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The Ultimate Savings Bond Guide

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

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Americans have been investing in U.S. savings bonds for nearly 85 years. The money raised helped pay for World War II — and has helped millions of small investors save for their future.

Savings bonds are great gifts to help young people learn to save for their own education and other goals. While the interest rates on savings bonds are sometimes below current market rates, the low initial purchase of $25 makes them a great way for new investors to start saving for goals such as retirement.

And giving savings bonds to children is an effective way to introduce them to the benefits of saving early.

What are savings bonds?

Savings bonds are securities issued by the U.S. government that have a history dating back to 1935, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed legislation authorizing the Department of the Treasury to sell the first bonds, nicknamed baby bonds.

Savings bonds were called defense bonds, and then war bonds after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. Bond purchases helped finance the war effort. This era also saw the start of the ability to purchase savings bonds through payroll deductions, a program that continues today.

After the war, savings bonds evolved into a way for Americans to continue to save. Some people even resisted cashing in older bonds so that they could continue to earn interest. With bonds available as small as $25, savings bonds were frequently used as gifts to young people to celebrate their birth, the observation of a religious event or graduation.

Over the years, the government has made a variety of savings bond series available, ranging from A, B, C and D in the early years to E, EE, H, HH and I. Savings bonds are available online through TreasuryDirect, part of the Treasury Department’s Bureau of the Fiscal Service.

Types of savings bonds

The government has issued several series of savings bonds over the years. While people may continue to own and earn interest on prior series, the government now makes two types of savings bonds available: Series EE and Series I.

Series EE bonds

The government started issuing the current Series EE bonds in May 2005. The bonds earn a variable rate of interest that is announced twice a year — May 1 and Nov. 1. From Nov. 1, 2018, through April 30, 2019, EE bonds will earn 0.10% interest. Older EE bonds earn interest at different rates. Bonds bought from May 1997 through April 2005 earn interest at a rate that changes every six months. EE bonds bought before May 1997 earn interest at different rates and for different guaranteed periods that depend on when they were purchased. For example, a savings bond purchased in April 1994 earned 4% interest compounded semiannually for 18 years.

Today, you can purchase Series EE bonds in denominations between $25 and $10,000. The $10,000 limit applies per year, per Social Security number. Investors can buy Series EE bonds amounts to the penny. That means, for example, that you can buy a bond for $62.56. Series EE bonds earn interest for up to 30 years. While you can cash an EE bond after one year, you will lose the last three months of interest if you cash cash within five years. Before EE savings bonds, the government sold Series E bonds. While these bonds have stopped earning interest, you can still cash them in (more details below).

Series I bonds

The other type of savings bond offered today is Series I. These bonds earn interest at a rate that the government determines by combining a fixed rate (which you know when you purchase the bond) and an inflation rate that is calculated twice a year in May and November. For the period from Nov. 1, 2018, to April 30, 2019, the interest rate on Series I bonds is 2.83%.

Series I bonds are available both electronically through TreasuryDirect and in paper form. But you can only buy a paper Series I bond when you file your federal income tax return. The minimum purchase for electronic bonds is $25. The minimum purchase for paper bonds at tax time is $50. The maximum purchase each calendar year for electronic bonds is $10,000. The maximum purchase for paper bonds is $5,000 each calendar year.

As with Series EE bonds, electronic Series I bonds are available in any denomination down to the penny between $25 and $10,000. Paper bonds are available in $50, $100, $200, $500 and $1,000 denominations up to the $5,000 limit. Series I bonds earn interest for 30 years unless you redeem them earlier. You can redeem bonds as early as a year after purchase. But if you do so before five years, you lose the last three months of interest.

Both Series EE and Series I bonds are fully taxable for federal income tax purposes unless you use the proceeds for education. Series EE and I bonds are exempt from state income tax. You can exclude Series EE and I bond interest from your gross income if you redeem bonds bought after 1989 to pay qualified higher education expenses at an eligible institution.

While there are requirements to qualify for the exclusion, you generally must redeem the bonds in the same year you pay the expenses, as well as meet certain income requirements. Qualified expenses are those you pay to a college, university or vocational school and include tuition and fees for yourself, your spouse or a dependent. Qualified expenses do not include room and board.

How to buy and cash savings bonds

Let’s continue our breakdown, first by going step by step.

