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Strategies to Save

How to Cut Sneaky Subscriptions and Recurring Expenses with Trim

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

 

It’s easy for small expenses to add up and burn straight through our cash. Especially since there are so many subscription and membership services available to sign up for that automatically bill accounts after a free trial.

Trim is a website that wants to help you identify and cancel these recurring costs to save money. You can connect your accounts to Trim, and it searches transactions for recurring payments to merchants that you can cut off.

According to Trim, the service has saved its users $8 million in sneaky expenses, so we’re putting it to the test. In this post, we’ll review the site to see what expenses Trim can identify.

We’ll discuss:

  • How Trim works
  • How much Trim costs
  • Pros and cons

How Trim Works

First, you need to go to asktrim.com to create an account. You can sign up for an account by email or through Facebook. For this review, I chose the email option.

 

Authenticating and setting up your account

After you input your email, first name, last name, and phone number, the website will send you a text message to confirm your phone number.

A confirmation of your phone number is necessary because the website corresponds with you via text message. You can also choose to receive messages from Trim through Facebook Messenger if you prefer. There currently isn’t a Trim app.

Trim needs to connect to your bank and/or credit card accounts to locate recurring subscriptions for cancellation.

Trim supports over 20,000 U.S. financial institutions. If you don’t see yours on the list, you can email Trim for support. Although I find tweeting a company usually gets a faster response.

The syncing of your financial accounts to Trim takes just a few seconds.

You’ll get a text message with the subscriptions Trim has found once the connection is complete. The identified recurring costs will also populate in your account dashboard on the website.

Here are a few of the subscriptions it found for me:

The dashboard breaks down your recurring charges into three different sections. There are subscriptions, utilities, and frequent charges.

Altogether, Trim found:

  • A car insurance payment
  • A Comcast bill
  • A banking account fee
  • Work-related expenses (Bluehost, Grammarly, and Freshbooks)

You’ll probably find like I did that not all charges found will be ones you can cancel or need to cancel. The purpose of Trim is to seek out any surprises.

How Trim cancels accounts

The cancellation aspect of Trim is what I consider the highlight because of how much of a pain it can be to terminate your subscriptions and memberships.

To cancel a service using Trim, you hit the red “Cancel this subscription” link on the website.

You can also message “Cancel (insert service)” to authorize cancellation from your phone.

Trim will contact the company by sending an email or calling. In some cases, like a gym membership, Trim may send out a certified letter.

I’ll be honest, I’ve moved from one city to another and completely forgot to cancel my gym membership before. This feature is one I can appreciate since gym memberships can be a huge hassle to cancel remotely.

Does Trim catch all recurring charges?

I went into this review with a pretty good grasp of the recurring charges that I pay. I was mostly curious to see how many of them the website algorithm would catch.

Trim found many of the biggies instantly.

But I was a little disappointed it didn’t catch items like my Hulu subscription through Apple iTunes.

The FAQ page states that Trim first identifies popular merchants like Netflix that use recurring payments. Then, it goes back through your bills monthly. The algorithm may pick up on other merchants after a few billing cycles.

I reached out to Trim via Twitter to see if there’s a reason Apple iTunes didn’t appear. I figured that would be one of the more popular merchants.

They got back to me the same day. It seems as though Apple charges can be hit or miss.

Extra Trim features

Trim has a few additional bells and whistles. You can review recent transactions of your financial accounts by merchant and category time.

Trim also offers other savings tools. For auto insurance, there’s a section on the site where you can type in your car’s make, model, and year to shop for cheaper insurance rates. You can also look for better Comcast deals through the account dashboard to potentially negotiate a better contract.

How Much It Costs

The Trim website is currently free to use. You’re probably wondering — what’s the catch?

Trim is really free. There are plans to roll out a paid financial advising component. But the basic Trim subscription review and cancellation service is supposed to remain free of cost.

Trim Security

According to Trim, the service uses Plaid security to connect to your financial institutions. This means Trim does not store the usernames and passwords used to access your financial accounts.

