school’s information
  • Your field of study and the academic term for which you’re applying
  • Social Security number
  • Loan amount requested
  • Amount of financial aid you’ve already received
  • If applicable, financial information such as salary and rent/mortgage payments
  • Your address (permanent and where you’ll reside once at school)

Discover makes the application process simple. You can select the state your school is in, and a list of schools in that state will populate. Choose your school from the list or search for it.
You’ll then be asked to enter all your personal information and any other details Discover needs.

If any additional documentation is requested, you can upload it online. By submitting your application, a hard inquiry of your credit will be conducted. The same is true if a cosigner applies with you.

Funds will be disbursed according to your school’s financial aid office deadlines.

Repayment assistance options

Discover has multiple options for you in case you experience financial hardship while paying back your loans. Federal student loans come with certain benefits such as deferment and forbearance, so you don’t need to make monthly payments during a period of financial difficulty. Private lenders aren’t required to offer these benefits, but some lenders do. Keep in mind they’re not guaranteed and can be taken away in the future.

While it may seem like paying your student loans off is years away, it helps to know what your options are as they vary among private lenders. You should take this into consideration when shopping around for private student loans.

Discover offers a range of solutions like deferment, payment extension, forbearance and reduced payments. Take a look at what each entails and what it takes to qualify here.

Refinancing student loans with Discover

Discover offers loan consolidation to help you lower your interest rate and simplify your loan payments. If you cannot get a cosigner release, refinancing your student loan allows you to do so by paying off your existing loans. You can choose to consolidate some or all of them with a minimum of $5,000 up to $150,000 upon credit approval.

Like their student loan options, there are no application, origination or early payment fees. If you are able to make additional payments, you can pay off your loan sooner and save on the cost of your loan. You can consolidate while enrolled in school, during your grace period or after it expires. Once you qualify, your first payment is due anywhere from 30-45 days after the loan is disbursed.

However, Discover’s student consolidation rates are higher compared to its competitors, even with the auto pay discount. Also, the repayment period is anywhere from 10 to 20 years depending on your creditworthiness, which is longer than other places that offers terms as short as 5 years. If you have a cosigner for your refinance loan, you cannot release them, unlike some other banks.

To qualify, you’ll need to be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident, be the primary borrower for loans you’re planning on consolidating, have a good repayment history and prove you have sufficient income to handle your payments. Discover also requires its borrowers to have no more than $150,000 in aggregate student loan debt, including federal student loans, though depending on your field of study you may be eligible for higher limits.

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Who benefits the most from a Discover student loan?

Overall, students who have applied for federal aid and have received the maximum amount they’re qualified for, but still need additional assistance to fund their college tuition, may benefit from Discover’s student loan. Its rates are somewhat comparable to federal loans as long as you or a cosigner have excellent credit, and it offers great repayment assistance options along with a few bonuses that don’t come with federal loans.

Consider all options

While Discover has a decent student loan program to offer borrowers, it’s far from the only option out there. You may be able to get better rates and terms with another private lender. It’s a good idea to shop around to see the different loans you’re eligible for. Some credit scoring models will count multiple applications for student loans as a single inquiry, as long as they’re made within a short period of time (generally between 14 and 45 days, depending on the score). By shopping around, you’ll be able to choose the best loan offer and may not see much impact on your credit score.

Also, remember to compare APRs and not just interest rates – other lenders may charge late, origination and application fees that need to be factored into the cost of the loan. Check to see what repayment options are available, and any other “bonuses” lenders may be offering.

The fine print

There really isn’t any. There are no prepayment penalties, and no origination, late or application fees associated with the loan. Still, make sure you take the time to read your loan agreement before signing it.

A word of warning on choosing a variable interest rate, though – while variable rates are lower and look more attractive, keep in mind the rate may change at any time. That means your loan may become more expensive.

No one can predict where the market will go, so rates may stay low, or they may skyrocket in the future. A fixed interest rate can provide valuable peace of mind, even if you have to pay for it.

Erin Millard contributed to this story.
This post has been updated. It was originally published Sept. 1, 2015.

Sarah Li Cain
Sarah Li Cain |

Sarah Li Cain is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Sarah Li here

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Building Credit, Credit Cards, Reviews

OpenSky Secured Visa Review: No Checking Account Required

The editorial content on this page is not provided by any financial institution and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

The OpenSky Secured Visa secured credit card can be helpful for those who have bad or no credit history. This card is designed for consumers who want to rebuild or create a credit history. OpenSky does not require a checking account or credit check when you apply, which makes the application process simple. Take note that this card does come with an annual fee, unlike other secured cards. With responsible use, you could see an increase in your credit score and move to an unsecured card.

