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Schwab High Yield Investor Checking Account Review

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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The Schwab Bank High Yield Investor Checking account offered by Charles Schwab Bank isn’t your average checking account. In fact, it’s a checking account designed exclusively for investors. If you want the convenience of having your idle cash and invested assets all under one roof, this product could be for you.

What is the Schwab Bank High Yield Investor Checking account?

The Schwab Bank High Yield Investor Checking account is an interest-bearing checking account that is linked to your Schwab One brokerage account, making it easy and convenient to invest otherwise idle cash.

This product comes with attractive features that many traditional checking accounts offer — including no minimum balance requirements, no monthly service or ATM fees and a variable interest rate — as well as the unique feature of easy transfers to and from your linked brokerage account. When you open your High Yield Investor Checking account, a Schwab One brokerage account will also be opened for you. The accounts will have separate account numbers, but both can be viewed online with a single login.

Here’s what you can expect to receive upon opening and funding a Schwab High Yield Investor Checking account:

  • 0.03% APY
  • Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) insurance
  • Free transfers to and from your linked brokerage account
  • Schwab Bank Visa Platinum debit card
  • Complimentary checks, deposit slips, mailing labels and pre-addressed, postage-paid envelopes

How is the High Yield Investor Checking account different from other checking accounts?

In most cases, checking accounts do not require you to open another linked account in which funds will flow to and from. The Schwab High Yield Investor Checking account, however, is only available as a linked account with the Schwab One brokerage account.

If you’re in the market for just a checking account to stash the cash you use for your everyday spending needs, opening a brokerage account alongside your checking account can seem like an unnecessary step. The brokerage account’s main function is to trade stocks, options, bonds, mutual funds, ETFs and other financial products.

However, it is worth noting that the Schwab One brokerage account does not have any minimum balance requirements or requirements to fund the account, making it relatively accessible and easy to open.

Schwab Bank High Yield Investor Checking account fees and minimums

The Schwab Bank High Yield Investor Checking account features the following fees and minimums:

Monthly service fee

$0

Minimum balance fee

$0

ATM fee

Unlimited ATM fee rebates

Foreign transaction fee

$0

It’s worth noting that while the Schwab One brokerage account also does not have any minimum balance requirements or monthly maintenance fees, other account fees may apply. For example, trades placed through a broker come with a service charge of $25.

Schwab High Yield Investor Checking account pros and cons

Pros

  • Easy to invest idle cash: By having your checking account linked to your brokerage account, it makes it much more convenient to invest any idle cash.
  • Minimal fees: Schwab’s High Yield Investor Checking account boasts minimal fees compared to other checking accounts, specifically ones offered by other big banks.
  • Unlimited ATM rebates: This is a valuable feature and could save you a significant amount of money over time.

Cons

  • Low interest rate: The account’s 0.03% APY pales in comparison to other high-yield checking accounts, some of which have rates that climb to over 5.00% APY.
  • Unnecessary complexity: The requirement of having a Schwab One brokerage account could be viewed as an added hoop to jump through for those simply looking for a traditional checking account product.
  • Non-sufficient funds fee: Watch out for the account’s non-sufficient funds (NSF) fee of $25, up to $100 maximum per day, if you don’t have enough money in your account to cover a transaction. Still, this is less than the average NSF fee of $30.50.

Who is the Schwab Bank High Yield Investor Checking account good for?

If you’re just looking for a liquid checking account that you can use for your everyday spending needs, the Schwab High Yield Investor Checking account is likely not for you. There are other checking accounts offering much higher interest rates without requiring you to link a brokerage account in order to open the account. Additionally, if your strategy is to let your extra cash sit in the Schwab High Yield Investor Checking account without initiating regular transfers to your Schwab One brokerage account, your money would grow at a considerably faster rate in a high-yield savings account, money market account or CD.

If you already are an investor and have a Schwab One brokerage account — or are looking for a checking account that provides easy and instant transfers to and from your brokerage account — the Schwab High Yield Investor Checking account is certainly worth exploring. It has many of the same, standout features that the best traditional checking accounts have, while also being one of the few checking accounts out there that provides instant access to your invested assets.

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The Best Online Checking Accounts in 2020

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.

banking apps

Opening an interest-bearing checking account is an easy way to boost your savings without completely rearranging your budget. Nowadays, your checking account doesn’t have to be the basic, low-yield account you might be accustomed to. A checking account can earn interest at pretty competitive rates, especially if you’re willing to ditch the traditional big bank in lieu of digital-only competitors. Brick-and-mortar rates often pale in comparison to online rates.