Buying savings bonds, step by step

There are several ways investors can buy savings bonds.

The easiest way is through the TreasuryDirect website. To purchase either Series EE or I bonds, you will need to open an account. You can also use the account to buy other U.S. Treasury securities, including Treasury bills and Treasury bonds. All savings bonds you buy through TreasuryDirect are electronic — no paper bonds are issued. But electronic bonds are impossible to lose and easy to cash in.

There is a second way to buy Series I savings bonds (but not Series EE) in paper form at tax time when you file your federal income tax return. When you file the return, you will need to include IRS Form 8888. Purchasers will need to fill out part two to tell the IRS they want to use all or part of their refund to purchase paper Series I bonds. You do not need a TreasuryDirect account, and you must make purchases in multiples of $50. If you don’t use your entire refund, you can elect to have the balance refunded by either direct deposit or check. In each calendar year, you can use up to $5,000 of your refund to buy Series I savings bonds.

The third way to purchase savings bonds is through payroll deductions. Thousands of employers have offered employees the ability to buy savings bonds via payroll deductions since the 1930s. The Treasury Department expanded the program in 2004. As long as a company’s payroll system offers voluntary deductions, employees can have part of their pay transferred into their TreasuryDirect account and use it to buy either Series EE or I savings bonds. All you need to do is set up a TreasuryDirect account. Then, provide your employer with your TreasuryDirect account number and routing number and the amount you want them to transfer into your account each pay period. Employees can schedule savings bond purchases to coincide with payroll deductions.

How to cash old savings bonds

Here’s how you cash in a savings bond, depending on whether it is paper or electronic:

  • You can cash savings bonds as soon as a year after purchase. But you will lose the last three months of interest if you cash one within five years. Since bonds earned interest for varying periods of time depending on when you purchased them, many older bonds no longer earn interest. To find out if your bond is earning interest, go to TreasuryDirect’s Savings Bond Calculator. If your bond no longer earns interest, it may be wise to redeem it and reinvest the proceeds.
  • Electronic bonds are easy to cash. Go to your TreasuryDirect account and follow the steps outlined there. Use the link for redeeming securities in ManageDirect. The Treasury Department will deposit the sale proceeds into your account. You can then use the money to buy more bonds or ask them to distribute the money to you.
  • Paper bonds are a bit more complicated to cash in. In general, you can cash paper bonds at most local financial institutions. Before you go, it’s a good idea to call the bank to make sure they cash savings bonds, and also to find out what identification you need to bring, especially if you don’t have an account at that branch. Some banks may not cash in bonds for non-customers or limit the dollar value they will cash in a single transaction.
  • If visiting a bank isn’t convenient, you can also cash in your paper bonds by mailing them to Treasury Retail Securities Services, P.O. Box 214, Minneapolis, MN 55480-0214. Besides the bonds, you will need to send your Social Security number and direct deposit information on FS Form 5396, which is available on the TreasuryDirect website.
  • The Treasury Department doesn’t impose any limits on the dollar volume of bonds you can cash in a single transaction, but individual banks may. Call ahead to find out about any restrictions.

Building savings bonds into your investment strategy

It’s easy to include savings bonds in your investment strategy. Here are some things you should consider.

Should I invest in U.S. savings bonds?

All investments have risks. Because savings bonds, like all other Treasury obligations, are backed by the full faith and credit of the U.S. government, they are among the safest investments you can make. Safety is an important concern for many investors, particularly new or younger investors who are just learning what it means to invest for their future and starting out slowly or older investors on a fixed income. Another advantage of savings bonds is the low initial investment of just $25. That makes them available to virtually all investors, particularly those with only a small amount to invest.

The disadvantage of savings bonds is the relatively low return they pay, particularly with Series EE bonds. The rate on Series EE bonds is just 0.10% until April 30, 2019. By comparison, a savings account could pay an APY of 1.90% or higher. Most of those accounts have relatively low minimum deposits and might be a place where investors can find a higher return without needing to hold the account for five years to earn the full amount of interest as savings bonds require.