OpenSky® Secured Visa® Credit Card from Capital Bank N.A.

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on Capital Bank N.A.’s secure website

OpenSky® Secured Visa® Credit Card from Capital Bank N.A.

Annual fee
$35
Minimum Deposit
$200
Regular Purchase APR
18.64%

Variable

Credit required
zero-credit
New to Credit, Bad

How the card works

Since this is a secured card you will have to make a security deposit. This money will become your line of credit and must remain in your account while your card is open. There are four options to make your security deposit and fund your account. The first is using a debit card. Simply provide your debit card information on your application, and OpenSky will process your transaction right away. You can also complete a wire transfer to Capital Bank. If you don’t have a checking account, you can use Western Union or mail a check or money order. An email with instructions on how to fund your security deposit will be sent after your application has been approved. Note that, depending on the method of payment that you choose, it may take up to five business days for your security deposit to clear.

If you’re looking to improve your credit score, the best way to take advantage of this card is to start off with a low credit limit and find a recurring expense you can put on the card. For example, you can put your utility bills on the card. Make sure that you pay this on time and in full every month. To ensure it’s paid on time, you can enroll in their auto pay program, which will guarantee you never miss a payment. Once you enroll in auto pay, the credit card company will make a scheduled monthly payment automatically on the day you choose. This way, you will have a purchase every month that OpenSky can report to all three major bureaus.

How to qualify

To quality for this credit card you do not need to have credit history, but you do need a job. By having a job you will show a stable source of income, which shows credit lenders you are responsible and can pay your bills. In addition you will need a security deposit. That means if you want a $1,000 credit limit, you’ll need to have $1,000 deposited at account opening. The online application is four simple steps that can be completed in 10 minutes. They request basic personal and financial information, have you choose the starting credit limit you prefer, and fund your security deposit. Your requested credit limit is subject to approval based on your creditworthiness.

What we like about the card

No credit check

OpenSky does not check your credit history during the application process. This is great if you lack a credit history or have poor credit, therefore improving your approval odds.

Simple application process

The application process takes place solely online, making it easy to apply at your convenience. It only takes 10 minutes according to OpenSky to complete the application. There are four easy steps: provide your personal and financial information, customize and fund your card, review your information, and accept the terms and conditions.

No checking account needed

OpenSky does not require you to have a checking account to apply for this card. This is great for those who want to establish credit but don’t have a bank account. The majority of credit cards require bank accounts, so this is a good option if you don’t have a bank account.

What we don’t like about the card

Annual fee

OpenSky charges cardholders a $35 annual fee. Be sure to review your credit options, because you can find other secured cards that do not charge an annual fee. However, note that those cards may require a checking account, so make sure to review your options.

Foreign transaction fee

Make sure this card remains at home when you travel abroad since there is a high 3% foreign transaction fee. This will increase your bill if you make purchases abroad, so it’s best left at home.

No option for an unsecured card

If you’re ready to move onto an unsecured card, there is no option with OpenSky. That means you’ll have to look to another company, which could be a hassle because of the process of applying for the card, getting a credit check, and closing your current card.

Who the card is best for

If you’ve struggled with being approved for credit cards in the past due to bad or nonexistent credit history, the OpenSky Secured Visa may be right for you. With no credit check during the application process, you have good approval odds. This card is also for those who do not have a checking account but want to build credit, as you won’t find many credit cards that are offered to people without checking accounts. However, the annual fee and lack of transition to an unsecured card can make you think twice about this card. You can find MagnifyMoney’s ranking of the best secured credit cards here.

Alternatives

Capital One® Secured Mastercard®

Annual fee

$0

Minimum Deposit

$49

Regular Purchase APR

24.99%

Variable

This credit card doesn’t require that you have your security deposit equal your credit limit. You can make a deposit as low as $49, unlike the OpenSky card, which is $200. However, this card will check your credit history and will determine your deposit requirement based on your creditworthiness. There is no annual fee associated with this card, unlike OpenSky.

Discover it® Secured Card - No Annual Fee

Annual fee

$0

Minimum Deposit

$200

Regular Purchase APR

24.24%

Variable

This card has no annual fee, unlike OpenSky. It also features 2% cash back on up to $1,000 per quarter on gas and restaurant purchases and 1% on other spending. In addition, after eight months you may be eligible for an unsecured credit card, which you can’t do with OpenSky. These are great benefits that make the Discover it® Secured card a good alternative.