You’ll typically find checking account rates around 0.01% APY if you head to your local big bank branch. Let’s say you have $10,000 to deposit into your new checking account. Choosing an account with that low 0.01% APY will earn you $1 at the end of a year. On the other hand, opening a high-yield checking account at a 2.00% APY, for example, will earn just over $200 in a year.

Your best bet is to open an online checking account, as those tend to have the highest rates. You’ll also find hardly any monthly service fees and little to no fees for ATM usage. Plus, with some of the best mobile apps, online banks making banking on-the-go easier than ever.

There are several great options out there, which give you a great opportunity to find an account that’s just right for you. But we understand that it can also be overwhelming to search through all your options and commit to switching banks. We’ve made it a little easier for you by searching through 12,000 banks and credit unions.

To find the best online checking accounts, we looked for accounts that offer:

  • Competitive interest rates
  • No monthly account fee
  • No ATM fees and reimbursement of other bank ATM fees
  • Interest income on the deposited funds
  • Strong mobile banking app and user interface

It’s important to figure out which aspects of a checking account are the most crucial for your own banking success, whether that’s easy ATM access or earning at the highest rate. There isn’t always going to be one account that’s the “best” across every dimension: for example, the account with the highest interest rate may not have unlimited ATM fee reimbursements. You might have to make a trade-off when choosing an account.

Here are our favorite checking accounts available in March 2020:

The Best Checking Accounts in March 2020

Institution

APY

Minimum Balance Amount

Consumers Credit Union

Up to 5.09%


None




Simple


1.55%

$0.01

BBVA

None

None

Paramount Bank

1.00%

$100

Empower

1.60%

None

Axos Bank




Up to 1.25%




None




TIAA Bank


0.50%




$5,000

Aspiration

0.25%

None

nbkc bank

0.75%

$5

Bank of Blue Valley

0.50%


$500

BankPurely

0.25%

$1

Charles Schwab

0.03%

None

1. Consumers Credit Union – Free Rewards Checking: Unlimited ATM fee reimbursement + up to 5.09% APY possible

Consumers Credit Union (IL)
Anyone can join Consumers Credit Union, which has been around since 1930 and is based in Lake County, IL. In order to join, you only need to pay a one-time, non-refundable $5 fee to their sponsor, the Consumers Cooperative Association. Once you are a member, you are eligible for all products, including the Free Rewards Checking Account.

This account can offer incredible value, but you need to meet certain conditions. In order to get unlimited ATM fee reimbursement, you need to:

  • Make at least 12 debit card purchases per month. The purchases cannot use the 4-digit pin code – it has to be treated as a credit transaction (so that the credit union earns the maximum interchange possible)
  • Each month there must be at least one direct deposit OR one ACH debit OR one online bill payment.
  • Login to online banking at least once per month, and
  • Receive eDocuments / eStatements (no paper statements).

If you meet those requirement, you will earn a 3.09% APY on balances up to $10,000. You have the opportunity to earn an even higher rate of return if you open a Visa credit card from the credit union. If you spend at least $500 a month on the credit card, your interest rate increases to 4.09% APY on balances up to $15,000. If you spend at least $1,000 a month, you can earn 5.09% APY on balance up to $20,000.

This is a valuable proposition – but it is complicated. We have included it because 5.09% APY and unlimited ATM fee reimbursement is an amazing deal. However, if you don’t meet the requirements you will not get ATM reimbursement and will only earn 0.10%.

SEE DETAILS Secured

on Consumers Credit Union (IL)’s secure website

NCUA Insured

2. High APY – Simple – 1.55% APY

Checking Account + Protected Goals Account*Simple was created out of frustration over the banking industry. The founders were confounded by the complexities of certain bank accounts. So instead of just letting the problem be, they came up with a solution – an account that earns interest and helps you budget your money “in one simple app”. What makes this banking platform stand apart from other online accounts? Well, for starters, it’s a Checking Account + Protected Goals Account that hardly has any fees, not even if you use an international ATM (however, a fee may be charged by the ATM owner). Another standout feature is that you have the opportunity to earn up to 1.55% APY in the Protected Goals Account. To earn the APY, you’ll have to have a minimum of $0.01 in the Protected Goals Account. This account is meant to be used to help you save money towards a goal. It’s like a savings account without transfer limitations. You can make as many transfers between this account and the checking account as you’d like without running into excess transfer fees.