Instead, the credentials are sent through Plaid directly to your bank or credit card issuer to retrieve your transaction history. The transaction data Trim uses is read-only so that no changes can be made to your accounts. Trim also uses 256-bit SSL encryption for its own site and databases.

Pros and Cons

Now, for the pros and cons:

Pros:

  • The service is free.
  • Trim finds monthly recurring costs that you may have forgotten.
  • You can delete your Trim account at any time.
  • You can connect Trim to over 20,000 financial institutions.
  • You can correspond with Trim via messaging, which makes managing your account easy.
  • The Trim Twitter account responds quickly if you have questions.

Cons:

  • Trim may not pick up on all sneaky expenses right away.
  • Although there are security measures in place, connecting your financial accounts could be a deal-breaker if you’re extra cautious.
  • Ideally, you want to pay enough attention to your bank and credit card accounts to spot sneaky charges on your own. Trim is a nice shortcut to see if you’re missing anything, but for the long term, try to get into the habit of monitoring your statements.

The Final Verdict

Overall, Trim is an easy-to-use tool that can help you make sure there are no subscriptions from many moons ago still posting to your account.

However, Trim did not catch my iTunes Hulu membership initially, so I suggest you plan to keep your account open for at least a few months to give the algorithm time to identify money leaks.

Advertiser Disclosure: The card offers that appear on this site are 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 card companies or all card offers available in the marketplace.

Taylor Gordon
Taylor Gordon |

Taylor Gordon is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Taylor here

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Earning Interest, Reviews, Strategies to Save

Review of Live Oak Bank’s Deposit Rates

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

Year Established2008
Total Assets$2.67B
LEARN MORE on Live Oak Bank’s secure website
Chances are you haven’t heard of Live Oak Bank. After all, this lender, based mostly on the web, has only been around since 2008, and it mostly focuses on giving out small business loans to businesses in specific industries, such as veterinary practices or craft breweries.That’s no reason to pass it up for your personal banking needs, however. In fact, this little gem of a bank has one of the best-kept secrets in the personal banking world: it has one of the highest savings account interest rates you’ll find from an online bank. (More on that below.) And, most of its other personal deposit accounts offer relatively high rates as well.Let’s take a more in-depth look at its deposit accounts to see if they’re right for you.
Live Oak Bank’s Most Popular Accounts

APY

Account Type

Account Name

Compare Rates from Similar Accounts

1.70%

Savings

Live Oak Bank Savings Account

2.20%

CD Rates

Live Oak Bank 1 Year CD

2.60%

CD Rates

Live Oak Bank 3 Year CD

2.70%

CD Rates

Live Oak Bank 5 Year CD

Live Oak Bank’s savings account

When it comes to the best savings accounts with high interest rates, Live Oak Bank currently has one of the highest rates.

APY

Minimum Deposit

1.70%

Up to $5 million

(but only up to $250,000 is FDIC-insured)

Rate current as of 4/4/2018

  • Minimum opening deposit: $0
  • Monthly account maintenance fee: $0<
  • ATM fees: None
  • ATM fee refunds: None

Live Oak Bank currently has one of the best savings account rates available. This means that Live Oak Bank is lowering the bar and allowing anyone to take advantage of these high interest rates, no matter how much is in his or her pocket right now.

Live Oak Bank wants you to use your savings account, and use it often, which is one reason why it has no monthly maintenance fee. If there is no activity on your account for 24 months and your balance is less than $10.01, Live Oak Bank will take the remainder of your balance as a Dormant Account Fee and close your account.

Getting money into a Live Oak Bank savings account from an external bank account can take a little bit of time depending on how you do it. If you request the money through Live Oak Bank’s online portal, the funds won’t be available for up to five or six business days. But if you opt instead to send the money to Live Oak Bank from your current bank, the money will be available as soon as it’s received. Your Live Oak Bank savings account will start earning interest as soon as the money posts to your account.