DCU Visa Platinum Secured from Digital FCU

Annual fee

$0 For First Year

$0 Ongoing

Minimum Deposit

$500

Regular Purchase APR

12.50%

Variable

There is also no annual fee for this card, as well as no cash advance or balance transfer fees. The APR is lower than OpenSky, which is beneficial if you think you might carry a balance month to month. According to a DCU representative, the maximum credit limit is $2,000. However, it is determined by your overall creditworthiness. Also, you’ll need to be a member of Digital Federal Credit Union, which may be difficult to get into. You can learn about eligibility requirements here.

FAQ

No, OpenSky does not check your credit history. So any bad history you may have will not affect your approval odds.

A security deposit is the amount of money you deposit into your account and acts as collateral. It also becomes your line of credit. That means if you make a $1,000 security deposit, you’ll have a $1,000 credit line.

There are four options to make your security deposit.

  1. Debit card- Simply provide your debit card information on your application, and OpenSky will process your transaction right away.
  2. Wire transfer to Capital Bank

If you don’t have a checking account:

  1. Western Union
  2. Mail a check or money order

An email with instructions on how to fund your security deposit will be sent after your application has been approved. Note that, depending on the method of payment that you choose, it may take up to five business days for your security deposit to clear.

Additional reporting by Alexandria White

Sarah Li Cain
Sarah Li Cain |

Sarah Li Cain is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Sarah Li here

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Retirement, Small Business

A Comprehensive Guide to the Solo 401(k) for Business Owners

The editorial content on this page is not provided by any financial institution and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

If you run your own business, one of the difficulties in saving for retirement is that you don’t necessarily have easy access to a 401(k).

Enter the solo 401(k). This is a retirement savings option for self-employed business owners who have no employees and their spouses. Read on to find out how it works, who is eligible, and how you can open an account.

The Solo 401(k): Explained

What Is a Solo 401(k)?

Also known as a one-participant or individual 401(k), a solo 401(k) works just like a company-sponsored 401(k) would, except it’s for self-employed individuals who don’t have any other employees other than their spouses and themselves.

Just like a traditional 401(k), you can control how your money is invested. There are different plans, with most comprising stocks, bonds, and money market funds. These are considered “free” prototype plans offered by brokerages, and you’re typically limited to investments offered by that brokerage.

However, there are options for those looking to participate in alternative investments, such as precious metals or even real estate. There are companies that help you open what’s called a self-directed 401(k) and that sponsor “checkbook control” solo 401(k) plans, meaning that individuals can control the type of investments they want to make, whether it’s stocks, bonds, foreign currency, real estate, or commodities. You do so by writing a check for investment purchases, from a bank account dedicated specifically for that purpose.

Who Is Eligible for a Solo 401(k)

Only self-employed individuals and their spouses are eligible for a solo 401(k). This plan is ideal for consultants, independent contractors, or sole proprietors. If you hire part-time workers or contractors, then you’re still safe. However, if they work for you for more than 1,000 hours a year, you cannot participate in a solo 401(k).

Furthermore, you need to have the presence of self-employment activity to be eligible, which includes ownership and operation of an LLC, C, or S corporation, a sole proprietorship, or a limited partnership where the business intends to make a profit. There are no criteria as to how much profit a business needs to generate, as long as you run a legitimate business with the intention to generate a profit.

If you are currently employed elsewhere, you can still open a solo 401(k) account if you’re serious about maximizing your pre-tax savings. If you work for an employer that offers a 401(k) plan, you can still participate in their plan alongside a solo 401(k) plan, as long as you don’t exceed the contribution limits.

Where to Open a Solo 401(k)

You can open a solo 401(k) with most major brokerages. For those looking for a custom plan, there are companies that specialize in providing those plans. Some insurance companies also offer solo 401(k) plans but only if your goal is to invest solely in annuities.

Below are some of the most popular companies offering solo 401(k) plans:

Vanguard - The individual 401(k) offers all Vanguard mutual funds. However, you cannot purchase exchange-traded funds (ETFs) or mutual funds from other companies and cannot take out a loan. There is no setup fee, but there is a $20 fee per account per year to maintain your solo 401(k).

SunAmerica - The SunAmerica Individual(k) offers mainly annuities as part of their plan. You can take out a loan (for a fee). It costs $35 to set up your account, and there is an annual maintenance fee of $75.

E-Trade - The E-Trade Individual 401(k) Plan allows Roth contributions and has a brokerage option with $9.99 trades for any ETF. They accept IRA rollovers and allow for loans. They also will pay you if you transfer your current solo 401(k) to them: $200 for $25,000-$99,000, $300 for $100,000-$249,000, and $600 for a $250,000+ plan.