SEE DETAILS Secured

on Simple’s secure website

3. No fees: BBVA, $25 minimum to open

Online CheckingWith roots dating back to 1964, BBVA has grown into a full-fledged bank with billions in assets. Currently, BBVA offers a number of different checking accounts, including free accounts, accounts that earn interest and accounts with no ATM fees. In particular, its Online Checking account is a great option for consumers who want to avoid fees and don’t live near a BBVA branch. This account has no monthly service charge and no ATM fees at over 64,000 ATMs. There is an opening deposit of $25 required for this account.

SEE DETAILS Secured

on BBVA’s secure website

Member FDIC

4. High Rate: Paramount Bank –1.00% APY, $100 minimum to open or balance to earn APY

High Interest CheckingMissouri-based Paramount Bank was originally established in 1970 as an independent mortgage company, but has since grown to be a full-fledged bank, offering an array of financial products. While there are only a handful of branches throughout the country, Paramount’s products are available online nationwide. Currently, Paramount is offering a competitive APY of 1.00% on its high-interest checking account. There is a minimum opening deposit of $100 required for this account, but there are no monthly service fees (excluding overdraft and transfer fees). Special features of Paramount’s high-interest checking account include mobile check deposit and bill pay.

SEE DETAILS Secured

on Paramount Bank (MO)’s secure website

NCUA Insured

5. High Rate: Empower – 1.60% APY, no minimum to open or balance to earn APY

Checking AccountEmpower originally launched as a personal finance app and evolved into a mobile banking app powered by Evolve Bank & Trust. The Empower Checking Account currently offers a 1.60% APY. It doesn’t require a minimum deposit to open nor does it ask for a minimum balance to earn the APY. This account also doesn’t have any fees and you’ll get one out-of-network ATM fee reimbursed per month. However, Empower claims access to over 25,000 free ATMs nationwide. Other perks with this account include a cashback debit card that comes with zero liability protection. One downside that we can find is that there doesn’t seem to be check-writing capabilities with this account. However, if you’re more interested in keeping your banking in the palm of your hand, Empower’s mobile banking app not only helps you save your money, it also helps you budget and sync all your financial accounts to the app to give you an overall snapshot of your finances.

SEE DETAILS Secured

on Empower’s secure website

Member FDIC

 

6. No domestic ATM fees & high APY – Axos Bank – Rewards Checking – up to 1.25% APY

Rewards Checking - 3 QualificationsAxos Bank offers a nice combination of a good interest rate and ATM fee reimbursement. You can receive up to 1.25% APY based upon your activity in the account. There are three requirements, and each requirement gives you 0.4166%. If you receive a monthly direct deposit totaling $1,000 or more, you can earn 0.4166%. If you use your debit card at least 10 times per month, you can get another 0.4166%. And if you use your debit card 15 times a month, you get another 0.4166%. So – if you get your direct deposit and use your card 15 times a month – you will get the 1.25% APY. You can also get unlimited domestic ATM reimbursement. If you are a heavy debit card user and do not travel overseas very often, Axos Bank can be a better option than Aspiration.

SEE DETAILS Secured

on Axos Bank’s secure website

Member FDIC

7. TIAA Bank – High Yield Checking: 0.50% APY (for the first year) with $5,000 minimum to open

TIAA Bank
TIAA Bank is currently offering a one-year introductory APY of 0.50% on their checking account. They don’t charge a monthly fee or ATM fees (as long as the ATM is within network). Aside from depositing a minimum of $5,000 into the account, TIAA Bank does not impose requirements to earn the APY. While they do have an online banking platform, their mobile app seems to be lacking. If banking on-the-go is important to you, you may want to consider another institution. However, they do have a great rate for a checking account with little-to-no fees.

SEE DETAILS Secured

on TIAA Bank’s secure website

Member FDIC

8. No ATM fees: Aspiration – The Aspiration Account – Unlimited ATM fee reimbursement + 0.25% APY

Spend and Save AccountAspiration is a unique company that is trying to change the face of banking services. This account is a great way to avoid fees. There is no monthly fee and no minimum deposit. Even better, there are no ATM fees and unlimited reimbursement of ATM fees charged by others. You can use your ATM card anywhere in the world and never pay a dime. You decide how much you want to pay for the account – and that can be $0. Aspiration is making the bet that you will appreciate the value and decide to pay them something. But you are not obligated to make any payment.You can also earn interest on this account. You’ll earn up to 0.25% APY on your entire balance. And the best part: you don’t have to “do things” (like use your debit card) to get the rate. So long as you have the account, you get the interest rate.