You can easily withdraw your money at any time via ACH transfer. Simply log into your Live Oak Bank savings account and electronically transfer it to whichever bank account you wish. It’ll be available in two to three business days.

You are limited to making just six withdrawals per month with this savings account. That’s not a Live Oak Bank thing; that’s a federal regulation imposed upon savings accounts in the U.S. If you absolutely can’t wait until next month to make another withdrawal past your allotted six per month, you’ll be charged a $10 transaction fee for each additional action.

Live Oak Bank CD rates

Live Oak Bank also has some of the best CD rates with a decent deposit amount.

Term

APY

Minimum Deposit

6-month CD

1.85%

$2,500

1-year CD

2.20%

$2,500

18-month CD

2.40%

$2,500

2-year CD

2.55%

$2,500

3-year CD

2.60%

$2,500

4-year CD

2.65%

$2,500

5-year CD

2.70%

$2,500

Rates current as of 4/19/2018

  • Minimum opening deposit: $2,500
  • Early withdrawal penalty:
    • CD terms that are less than 24 months — 90 days’ interest penalty
    • CD terms that are more than 24 months — 180 days’ interest penalty

Live Oak Bank currently offers the highest CD rates. This bank’s minimum deposit requirements also seem to be right on par with other bank’s minimum deposit requirements. Currently, the best CDs out there have minimum deposit requirements both above and below Live Oak Bank’s $2,500 benchmark.

Only U.S. citizens and permanent residents are eligible to open these accounts. It’s a relatively straightforward process to open a CD: Simply complete the forms online, provide any needed documentation (such as your current bank account details), and wait for an account approval. Once your account is open, you can transfer over your deposit, where it will be held for five days before officially launching your CD.

If you need to take out your deposit early, bad news: As with many CDs, you’ll face an early-withdrawal penalty at Live Oak Bank. If your original CD term was for six months, one year or 18 months, you’ll be charged 90 days’ worth of interest. If your original CD term was for longer than that, you’ll be charged a higher rate of 180 days’ worth of interest.

If you are able to resist the urge to withdraw your money early, congratulations! Your CD will automatically renew into a second CD with the same term length. However, don’t panic if that’s not what you want: You have up to 10 days after the CD has matured to withdraw your money penalty-free and park it in your own bank account (whether it’s with Live Oak Bank or not).

It’s easy to overlook Live Oak Bank for other larger, more established consumer banks like Ally or Discover Bank. But Live Oak has some of the best CD rates around, and the best savings account available on the market today.

Lest you be scared away by its smaller name, consider this: This tiny-but-growing bank is getting rave reviews from customers and employees alike. It carries an “A” health rating, and has a top-notch online banking portal. About the only thing missing is a checking account to let you seamlessly do all of your daily banking with this great company.

Advertiser Disclosure: The card offers that appear on this site are 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 card companies or all card offers available in the marketplace.

Lindsay VanSomeren
Lindsay VanSomeren |

Lindsay VanSomeren is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Lindsay here

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Strategies to Save

How to Save at Disney: Families Who Go Every Year Give Their Best Tips

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

Going on a family vacation to “the most magical place on earth” costs a pretty penny for families, and the price has gone up yet again. This year, Disney increased the price of admission into its U.S. theme parks by about 9% on average. Forbes reports that Disney increased prices “to help regulate crowd sizes throughout the year in hopes of reducing the wait at the parks,” which are the most highly attended theme parks in the world.

They are also among the most expensive theme parks to visit in the U.S. A five-day trip for a family of four could easily cost $4,000, including park admission, lodging and food — and that’s without any travel costs or extras, like souvenirs.

In contrast, American vacationers planned to spend an average of $2,936 on their summer trips, according to our 2017 survey. But the high costs don’t keep the Disney faithful away, and many Disney enthusiasts have devised savings strategies when making the trip to Disney World in Orlando every year. We spoke to some of these families to get their best savings tips with us for anyone planning a Disney World vacation.