How to Establish a Solo 401(k)

When opening a solo 401(k) plan, you want to choose the option best for your needs. Once you’ve selected your brokerage, you’ll need to have the necessary documents:

  • 401(k) plan adoption agreement
  • Designation of successor plan administrator, which requires a notary or a witness
  • Brokerage account application
  • Designation of beneficiary form
  • Power of attorney (optional)

If you plan on opening one for your spouse, you’ll need to do twice the paperwork (one form for each person).

Remember, you need to open a solo 401(k) account by December 31 of the tax year. You don’t need to actually fund it until the April 15 filing deadline. If you miss opening an account, you’ll have to wait until the next tax year to do so.

How Much You Can Contribute to a Solo 401(k)

Participants in a solo 401(k) plan can make contributions both as an employee and an employer.

For elective (employee) contributions, you can contribute up to 100% of your earned income, up to the annual contribution limit, which is $18,000 in 2017. Those age 50 or older can contribute an additional $6,000, depending on the type of plan, according to the IRS.

When making a contribution as an employer, you can contribute up to 25% of your earned income as an employee. Your total contributions cannot exceed $54,000 in 2017 ($53,000 for 2016), not counting extra contributions for those 50 or older.

For example, Mary earned $40,000 from her freelance business in 2016. She put $18,000 in this plan as an employee. As an employer, she contributed 25% of earnings, which is $10,000. In total, she contributed $28,000, which is the maximum she can contribute.

Remember, contribution limits are for each person, not each plan. If you are working full time for another employer and participate in that company’s 401(k) plan, combined contributions to your traditional 401(k) and solo 401(k) cannot exceed the annual limit.

To figure out the maximum contributions you can make, check the IRS website on how to calculate a more accurate amount.

Read more: 9 Essential Tax Tips for Entrepreneurs >

Learn More About Solo 401(k)s

The Pros of a Solo 401(k)

The solo 401(k) has higher contribution limits compared to other retirement savings plans. You can contribute up to $18,000 plus 25% of earned income, compared to a maximum of $54,000 or only 20% your earnings (whichever is less) with a SEP IRA. Your employer contributions are also tax deductible.

You also have the option to borrow up to 50% of your account’s value or $50,000, whichever amount is less.

The Cons of a Solo 401(k)

A solo 401(k) can get complicated to set up and maintain, particularly if you intend on opening a customized plan. Depending on the company you go with, fees can cost you at least a few hundred dollars to set up an account, not including fees to maintain the plan annually.

Even if you open a prototype plan, it can cost you. Yes, it’s free to set up, but they put many requirements on you as the owner. These requirements include filing tax return documents once a year if your plan has more than $250,000 in assets and keeping up to date with all records and transactions.

Alternatives to a Solo 401(k) Plan

There are two alternatives to a solo 401(k) plan — a SIMPLE IRA and a SEP IRA. The main difference between each is the maximum amount you can contribute to each year.

SIMPLE IRA - A Simple IRA plan is for those who as an employee (including those who are self-employed) have earned a minimum of $5,000 any two years before the current calendar year and expect to receive at least $5,000 for the current calendar year. You can contribute up to $12,500, plus an employer match of 3% of employee compensation. Those 50 or older can also contribute up to an extra $3,000. You can find more information about the simple IRA on the IRS website.

SEP IRA - A Simplified Employee Pension (SEP) plan only allows employers to contribute to the plan, unlike a solo 401(k). Employers can contribute a maximum of $53,000 or 20% of their net self-employment earnings, whichever amount is less.

Even with all its benefits, there may be a few reasons why someone is better off not opening a solo 401(k). “If you’re concerned about doing additional paperwork, a SEP IRA might also be a better choice,” advises Robert Farrington, founder of the College Investor. “If you’re working a side hustle and have a regular 401(k) at your day job, the alternatives might be easier.”

Who Solo 401(k) Plans Are Best For

While any of the above options are helpful for self-employed individuals, the solo 401(k) is best for those who are looking to invest heavily in their savings. “The solo 401(k) is best suited for a self-employed individual who wants to maximize their retirement savings,” says Farrington.

“Furthermore, if you're a husband/wife/spouse team, your spouse can also contribute to the solo 401(k) with the same percentage of ownership, so you can get even more in tax savings and retirement contributions.”

Sarah Li Cain
Sarah Li Cain |

Sarah Li Cain is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Sarah Li here

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Credit Cards, Featured, News, Strategies to Save

5 Ways to Protect Your Money on Summer Vacation

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Summer vacations should be a time to relax and recharge your batteries. It’s also a time to socialize more, travel more, and fly to exotic destinations.