Aspiration has recently launched a mobile banking app, making it even easier to get everything you need done. You can read our full review of Aspiration here. If you want an easy way to use any ATM, free BillPay and earn a good (by checking account standards) interest rate, the Aspiration Account is a great choice.

SEE DETAILS Secured

on Aspiration’s secure website

9. No fees: nbkc bank – No monthly fees + 0.75% APY

Personal Checking Accountnbkc bank, formally known as National Bank of Kansas City, is a small institution in the Midwest that caters customers nationwide through their online and mobile banking platforms. They are a privately owned company with more than $630 million in assets.nbkc is all about making banking simple and they’ve done just that with their checking account that virtually has no fees. All it takes is $5 to open the account and you can start earning 0.75% APY on all funds held in the account.There are no monthly fees, no overdraft or non-sufficient funds fees, no fees to stop payments, no fees to get a box of checks, no fees for incoming domestic wires, no minimum balance to earn the APY once the account is opened, and no ATM fees as long as the ATM is part of the Moneypass® network. Even if the ATM is not part of the Moneypass® network, nbkc will reimburse up to $12 in ATM fees per month. And just to prove how transparent they are, they openly disclose that the only two fees that may apply are $5 to send a domestic wire and $45 to send or receive international wires.

Banking can be done online or through their mobile banking app, which allows you to deposit checks at no charge. If you want a checking account that charges hardly any fees and allows you earn a little interest, this account is a great option.

SEE DETAILS Secured

on nbkc bank’s secure website

Member FDIC

10. High Rate: Bank of Blue Valley – 0.50% APY on balances up to $50,000, $500 minimum to open

Platinum CheckingBank of Blue Valley is a Kansas-based bank with over $564 million in assets. It’s extremely rare to see banks offering high rates on checking accounts without requirements to earn the high rate. However, this bank is offering a 0.50% APY on balances up to $50,000. You’ll need a minimum of $500 to open the account. While Bank of Blue Valley doesn’t make you jump through hoops to earn the high rate, you will need to maintain an average daily balance of $7,500 to avoid the $12 monthly maintenance fee. This account does come with free checks and if you’re able have at least one direct deposit post to this account, you’ll be rewarded with ATM fee refunds up to $20 per month (the out-of-network ATM fee is $2.50). Bank of Blue Valley has a mobile banking app that includes mobile remote deposit, bill pay, the ability to pay a person, and more.

SEE DETAILS Secured

on Bank Of Blue Valley’s secure website

Member FDIC

11. High Rate: BankPurely – 0.25% APY, $1 minimum to open

CheckingPurelyBankPurely is a digital – and altruistic – division of Flushing Bank. The bank is currently offering an attractive APY of 0.25% on its checking account, CheckingPurely. In addition to the APY, BankPurely offers the unique incentive of planting a tree when you open an account. CheckingPurely also has no monthly maintenance fees and no minimum balance requirement, although there is a $1 minimum required to open the account. 

SEE DETAILS Secured

on BankPurely’s secure website

Member FDIC

12. Charles Schwab – High Yield Checking: Unlimited ATM fee reimbursement + 0.03% APY

Charles Schwab Bank
If you want to be able to use your ATM card anywhere in the world – for free – this account is a good option. With Charles Schwab’s High Yield Investor Checking Account, you will not be charged a fee for using an ATM. If you use an ATM overseas, there will be no foreign transaction fee. And – best of all – if the ATM charges a fee of its own, Schwab provides unlimited ATM fee reimbursement.

This account pays 0.03% APY, and there are no minimums or monthly service fees.

There are no fees to cover overdrafts when funds are available from a linked Schwab brokerage or savings account.

SEE DETAILS 

Member FDIC

Runner Up: Fidelity Cash Management Account: Unlimited domestic ATM fee reimbursement

Fidelity
Fidelity’s Cash Management Account is great for those that have larger balances, as there is a $1,250,000 insurance limit, but there is no minimum balance required.