Series I bonds pay a somewhat higher return — 2.83% until April 30, 2019. But with a similar five-year holding requirement to earn the full amount of interest, it might be appropriate to compare this return to five-year certificates of deposit, most of which are insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. Five-year CDs are paying slightly more than Series I savings bonds — just over 3% as of February 2019. But since interest rates are rising and the interest rate on Series I bonds adjusts every six months, the savings bonds may ultimately provide a higher return over five years compared to a CD, where the interest rate is fixed for those five years. The penalty for redeeming a CD before it matures might be somewhat higher, too.

Bond funds vs. individual bonds

When you buy either Series EE or I savings bonds, you are buying individual bonds.

While the ease and convenience of buying savings bonds makes them attractive for small investors, you might want to consider the benefits of investing in a bond mutual fund at a certain point as the amount you have invested grows.

Most bond mutual funds own dozens — if not hundreds — of bonds depending on the size of the fund. This provides an unparalleled element of diversity that owning individual bonds cannot provide for most investors unless they have a large amount to invest. Owning a diversified fund can also provide protection at a time when interest rates are declining because the fund will own bonds with different interest rates and maturities. While you will ultimately decide what’s best for you, bonds may take on a less important role as you have more money to invest.

Timing your bond investments right

The more information you have about savings bonds when you buy them, the better decision you will make about whether they belong in your portfolio. Both Series EE and I announce interest rate changes twice a year and are effective May 1 and Nov. 1 for the next six months. That means buying savings bonds just after the Treasury Department announces the new rates gives you the best possible information about what your bonds will earn. Since we are in a climate of rising interest rates, it might be reasonable to expect that rates on your savings bond purchases will continue to increase — or at the very least remain stable. As noted above, it is a good idea for potential savings bond investors to compare returns with comparable investments such as savings accounts, Treasury bills and CDs so that they can assure themselves they are making the best possible investment decision.

Savings bonds FAQ

Many children received savings bonds as gifts when they were born or for milestones such as a first communion or bar mitzvah. What you should do depends on your age. Depending how old you are, the bond may still earn interest. But if you are older, your bond may no longer earn interest, at which point you should cash it in and reinvest the proceeds. You can check out the value of your bond in your TreasuryDirect account if you own the bond electronically, or via the Savings Bond Calculator.

Initially called defense bonds, the name was changed to war bonds after Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. The U.S. government used the proceeds to fund its defense activities during World War II and beyond. The government said about 18% of its war debt was funded by war bonds. The bonds earned interest at a rate of 2.92%, which was generally below the prevailing rate of interest at the time. The government issued war bonds between 1941 and 1980. The bonds had a 10-year maturity. Bonds sold between 1941 and 1965 earned interest for 40 years. Bonds sold after 1965 earned interest for 20 years. War bonds were zero-coupon bonds, meaning they sold for 75% of their face value and then paid full value at maturity. That means you would pay $18.75 for a $25 bond. War bonds were available in denominations from $25 to $10,000, with some limitations.

The U.S. government sold Patriot Bonds for 10 years from December 2001 to December 2011. The bonds were paper Series EE bonds with the words “Patriot Bond” printed near the top of the bond. Otherwise, all normal terms for EE bonds applied. Patriot Bonds offered Americans a way to express their support for U.S. anti-terrorism activities. The government deposited bond sale proceeds into a fund that supported anti-terrorism efforts.

If you own a paper bond, you can track its value in TreasuryDirect’s Savings Bond Calculator. You will need to know the series of the bond and when you purchased it. You can even save your bond inventory in the calculator, so you won’t have to input all the information again. If you have an account with TreasuryDirect and own your savings bond electronically, all you need to do is log in to your TreasuryDirect account to find out the current value.

How much a savings bond purchased today will be worth 10 or 20 years in the future depends on how interest rates change over time. Both Series EE and I bonds earn variable rates of interest that have the potential to change every six months. Without a crystal ball, it is impossible to predict what interest rate the bonds will pay in the future. You can keep track of current and historical interest rates on your bond purchase via TreasuryDirect.

Here is a quick review:

  • You need a TreasuryDirect account to purchase Series EE and I savings bonds unless you buy them at tax time with your refund.
  • Electronic savings bonds are available in any amount, down to the penny, between $25 and $10,000. Paper Series I bonds are available between $50 and $5,000.
  • Interest rates on both Series EE and I bonds change on May 1 and Nov. 1.
  • Both Series EE and I bonds are fully subject to federal (but not state) income tax unless used to pay a qualified education expense.
  • You can cash in both Series EE and I bonds one year after purchase. If you cash them within five years, you lose the last three months of interest. How you cash them in depends on how you hold them. Cash in electronic bonds via TreasuryDirect or redeem paper bonds by mail or at a local bank.
  • You can buy electronic Series EE and I bonds by setting up a TreasuryDirect account and contributing to that account through payroll deductions.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Peter Fleming
Peter Fleming |

Peter Fleming is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Peter here

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Banking

Bank of America vs. Citibank: How Do They Compare?