Top savings strategies

  • Use points to book flights or use a rewards credit card
  • Book your next stay before you leave or keep an eye out for hotel promotions
  • Wait to buy souvenirs
  • Split meals or find other ways to save on food
  • Use discounted gift cards

Christine & John Meade

Long Island, N.Y., couple Christine Meade, 35, and her husband John, 38, have already taken their 18-month-old son, Mason, to Disney World twice and have plans to take their next trip for his second birthday. Christine has visited Disney World every year — sometimes twice a year — since 2005.

“Before we had [Mason] we loved going. It’s a lot more than just a kid vacation,” says Christine, adding that there are “so many things to do” at Disney World. “It’s just an escape from everyday life. Now that we have the baby its almost like a natural thing to take him.”

“Now it’s like a different kind of fun. Watching him enjoy all of these things and experience all of these things is a different kind of experience,” says Christine.

Saving with Swagbucks

The trips aren’t cheap for Christine, who works as a waitress, and John, an installation technician with a home security company. Christine says the family now spends a little more than $3,000 for the entire vacation — travel and food included. Mason is still younger than 3 years old, so he doesn’t need a child pass.

Now with a toddler to budget for, Christine has been trying out apps that help her save money, like Ibotta, and earning money through side gigs like mystery shopping. She credits websites like Swagbucks, among others, and says she finds them helpful towards earning some extra income.

“I’m always making the extra money with going to Disney in mind,” says Christine.

Since November 2017, when she began using the app, the couple has earned more than $2,000 between their Swagbucks accounts. You can redeem Swagbucks for prizes, PayPal cash or Mastercard gift cards that you can use just about anywhere. This year, the couple may have enough money from Swagbucks to cover all the costs of their trip, except airfare to Orlando.

Use points on flights

But, they likely won’t pay for flights either, because they’ve earned plenty of points using their Jetblue Rewards Mastercard. They got the card about two years ago and earned enough points to entirely cover their last two round-trip tickets to Orlando.

To make sure the rewards program is worthwhile, Christine generally pays off the card’s balance weekly to avoid interest charges. She also tracks flight prices to make sure the couple makes the most of their points.

Book with a bounceback offer

The couple books their next Disney vacation before they leave the Disney hotel. Their proactiveness generally earns them a discount, called a bounceback offer. On their last trip in November 2017, they booked the day they were checking out and saved 25% on their room for their next vacation, Christine tells MagnifyMoney.

The bounceback promotions fluctuate. Sometimes it’s a different discount, or a free dining plan, which the couple has received in the past. If it’s not offered to them, the couple says there is sometimes a pamphlet left in the hotel room with information about a bounce back offer or you can dial x8844 from your hotel room to find out about the bounceback offer.

Split a Memory Maker

A final tip: Christine tells MagnifyMoney they may also search Facebook for another family going to Disney World around the same time and agree to split the cost of a Disney Memory Maker. The Memory Maker costs $169 for the length of your trip and gives you unlimited downloads of all your Disney PhotoPass photos and video taken by Disney’s photographers.

Other savings

The couple finds additional savings by using perks that come with staying at a Disney hotel, like free transport to and from the airport, extra FastPasses (for shorter wait times at the parks), MagicBands (radio-frequency enabled bracelets that serves as your park pass, hotel key and more) and extended park hours, called Magic Hours. They also have a Disney Premier Chase Visa credit card that grants entry to opportunities to meet and take photos with Disney or Star Wars characters and 10% off some merchandise and dining purchases, in addition to other savings.

Cora & Benson Helton

Cora Helton, 33, and her husband Benson, 30, of Columbus, Ohio, have gone to Disney World at least once a year since 2014.

In 2017 they went four times, and three times in 2016, and in 2018, Cora says she thinks they’ll go twice because Benson has to do some continuing education for his work as a web developer. They say they love Disney in part because has so much to offer adults.