Similar to Charles Schwab, there are no ATM fees to worry about – they’ll reimburse you the same day if you’re charged. There are also no monthly or overdraft fees to worry about. There is one big difference to Schwab: if you get charged for using your ATM outside of the country, that fee will not be reimbursed.

Fidelity currently offers 0.13% APY, but it is a brokerage account rather than a “regular” checking account. They offer cash management tools so you can set up custom alerts when you reach a certain balance that will remind you it’s time to invest.

Unfortunately, there’s no option to open a line of credit – you have to link a savings or brokerage account to your Fidelity account in case you overdraft and want items to clear.

SEE DETAILS Secured

on Fidelity’s secure website

Member FDIC

 

Checking account best practices

Consider hybrid savings/checking accounts

In today’s competitive savings rate atmosphere, some banks are offering the best of both a checking and savings account in the same product, like the Simple Checking Account + Protected Goals Account, our top pick above. These hybrid accounts offer the flexibility of a checking account by including a debit card and avoiding the six-transaction limit of savings accounts. Some accounts might also offer the ability to write checks through the account (however, Simple does not).

Even better, these hybrid accounts also offer the high-yield competitive rates of a savings account (think above 2%!). Opening this kind of account can prove to be a great addition to your savings profile, especially since most checking accounts tend to offer unremarkable rates. Simple goes even further by helping you save towards a specific Savings Goal instead of just earning a high interest rate — although saving at least $2,000 towards that goal enables that high rate.

Of course, money market accounts are already known as hybrid-like accounts with high interest rates. But without limiting your transfers and transactions to six per cycle, these new checking/savings hybrid accounts (or cash management accounts, as they might be called) are able to set themselves apart from money market accounts. Money market accounts also tend to require much higher balance limits and charge monthly service fees, unlike these new accounts we’re starting to see.

Pair your checking account with a high-yield savings account

So if not in a checking account, where should you keep the rest of your money? Like we say above, you have a number of options including savings accounts, money market accounts and CDs. Online savings accounts generally earn at much higher interest rates than checking accounts, so they’ll grow your money more efficiently.

In turn, money market accounts can earn even higher rates, although they usually require high deposits and balances. Both MMAs and savings accounts limit you to six transfers or withdrawals per month so you can leave your savings alone to grow. Money market accounts are like a mix between checking and savings accounts, as many of them include check-writing abilities and/or a debit/ATM card for more convenient access than a typical savings account.

For a longer-term savings commitment, you can turn to certificates of deposit or CDs. They earn at high interest rates and lock in your opening rate for the duration of an account’s term. You can’t withdraw your growing funds until the term ends.

Find an account with little to no fees

Another way to make better use of your checking account is to avoid the fees that are often associated with brick-and-mortar bank accounts. According to a MagnifyMoney analysis of FDIC data, in 2017 Americans paid over $36 billion in fees to banks (see graph below), some of which include overdraft fees, ATM fees and monthly maintenance fees. This number is down since 2009’s $41 billion in total fees, but has seen a steady increase since 2013.

 

Among the fees, overdraft fees are the biggest single burden on Americans, representing over one third of fees paid over the last five years. Account maintenance fees come in second, at over 10%, while ATM fees represent over 5%.

 

Moving your banking online can help you avoid monthly service fees. The same is also true for ATM fees. Even without physical locations, online banks can still provide access to tens of thousands of ATMs through various ATM networks. Plus, many online banks will refund any ATM surcharges you do face, sometimes up to a certain dollar amount.

Resist the urge to hoard cash in a checking account

It can be easy to just dump all your income into your checking account and leave it there. After all, that’s the account you use to pay for expenses. But even if your checking account earns interest, you can do better by your money.

There are two main reasons your money would be better off not sitting in checking:

#1 You could miss out on higher interest rates
Interest rates on checking accounts are generally pretty pitiful. Even when they seem high (perhaps 0.60% or even 1.00%), there can be a lot of hoops to jump through in order to secure that interest rate. Instead, consider putting your money into one of the nation’s best savings accounts, best money market accounts or CDs. Your money can easily earn 1.00% or more with those accounts.

#2 You don’t want to give fraudsters access to your life savings
Fraud is another reason you may want to keep a minimal amount in checking. Bank fraud is so prevalent you’ll likely get smacked by it at some point. For credit card users, it isn’t as worrisome because the money charged to a credit card isn’t coming directly out of your bank account and credit issuers commonly offer zero fraud liability protection. On the other hand, debit card fraud means a crook gains direct access to your account and can be draining your actual funds in real time. By not keeping a ton of money in checking, you can reduce the damage a thief can do.