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

Huge, multinational banks like Citibank and Bank of America used to be the primary go-to for nearly all banking customers. Though competition from online banks has taken some of their customers, they still remain industry stalwarts that many customers think of as their first choice when it comes to banks.

Both of these institutions offer nearly any banking service a customer could desire, and both boast an international reach. This is one of the main advantages that large banks such as Bank of America and Citibank have over online banks and credit unions — global reach and support, coupled with the ability to access your money and even talk to a banker in person nearly anywhere in the developed world.

When it comes to a head-to-head comparison of these two banking behemoths, the main difference is in CD and savings rates, where Citibank has the edge, and access to ATMs and branch locations, where the verdict is a split decision.

Bank of America vs. Citibank: A brief overview

In many ways, Bank of America truly is “America’s bank,” as the company traces its roots back 240 years. As Bank of America’s website says, its heritage banks helped grow the whaling industry in Nantucket, rebuild Chicago after the Great Fire and develop the first nationally licensed credit card, which ultimately grew to become Visa. In 1998, BankAmerica merged with NationsBank to become the country’s first coast-to-coast bank, and on Jan. 1, 2009, the bank acquired brokerage firm Merrill Lynch, making it the biggest bank in America at the time. Today, Bank of America serves one out of every two American households, with nearly $2.4 trillion in assets.

Not to be outdone, Citibank traces its roots back to 1812, when it helped finance the U.S. government during the War of 1812. City Bank, as the bank was originally named, later played a role in some of the most important developments in American history, including financing the Union Army in the Civil War, aiding in the creation of the Panama Canal and supporting the financing for the Marshall Plan. The bank currently safeguards over $1.9 trillion in customer assets and is the world’s largest credit card issuer.

Both firms are global powerhouses, offering everything from basic banking services to advanced financial planning internationally. The two banks have been competitors for over 200 years, and as survivors in the industry, they both share a number of the same capabilities and services. However, there are some important differences between the two.

Bank of America vs. Citibank: How they compare on rates

Bank of America and Citibank both have a bewildering array of rates for their products, particularly in the checking account and savings account categories. Customers making larger deposits or paying additional monthly fees are entitled to better rates, as they move toward the designation of being “preferred” customers.

At the end of the day, however, rates for checking and savings accounts at both institutions are extraordinarily low and a far cry from even the national average rates — even for those with the largest deposits. The incremental gains earned by moving up the “preferred customer” ladder are negligible.

For example, at Bank of America, the savings account rate at the Platinum Honors Tier for deposits of $500,000 or more is 0.06% APY, which is not much more than the standard 0.03% APY for those who aren’t Preferred Rewards clients. Savings rates at Citibank peak at 0.15% APY for Citigold package customers depositing at least $500,000. Plus, there’s no interest-earning checking account at all for basic accounts at Citibank, and even interest checking with the top-tier Citigold banking package pays just 0.03% APY.

There is one huge and notable exception, however. In 2019, Citibank unveiled the high-yield version of its Citi Accelerate Savings account, which has a very high 2.05% APY. This type of account is more in line with what online competitors currently offer. However, the Citi Accelerate Savings account is not available in several states, including California, New York and Texas.

When it comes to CD rates, Citibank asserts itself as well. For both 1-year and 5-year CDs, Citibank’s rates are considerably above Bank of America’s. In the case of 1-year CDs for deposits of at least $25,000, Citibank’s rates are even quite a bit above the national average.

In a head-to-head comparison, there’s really no winner when it comes to basic checking and savings rates. Both banks offer abysmally low rates that will hardly make a difference to the average customer. For example, a standard customer with a $100,000 savings deposit will earn just $30 per year in interest at Bank of America. Things aren’t much better at Citibank, where a Basic Banking customer with a $100,000 savings deposit will earn just $60 per year. However, Citibank’s CD rates — and its Citi Accelerate Savings rate, for those who can access it — make the bank a much better option overall when it comes to rates.