For those who are traveling long distances (especially to another country) during the summer, there are a few precautions you need to take to ensure that you protect your money. If you set these in place, you can relax a bit more and, hopefully, have more fun on your trip.

Tell Bank and Credit Card Companies About Your Travel Plans

If you don’t tell your bank or credit card company that you’re planning on traveling, they may think all those purchases you’ve made are faulty. Unfortunately, that means that you may lose access to your credit or debit card.

It only takes a few minutes to call these places and let them know about your plans. Doing so is even more important for those planning on traveling overseas. When you call, let them know the places you plan on visiting and how long your trip will last.

Only Bring the Necessities in Your Wallet

If you have a lot of cards and IDs in your wallet, only take what you will use on your trip. For example, bring a credit card, a backup credit card, and an ATM or debit card if you plan on withdrawing cash. If you need to, bring your driver’s license.

To prevent identity theft, leave your Social Security card at home in case your wallet gets stolen. If you think you might need it for any reason, photocopy it and black-out the last four digits. In fact, it’s a good idea to make photocopies of credit and bank cards you’ll be taking with you on your trip, as well as your IDs (including the passport data page) to keep on hand. You can also give copies of those, as well as your travel itinerary, to a trusted friend or family member at home in case of an emergency.

The less you have in your wallet, the less of a hassle it will be if you do need to replace your cards if they get stolen. It’s even better if you put your credit cards and IDs in separate locations so you don’t lose all access to cash during your trip.

Use Your Credit Card as Much as Possible

Most credit cards will protect you from liability for fraudulent purchases, which is helpful in case your card is lost or stolen. Also, if you make most of your major purchases on your credit card (such as hotel and flights), you may be eligible for travel insurance. Of course, that depends on the terms on your credit card.

Using credit cards instead of cash means that you can recoup your losses much faster. If someone stole cash from your wallet, the chances of getting that money back are pretty slim. However, if you have a credit card stolen, all future purchases made will not be your responsibility.

If you want to save money on pesky exchange fees, make sure to use a credit card that has no foreign transaction fees. That means you’re only paying the exchange rate on the day you make a purchase. You can even consider using a cash back or travel rewards card to earn points while you travel. Some cards, like the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, allow you to earn 2x points on travel and dining purchases.

Watch Out for Fake ATMs

There may be times when you need to get cash during your vacation. With thousands of ATM machines around the world, there’s no shortage of access. However, you’ll want to make sure that the machine you’re getting your cash from is a legitimate one.

Unfortunately, thieves like to put fake ATM machines in high traffic tourist areas. What happens is they end up stealing your card information and all your money along with it. In 2010, a man in Beijing was arrested for installing a fake ATM machine near a corner store. Unsuspecting passers-by would use the machine, get an “out of order” message, and later discover their accounts had been drained.

If you’re unsure about the ATM machine, don’t use it. The Beijing fraudster went to some trouble to make his ATM look legit, even adding signage like “24 hours self-service,” according to media reports. But there were some pretty clear giveaways to show the Beijing machine was a fake — the money slot was sealed shut, the security camera was a piece of plastic, and the receipt slot was sealed.

To play it safe, it might be better to avoid stand-alone ATMs and stick to ATMs that are located in airports, transportation hubs, hotels, or banks.

You can even do a bit of research beforehand and look up ATM machine locations on your bank or credit card website. For example, Visa and MasterCard show locations of their ATM machines around the world. You can easily do a search and know which one you can head to.

Also, consider keeping only a small amount of cash in the account linked to your debit card. Even if your account is compromised, a thief won’t get away with much.

Keep Up with Your Purchases from Your Trip

There’s nothing wrong with relaxing, but you still need to be alert on your trip. Whenever you purchase something, check the receipt to make sure all charges are accounted for or you got the right change if you paid in cash. If you have online bank access, check to see if all charges are actually yours.

Also, you’ll want to be as organized as possible. Aside from only bringing the necessities in your wallet, make sure you can access your things easily in your purse or bag. If you have to search in your bag a lot, you may end up misplacing important documents or lose valuable items.

It’s also a good idea to review your credit card and bank statements when you get back from your trip if you weren’t able to check it during your trip. If there is fraudulent activity, report it right away.

Final Thoughts

Protecting your money on your summer vacation doesn’t have to be stressful or take a lot of time. As long as you take some precautions and are careful in your surroundings, you’ll be able to enjoy your vacation much more.

Sarah Li Cain
Sarah Li Cain |

Sarah Li Cain is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Sarah Li here

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