If your card is stolen and you report it to your bank within two days, you can be responsible for up to $50 of unauthorized charges. Waiting longer than two days can make you responsible for up to $500 in unauthorized charges. Additionally, if you notice any unauthorized charges on your account statement, you have 60 days to tell your bank to avoid liability for following transfers. Even if your bank reimburses you for the funds, it’s still a hassle to spend days — even weeks — without having access to that money.

The bottom line: It’s probably time to move your banking online

In all, the best way to make the most of your checking account is to ditch your brick-and-mortar bank in favor of fewer fees, less hassle, more convenience and higher interest rates. All of these banks listed above offer mobile apps with several convenient features, including the ability to deposit checks by taking a photo, so you don’t have to worry about running out to a local branch. These apps also make it easier to transfer money between your accounts, pay bills online or send money to family and friends in a pinch.

If you want your money to do more for you with less maintenance, online checking is the way to go.

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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.

Advertiser Disclosure

College Students and Recent Grads, Eliminating Fees, Life Events

When to Avoid a Company 401k

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.

Man Paying Bills With Laptop

Gone are the days of workers depending upon pensions when they retire. Today, instead of offering defined benefit pensions guaranteeing an employee a monthly payment for the rest of his or her life, employers are moving to more employee-managed retirement savings plans.

Today, more employers offer a 401k plan – if they have an employer-based plan at all. With a 401k, employees make a defined contribution from their income each year. With a pension plan, employees knew exactly how much income they could depend on each month during retirement. Now, it is up to the employees to determine how much they need to save in order to reach their retirement savings goals.

A 401k allows employees to make defined contributions, pre-tax (or post-tax), towards retirement. If you contribute to a traditional 401k, contributions are automatically deducted from your paychecks each pay period, pre-tax. As a result, you don’t pay taxes until money is withdrawn from the account and you cannot withdraw money before 59 ½ without penalties. Some employees offer the option to contribute post-tax in a Roth 401k, so money withdrawn in retirement will not be taxed.

With this change toward employee-directed retirement, rather than retirement guaranteed by the employer, it is up to you to make the best decisions regarding your retirement savings. This could mean it’s best to avoid a company 401k.

Take a look at these situations in which you should not pay into your employer’s 401K, and see if any of them apply to you.

No Employer Match

Many employers provide a match to their employees’ 401k contributions. Employer matches vary greatly by employer, but a common example of this is $0.50 per $1.00, up to 6% of employees’ pay.

Let’s say you earn 40,000 per year at your current job, and your employer provides a $0.50 per $1.00 match, up to 6% of your pay. If you were to contribute the full 6% of your pay annually, you would contribute a total of $2,400 to your 401K over the course of a year. Your employer would then contribute $0.50 for every dollar you contributed, for a total of $1,200 for the year.

In total, over the course of the year your 401K would contain $3,600, and you only would have contributed $2,400 of the balance.

But if your employer does not provide a match, it may be time to reconsider contributing to its 401K plan. Never walk away from an employer match, as it is basically free money, but if your employer does not provide a contribution match, it may be time to consider other options like saving for retirement in a traditional or Roth IRA.

You Have Reached The Contribution Limit

Effective January 1, 2020, the 401k contribution limits are $19,500 if you are age 49 and under. If you are 50 or older, you can contribute an additional $6,500 above and beyond the $19,500 regular contribution, for a total of $26,000. Of course, you are free to contribute less to a 401K, but saving as much as possible for retirement is always best.

Once you have reached the contribution limit on your 401k, you cannot make any more contributions pre-tax, and it is time to consider alternative investments.

One good alternative is a Traditional IRA. Contributions are made to a traditional IRA after tax, meaning that you pay taxes, and then make contributions out of your paycheck. For 2020, individuals can contribute up to $6,000 per year to a traditional IRA if they are 49 and under. You can contribute up to $7,000 per year if you are 50 or older.

Another solution for aggressive savers is a taxable account such as stock index funds. When using taxable accounts such as these, you can expect to pay 15% on long-term gains and qualified dividends. Additionally, contributions to these plans are made after-tax. However, the benefits of using accounts such as these include being able to withdraw from them for things such as children’s college expenses before age 59 ½ without additional penalties and fees.