One thing to note is that with both banks, rates vary slightly based on where you’re located. While we used rates for Los Angeles, rates were slightly higher in New York, for example. However, the change in rates based on customer location are minimal overall, with the exception that some states do not have access to the higher Citi Accelerate Savings rates.

 Bank of AmericaCitibankNational Average
CheckingBelow $50,000: 0.01% APY

$50,000 - $99,999: 0.02% APY

$100,000 and over: 0.02% APY
0.00% APY*0.202% APY
SavingsBelow $2,500: 0.03% APY

$2,500 and over: 0.03% APY
2.05%**0.284% APY
1-year CDBelow $10,000: 0.05% APY

$10,000-$99.999: 0.05% APY

$100,000 and over: 0.05% APY
Below $10,000: 0.25% APY

$10,000 - $24,999.99: 0.25% APY

$25,000 - $49,999.99: 2.00% APY

$50,000 - $99,999.99: 2.00% APY

$100,000 - $499,999.99: 2.00% APY

$500,000 - $999,999.99: 2.00% APY

$1,000,000+: 2.00% APY
1.365% APY
5-year CDBelow $10,000: 0.75% APY

$10,000 - $99,999: 0.75% APY

$100,000 and over: 0.75% APY
Below $10,000: 1.25% APY
$10,000 - $24,999.99: 1.25% APY

$25,000 - $49,999.99: 1.25% APY

$50,000 - $99,999.99: 1.25% APY

$100,000 - $499,999.99: 1.25% APY

$500,000 - $999,999.99: 1.25% APY

$1,000,000+: 1.25% APY
2.159% APY
*Rates vary based on the type of banking relationship customers have.
** Rates may vary based on location; this rate is only available in certain states. Rates pulled are based on the location of the bank’s headquarters.

Bank of America vs. Citibank: What account options are available?

Both Bank of America and Citibank offer a wide range of product options. Each bank offers checking, savings and CD accounts; both also offer money market accounts, though they are only available within an IRA. Though retirement money market accounts typically earn low rates of interest, they also tend to be low-risk, providing stability.

If anything, both of these banks offer too many account types, as there are an incredible number of subdivisions of accounts based on the size of your account and your customer status at the bank. For example, when you open a standard savings account at Citibank, it’s opened as part of one of five banking packages: the Access Account, Basic Banking, The Citibank Account, Citi Priority or Citigold. Depending on which banking package you open, your rate on your savings account will vary. Generally, the more money you have on deposit with Citi, the higher your interest rate, but again, the increase in rates is minimal at best. The Citi Accelerate Savings is the logical choice for most savers, but again, it is not available in all states.

Bank of America operates in a similar fashion. Interest rates vary based on how much you deposit and if you are a member of the Preferred Rewards Program, which has three tiers: Gold, Platinum and Platinum Honors. You qualify for these tiers based on your account size, with the top tier requiring an average three-month balance of at least $100,000. These tiers qualify you for interest rate boosts of 5%, 10% or 20% (depending on tier), along with other perks like fee-free withdrawals from non-Bank of America ATMs and free stock and ETF trades through the firm’s self-directed brokerage platform, Merrill Edge.

Figuring out what type of banking package you should have and how much you should deposit to earn the highest rates and pay the least amount of fees can be overwhelming. Nonetheless, if you’re looking for a variety of account types to choose from, you’ll certainly have a wealth of options at both Bank of America and Citibank.

 Bank of AmericaCitibank
Checking account
Savings account
Certificates of deposit
Money market account
*Money market account only available within an IRA.

Bank of America vs. Citibank: How they stack up on fees

Fees are the bane of most large, traditional banks, and to a large part, it is these fees that have accounted for the rise of numerous online banking rivals. Although there are ways around the fees charged by Bank of America and Citibank, there are numerous ways you can be tripped up by them.

At the time of publishing, Citibank, for example, charges $12 per month for its regular checking account if you’re in a Basic Banking package, but that fee goes all the way up to $30 if you’re a Citi Priority member. If you choose to have a standalone savings account, those fees range from $4.50 per month to $25 per month. These fees seem excessive in an era when countless online banks — and even credit unions and larger banks — offer fee-free checking accounts. With the Basic Banking package, the bank does waive the typical $2.50 charge for out-of-network ATM withdrawals for account holders age 62 or older.

