FDIC Insurance: Explained

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Updated on Thursday, January 31, 2019

FDIC stands for the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. The FDIC insures the money in deposit accounts up to $250,000 per ownership category. You want your bank to be FDIC-insured to guarantee the money you keep in your accounts will be available to you should the bank fail.

FDIC history

The FDIC was established in response to the Great Depression by the Glass-Steagall Act. During the time period between the Civil War and the establishment of the FDIC in 1933, bank runs were a common occurrence.

You may be familiar with bank runs from watching the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Essentially, people would get scared that their deposits were going to be lost to bad investment decisions by their bank. The panic would spread quickly, and result in a rush of customers trying to liquidate their deposit accounts. The Glass-Steagall Act successfully ended these bank runs by guaranteeing that if your money wasn’t available for liquidation at your bank, your money would still be returned to you via the FDIC insurance fund.

To this end, it has been wildly successful. Coverage started at $2,500, but has grown with the times to $250,000 per ownership category. Since the FDIC was officially opened in January 1934, depositors have not lost any money from their deposits at FDIC-insured financial institutions.

NCUA vs. FDIC insurance

FDIC insurance covers deposits in banks across the country, but it does not insure deposits at credit unions. That’s why the National Credit Union Insurance Fund, administered by the National Credit Union Administration (NCUA), was established in 1970.

However, the NCUA does not insure deposits at all credit unions. Federal credit unions must be NCUA members, but state-chartered credit unions only participate if they choose to do so. You can find out if your credit union is federally insured by looking for the NCUA logo on its site or at one of its branches.

What the FDIC insurance limit covers

The FDIC insures up to $250,000 per ownership category per person within a singular financial institution. There are 14 ownership categories. While you are unable to qualify for each and every ownership category, this does allow you to qualify for more than $250,000 worth of insurance as an individual.

The ownership categories for FDIC insurance are:

  • Single accounts
  • Joint accounts
  • Revocable trust accounts
  • Irrevocable trust accounts
  • Specific retirement accounts
  • Employee benefit plan accounts
  • Business/Organization accounts
  • Government Accounts
  • Mortgage servicing accounts
  • Irrevocable trusts with the financial institution as the trustee
  • Annuity contract accounts
  • Public Bond accounts
  • Custodian accounts for Native Americans
  • Accounts established in compliance with the Bank Deposit Financial
  • Assistance Program of the Department of Energy

What types of accounts does the FDIC insure?

FDIC coverage extends to many different kinds of accounts. Checking, savings, CDs and money market accounts are all included in these ranks. So are Health Savings Accounts (HSAs), custodial accounts, traditional IRAs, Roth IRAs, SEP IRAs, SIMPLE IRAs, self-directed 401(k)s, self-directed defined benefit plans whether they are money purchasing plans or profit-sharing plans, self-directed Keogh plans and Section 457 deferred compensation plans.

Defined benefit and contribution plans are also covered, along with employer-administered welfare plans, business deposit accounts, mortgage servicing accounts, annuity contract accounts and deposit accounts held by the Bureau of Indian Affairs to benefit Native Americans.

Remember that the FDIC max of $250,000 does not apply to each individual account, but rather to all accounts held within an ownership category.

What is not covered by FDIC insurance?

Not every account you can open at a bank qualifies for FDIC insurance. Annuities, mutual funds, stocks, bonds, government securities, municipal securities and U.S. Treasury securities all top the list of uninsurable products you may find at your bank.

Items kept in safe deposit boxes are also not covered. If your bank gets robbed or experiences a natural disaster resulting in loss of money, the FDIC will not cover the losses, though your bank will eat the loss rather than passing on the misfortune to you. Banks actually buy separate bonds as insurance policies for these situations.

FDIC regulations for deposit accounts

Because there are 14 separate ownership categories, you can have much more than $250,000 in insurable funds at any given FDIC-insured institution. The most basic way to understand this is the single account category, where all the accounts held in your name — either directly or via custodian or fiduciary — can only add up to $250,000. If you are a sole proprietor and have an account under a DBA, those funds will also count toward the single account limit.