You Qualify For a Roth IRA

If you employer does not offer a 401k match – or a 401k plan at all – and you meet income thresholds, then a Roth IRA may be an excellent option for your retirement savings.

A Roth IRA allows individuals whose modified adjusted gross income, which you can calculate at the IRS website, is less than $139,000, or married couples whose income does not exceed $206,000 to contribute to their retirement.

A Roth IRA is different from other accounts, though, because of the way taxes are handled. Contributions are made after tax. However, once the initial contribution is made, you enjoy tax-free growth as long as you follow the rules:

  • 49 and under can contribute a maximum of $6,000
  • 50 and over can contribute up to $7,000
  • You can withdraw your contributions (not growth) at any time without penalty

How much can a Roth IRA save in taxes? If you contribute $5,500 per year to a Roth IRA for 40 years, and your marginal rate is 15%, this is what your account’s growth could look like over the course of 40 years:

401k_1

In this scenario, you would have only paid in $230,000 during the entire 40 years you worked. You would have paid $34,500 in taxes from your paychecks.

However, your relatively small investment could grow to $1,189,636 – and you will not have to pay taxes on any of that balance when you withdraw it. If your marginal tax rate stayed at 15% when withdrawing money from your Roth IRA, you could save more than $143,000 in taxes alone.

See how much money you can save with a Roth IRA, and how much money it can save you in taxes here, with Bankrate’s Roth IRA calculator.

High Fees

If your employer offers a 401k without a match, a good way to gauge whether it is a good investment vehicle for your retirement savings is to take a look at the fees. Many times both employees and employers are unaware of just how much fees are costing them. After all, 3% seems like such a small number, doesn’t it?

3% may feel like a very small amount to pay in fees, but this example will show you just how much a small percentage can affect your retirement savings.

401k_2

In this example, the investor is a 29 year old, contributing $18,000 per year to her company’s 401k, and her retirement age will be 65. The current balance of their 401K is $100,000, and fees are 3%.

Just by switching to a plan that cuts fees in half, 1.5%, she could save $801,819.03. Instead of having $1.8 million upon retirement, she could have more than $2.6 million – making for a much better retirement.

You can check out a fee calculator here and find out just how much your fees are costing you!

Even if your 401k has high fees, be sure to consider the employer match. Many times the match will more than cover the fees, making the 401k a good investment vehicle in spite of the high fees.

If You Need Flexibility

401k’s, while they offer tax advantages, and often free money through the form of an employer match, do not offer any sort of flexibility. Contributions are automatically deducted pre-tax from an employee’s paycheck in pre-set amounts, and cannot be withdrawn without serious penalties until age 59 ½.

For many families, saving and investing money is not just about retirement. It is about college, medical expenses, large purchase, and even vacations. Always contribute to your 401k up to the maximum amount that your employer will match, but if no match is available and you need flexibility for other savings priorities, check out some of these options:

A 529 Plan: An education savings plan operated through your state or an educational institution to help families set aside income for education costs. Although contributions are not deductible on your federal income tax return, the investment grows tax-deferred, and distributions used to pay the beneficiary’s college costs come out tax-free. Some states offer tax breaks for 529 contributions, you can find yours here. In addition, there are very few income and contribution limitations, making the 529 plan a great, flexible way to save for college.

A Health Savings Account: An HSA offers individuals and families the opportunity to save money exclusively for medical expenses, and contributions are 100% tax deductible from gross income. For 2020, individuals can contribute up to $3,550, and families are allowed to contribute up to $7,100. HSA accounts holders age 55 and older can contribute an extra $1,000. If using savings for medical expenses if a priority, talk to your employer about an HSA. Not all insurance plans are eligible.

Taxable Investment Accounts: When saving for large purchases or vacations, more flexible accounts are better. As explained above, index funds, mutual funds, or even traditional savings accounts leave the account holder with more of a tax burden, but far greater flexibility for withdrawals. These accounts do not need to be opened through your employer, but can be opened and managed on your own, or with the help of a financial planner.

If your employer offers a contribution match, they are essentially offering you free money, so go ahead a take advantage of the 401k, regardless of high fees or a low income. However, if your employer offers no match, high fees, or you have reached the yearly contribution limit, then it is a good idea to avoid that 401k plan and look into other retirement savings options.

At the end of the day, saving for retirement or other goals is all about you. How much flexibility you need, how much you need to save, and your tax situation. Be sure to weigh all of your options to guarantee that you are making the best decision for you and your family.

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