Bank of America is no better than Citibank when it comes to basic account fees. Although waivable with a $1,500 balance, a qualifying direct deposit of $250 or Preferred Rewards client status, the Advantage Plus Banking account charges $12 per month, at the time of writing. Though there is an account option with a $4.95 monthly maintenance fee, Advantage SafeBalance Banking is a very basic account that does not offer checkwriting.

Overdrafts at Bank of America are a whopping $35, and the bank will charge that fee up to four times per day. Even overdraft protection costs $12. A standard savings account will set you back $8 monthly, although this is waivable as well with a minimum balance of $500, a linked Relationship Banking account or Preferred Rewards client status.

 Bank of AmericaCitibank
Standard checking account$12, waivable$10-$30, waivable
Standard savings account$8, waivable$4.50-$25, waivable
ATM fee$0 for in-network ATMs
$2.50 for out-of-network ATMs
$0 for in-network ATMs
$2.50 for out-of-network ATMs (can be waived in specific circumstances)
Overdraft fee$35, charged no more than 4 times per day$34, charged no more than 4 times per day

When to choose Bank of America

  • You want access to more physical branches.
  • You have a Merrill Edge investments account.

If you need to visit a physical branch, Bank of America should be your choice over Citibank. Although Citibank has an impressive 700 domestic and 1,800 international branches, they are dwarfed in number by Bank of America, which boasts 4,300 retail financial centers in the U.S. alone.

If you want the convenience and control of an online brokerage account while still banking with a brick-and-mortar giant, Bank of America has the answer for you with its Merrill Edge brokerage platform. Consistently rated among the best of its kind, Merrill Edge allows you complete control of your investment portfolio via low-cost trading while still offering access to financial advisors, if you so desire.

When to choose Citibank

  • You want easy access to customer service.
  • You want a larger ATM network.
  • You want higher rates on 1-year CDs and savings.

Many customers choose large, traditional banks for their customer service, and Citibank delivers in this regard. Citibank has so many divisions that there are separate toll-free phone lines depending on which department you need and what type of banking relationship you have. The important thing is that you can reach a live person 24/7. You can also live chat, visit a branch or connect by mail. Bank of America phone lines are only open for 15 hours during the week, and 12 hours on weekends.

The ATM network for Citibank is vast, with more than 60,000 surcharge-free ATMs available for use. This is considerably more than Bank of America, which lists about 16,000 ATMs.

While Citibank won’t get any medals for its basic checking and savings account rates, it does actually offer a few bright spots in its rate lineup. Citibank’s 1-year CD rates for those depositing at least $25,000 are actually quite good, and well above those offered by Bank of America. And if you live in a state with access to the Citi Accelerate Savings account, you’ll get one of the higher savings rates in the nation.

The bottom line: Is Bank of America vs. Citibank better?

Both Bank of America and Citibank have the best and the worst features of a large bank. On the plus side, you’ll never be too far away from a branch or ATM with either bank. Both banks have long-established reputations and trillions of dollars in customer assets, so you’re likely to find bankers that understand any financial problem you have and can offer a number of financial products to solve them.

On the downside, the interest rates that these banks pay on basic accounts are anemic. For the long haul, neither of these banks is generally a good place to park your money if you’re looking for a decent interest rate. Citibank’s new Citi Accelerate Savings account is definitely a step in the right direction, and an indication that the bank desires to compete with online banks for savings dollars. Again, however, you must be in a state that offers the account. So far, Bank of America hasn’t added such an option to remain competitive.

Citibank also steps up on its current 1-year CD rates, where a deposit of at least $25,000 will earn you a rate well above the national average and close to the best rates offered by online banking competitors.

On a head-to-head basis, the odds generally tilt towards Citibank over Bank of America. Although Bank of America has a much larger number of physical branches, Citibank has a much wider ATM network, and its high 1-year CD and Citi Accelerate Savings rates outgun anything offered by Bank of America.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

John Csiszar
John Csiszar |

John Csiszar is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email John here

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Banking

Review of EvoShare: Get Cash Back Toward Your Retirement

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

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EvoShare is a web browser extension that you can use to get cash back for your 401(k) plan when you make purchases online at participating vendors. You can also earn cash back from some local stores.