Joint accounts with two account owners can be insured up to $500,000. The more account holders there are, the more insurance will be provided in increments of $250,000 worth of insurance per account holder. This limit includes money held in all joint deposit accounts, including DBA accounts with multiple owners, but does not include money held in single accounts.

Revocable trust accounts include accounts which either have a legal document drawn up by a lawyer designating them as a part of a revocable trust, or simply bank accounts in which you have set up to have beneficiaries upon your death. The first five beneficiaries receive $250,000 in coverage each, but if you have more beneficiaries the math gets a little more complicated.

You can use the FDIC’s Electronic Deposit Insurance Estimator to figure out your coverage amounts.

If you have an irrevocable trust which you can withdraw funds from in certain circumstances, the portion that you keep interest in will be counted toward the single account category. If you are a beneficiary and there are no contingencies placed on you receiving the money, the funds will also count toward your single account category. However, if the owner places contingencies on you receiving the money, like getting married or going to college prior to the funds being distributed to you, they will count toward the irrevocable trust category and be insured up to $250,000 per beneficiary.

If you have an irrevocable trust with you bank as the trustee, its funds will count toward the accounts held by a depository institution as the trustee of an irrevocable trust category, which is separate from the irrevocable trust category.

Certain retirement accounts include traditional IRAs, Roth IRAs, SEP IRAs, SIMPLE IRAs, self-directed 401(k)s, self-directed defined benefit plans, self-directed Keogh plans and Section 457 deferred compensation plans. Your category total for these plans is $250,000 regardless of the number of beneficiaries.

If you have a retirement plan through your employer which is administered by a third party, it will count toward your employee benefits plan account limit of $250,000. Examples of these accounts include pensions, 401(k)s and Keogh plans.

If you are Native American and have the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) acting as a fiduciary on your behalf, the money held in these accounts are insured up to $250,000. If you hold a personal account as a Native American which is not administered by the BIA, it will not be in this category. Instead, it will count toward your single account limit.

As an individual, the other categories don’t apply to you. Rather, they apply to businesses, insurance companies and in some cases even the bank itself.

How to maximize FDIC insurance

One of the best ways to maximize your FDIC insurance is by taking advantage of the fact that your money can be held across many different categories. Irrevocable trusts are a particularly efficient way to do this as coverage can be extended to many beneficiaries, but you don’t necessarily have to distribute your funds equally upon your death, explains Ken Tumin, founder of DepositAccounts.com, another LendingTree-owned site.

“Sometimes someone might want to insure $1 million at one bank,” Tumin told MagnifyMoney. “You might do that with an irrevocable trust with four beneficiaries. But if you want to keep a majority of the money yourself, you don’t want to put beneficiaries on it. You can create a workaround by establishing one beneficiary who will get most of the money like your spouse, while the three others will receive a smaller amount. That way, you can get your coverage up to the full million.”

He also notes that some financial institutions offer deposit sweep programs, in which the money you deposit into your accounts at one financial institution is effectively spread across several financial institutions. You interact only with your bank, but behind the scenes, they’re spreading out your money so you can get the full $250,000 worth of insurance with each different financial institution your money is technically held within. Two prolific programs include the Certificate of Deposit Account Registry Service (CDARS) for certificates of deposit and Insured Cash Sweep (ICS) for money market and checking accounts.

Tips for keeping your money safe with FDIC insurance

Do not assume that any financial institution has FDIC insurance. In order to verify that your bank participates, use this handy tool.

Some financial institutions offer private deposit insurance. This is especially true in the realm of state-chartered credit unions, but some banks do it, too. Most notably, the state of Massachusetts has several private insurance funds which can insure funds in excess of FDIC coverage limits. The important thing to remember with these private insurers is that funds are not guaranteed by the federal government as they would be with FDIC- or NCUA-insured accounts.

Aside from making sure your financial institution actually has federal insurance policies, one of the best things you can do to protect your money is to make sure you understand the intricacies of the category rules. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, you can use the FDIC’s Electronic Insurance Deposit Estimator (EDIE) to figure out how to best allocate your money to maximize your insurance coverage.

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