Unlike other cashback extensions, your EvoShare earnings can only go toward your retirement fund, student loan or college fund.

One drawback is that you can’t enroll directly as an individual unless your employer is signed up for EvoShare. But EvoShare is a good option with little hassle.

What is EvoShare?

EvoShare, founded in 2015, provides you with cash back for purchases from certain online and brick-and-mortar retailers when you link your credit and/or debit cards.

The money comes from the retailers, who pay an additional cash back percentage as a referral fee to EvoShare to draw business to them. EvoShare simply shares a portion of this commission with its users, resulting in cash back.

EvoShare partners with more than 1,300 online businesses, including Target, eBay and Walmart, and over 8,700 restaurants, bars and stores across the country. Note that just because you can earn cash back from an online business doesn’t mean that you can earn cash back from the same brick-and-mortar store.

If you’re shopping online, the web browser extension will tell you how much you can earn from making purchases on a given website. Say, for example, you’re looking to buy a dress online from Macy’s. When you click on the Macy’s website, the EvoShare browser extension will show you that you can earn 3% of your purchase as cash back. Once you check out and pay for your purchase, you’ll see a notification that you’ve earned your 3% back.

Notably, EvoShare is only available as a web browser extension with Chrome or Safari, and not with other browsers such as Firefox.

For shopping in a participating brick-and-mortar location, any purchase you make with a linked credit or debit card will work similarly. You won’t get a web notification since you’re in a store, but you can check the website to see how much you can earn from various retailers.

Using EvoShare doesn’t cost you anything as a user, and it can be a good way to accumulate extra savings for doing the normal shopping you would do anyway. Unlike direct contributions to a savings account, you don’t have to worry about allocating any of your own funds to save using EvoShare, as everything is automated.

EvoShare earnings can be used for student loan payoff, as well as retirement or college fund savings. However, to get any cash back from EvoShare, you must use it in conjunction with a participating employer.

Earnings will flow directly to your bank account, via either an Automated Clearing House (ACH) transaction or physical check, and your employer will withhold the same amount from your next paycheck. Then, your earnings will be contributed to your account of choice.

Thus, if your selected account was your 401(k) plan, for example, your earnings would be treated just as if you made your own pretax contributions to your retirement plan. You can also use the earnings to save for your child’s student loan.

But you don’t need to have an active retirement plan or student loan account to begin saving. When you sign up, EvoShare will save your money until you direct it to make deposits into your new account.

How to use EvoShare

EvoShare is simple to use, but unless you’re hooked up with a participating employer, you won’t be able to sign up. Here’s the process for those who are eligible.

Step No. 1: Sign up online

You can sign up online with EvoShare, but first you’ll need a designated sign-up link from your employer. If your employer is not linked to EvoShare, you’ll have to contact them and encourage them to join.

Step No. 2: Link debit or credit cards

EvoShare only processes cashback payments when you use a linked credit or debit card. If you don’t register one of your cards, you won’t get any credit from EvoShare for your purchase. EvoShare accepts Mastercard, Visa and American Express. You can also register your debit card, but be aware that when you make a purchase, you must select credit as your payment type. If you provide a PIN and use your card as a debit card, you won’t receive credit from EvoShare for your purchase.

Step No. 3: Shop online and locally

EvoShare is partnered with more than 1,300 online businesses and more than 8,700 bars, restaurants and stores. The network is always expanding, so this number may continue to grow.

Retailers linked up with EvoShare include Macy’s, Kohl’s, Barnes & Noble and Nordstrom. You can search for any store on the EvoShare website to see if, and how much, EvoShare pays for that retailer. Similarly, you can search for local stores near your location, a process made easier if you let Google Maps know your location.

Step No. 4: Put money toward a retirement account, student loan or college fund

After you make a purchase, earnings from local retailers take anywhere from a few minutes to seven business days to appear in your account. Online purchases take from one to 10 business days to appear. These are just general guidelines, however.

Certain merchants, such as airlines, may not process your cash back until you take your flight. Other retailers may not process your payment until the return policy has expired, ensuring that you don’t get credit for a purchase that you later return. Earnings from online purchases are only automatically redeemed once you’ve earned at least $20. The maximum you can earn from any cashback transaction is $250.

Once your earnings are processed, you can only deposit them in a student loan account, a college savings account or your employer-sponsored retirement account, such as a 401(k) or 403(b) plan. Employer participation is also mandatory, as payments are ultimately made through the employer. After your cashback is processed, you’ll receive either a check or an ACH deposit from EvoShare. Then, your employer will hold back those earnings from your next paycheck and deposit them toward your designated account.

Pros of EvoShare

EvoShare‘s benefits are clear and straightforward.

  • No fees
  • Earn up to 20% cashback online or up to 10% in stores
  • “Forced” savings into student loan, retirement plan or college funding plans
  • Easy to use
  • Data not stored on site but through Empyr, using industry-standard safety protocols

Cons of EvoShare

There’s not much wrong with getting free cash back, but here are some of the drawbacks to using EvoShare.

  • No mobile app
  • No cash back in your own pocket; must go to savings vehicle
  • Can only sign up with a participating employer
  • Third-party delivery services are ineligible
  • Limited number of retailers

Some of these pros and cons are common with competitors in the industry, but some are unique to EvoShare, such as the requirement to work with an employer and the ability to deposit into retirement accounts.

How EvoShare stacks up to the competition

EvoShare is not the only cashback web browser extension available, but it is the only one with this unique configuration. Traditional cashback extensions send cash directly to users, which can be a plus, but they don’t offer the forced savings feature of EvoShare, in which the cashback goes into a designated savings account. Here’s a look at some of EvoShare’s most popular competitors.

Rakuten (formerly Ebates)

Rakuten operates in a similar fashion to EvoShare, with a built-in web extension that alerts you when you can receive cash back from shopping at particular stores. Just like with EvoShare, you can use your linked American Express, Visa or Mastercard credit cards to earn cash back, or debit cards as long as you select credit when making a purchase. Rakuten also charges no fees, just like EvoShare.

Rakuten has a bit of an edge over EvoShare when it comes to size, as it partners with over 2,500 stores online, including Amazon, Expedia and Macy’s. However, its in-store cashback options are limited, as it only partners with 80 or so brick-and-mortar retailers.

Rakuten does have a mobile app, something EvoShare is lacking. It also pays out quarterly via PayPal or a physical check, as long as your cashback balance is at least $5.

TopCashback

TopCashback is nearly a carbon copy of Rakuten, with a few additional benefits. Like Rakuten — and EvoShare — TopCashback pays cash directly to customers that use linked credit and debit cards to make purchases at participating websites.

However, TopCashback has no minimum payout threshold, and you can request your cash as often as you would like. TopCashback also typically pays users the entire cashback amount it earns from merchants rather than holding some back for its profit, as is the case with EvoShare and Rakuten. It earns money from clicks on merchandising banners and other referral deals it makes with participating merchants.

TopCashback also has cashback deals with more online businesses than either EvoShare or Rakuten, numbering over 4,400, including Walmart, eBay and Best Buy. However, TopCashback works with online merchants only. You cannot receive cash back for in-store purchases.

The bottom line: Is EvoShare right for me?

For some users, the decision whether to use EvoShare is moot. Unless your employer participates in EvoShare, you’re out of luck. However, if you work for a participating employer, EvoShare may be a good option for you.

The question as to whether EvoShare is right for you has many layers. Beyond the participating employer hurdle, you’ll have to decide if you’re comfortable with providing your debit and credit card numbers to an online service.

Although EvoShare doesn’t store your credentials, it does use Empyr, which keeps your information on record. Empyr uses industry-standard safety protocols, including 128-bit SSL encryption and MD5 encryption, and it’s Verisign certified. If you’re comfortable storing your payment information with other online retailers, you should be comfortable with Empyr as well. However, for some customers, this may be a dealbreaker.

The second question is whether EvoShare is a better option than some of the alternative cashback services that are out there. This choice will primarily come down to whether you want cash in your own bank account or you’d rather use this “found money” as an easy way to either pay down student loan debt or save for college funding or retirement. If it’s the former, the scales might tilt toward an option such as Rakuten or TopCashback. If you prefer the latter, EvoShare might be the better choice.

At the end of the day, EvoShare is a great way to earn money for activities you’re already doing. As time passes, you can earn money toward your savings by using EvoShare on some (or all) of your purchases.

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John Csiszar
John Csiszar |

John Csiszar is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email John here