“You are in what we call the Disney bubble,” says Cora, a voice-over artist. “You’re not checking your Facebook, you’re not watching the news, all of this turmoil and political upheaval. You are completely in this magical world of Disney.”

Use discounted Disney gift cards

She says her main savings hack is the “gift card hack,” where she purchases Disney gift cards at a discount to pay for her trip.

“You can plan your whole trip in advance and pay it all off with gift cards,” says Cora.

Several retailers sell discounted Disney gift cards. At Sam’s Club, for example, Disney gift cards valued at $500 are often sold at a discount. Target, too offers a 5% discount on Disney gift cards for its REDcard holders.

“The better option is to get them at my local grocery store, Kroger, because they have a fuel perks program,” says Cora.

Shopping with a Kroger Plus Card, Kroger’s free membership program, you earn 1 fuel point for every dollar you spend. Sometimes Kroger does a special where they offer four times the fuel points per purchase — that’s when Cora stocks up on gift cards.

Buying a $500 gift card, Cora says she can earn 2,000 fuel points, which earns her $2 off per gallon of gas, up to 35 gallons. She goes a step further to maximize her savings by making the purchase with a 3% cash back credit card; she calculates her savings at $85 with this method.

Try a Disney travel agent

The Coras also use a Disney travel agent to make the most of their trip. It generally won’t cost you any additional fee to book a Disney vacation through a certified Disney travel agent, as Disney compensates them for their work.

“It saves money because they know all of the best bargains,” says Cora. “They know when the best deals will drop; they can be up at midnight when the FastPasses become available.”

Having another set of eyes looking out for deals can be helpful as FastPasses, dining reservations and discount resort rooms go fast.

“You can tell them tell them what you want to do in advance and they do all of the hard work and you don’t have to do anything,” says Cora.

Become an annual passholder

The Heltons have annual passes, which they say helps them save money.

There are two tiers of annual passes for access to Walt Disney World’s four main parks: the Disney Platinum Pass ($849 per person) and the Disney Platinum Plus Pass ($949 per person). The Platinum Pass offers a 20% discount on some dining and merchandise purchases. It also rolls in things like a park hopper pass, which allows you to go visit multiple parks in a day, and rolls in Disney photopass downloads.

“Do the math on how much value it would be for the number of times you would go a year and the amount the discount will save you,” advises Cora.

Plan and split meals

Cora recommends choosing your restaurants carefully at Disney World and sharing meals when you can. She tells MagnifyMoney there are a couple of different places in the park that they know are inexpensive and can feed them both.

Cora says she and Benson go through the entire menus of their restaurant options while they are at the park and choose what they’d like before they decide to go. You can start even farther ahead — during your planning. You can preview Disney World dining options online and you can filter the restaurants by park. Disney also provides each restaurant’s menu online and you can filter this search by price-per-person for an easier time budgeting for food.

Andrea & Brian Tucker

Baltimore residents Andrea Tucker, 48, and her husband, Brian, 49, go to Disney World once a year with their two daughters, ages 12 and 13.

Their whole family adheres to a gluten-free diet, and Disney is one of the easiest places for them to vacation with their dietary restrictions. Andrea, a health educator and the owner of Baltimore Gluten Free, is strictly gluten free for an autoimmune disease. Her youngest daughter has Celiac Disease, an autoimmune disease that causes the body to attack the small intestine after ingesting gluten.

“We go to Disney so frequently because it is the safest place for us to go to eat and it really is a true vacation because of that,” says Andrea. “They are just really great with dietary restrictions and lots of dining options everywhere.”

Use a rewards card to save

Andrea says her family finds their main savings through cashback earned using their Disney Premier Visa Card on all of their purchases throughout the year. She says it helped them to save more than $1,000 on their last trip.

The card charges a $49 annual fee. It earns 2% cash back on purchases made at gas stations, grocery stores, restaurants and most Disney locations, and 1% back on all other purchases. An introductory bonus offers a $200 statement credit after the cardholder spends $500 within the first three months of opening the card.

Book Disney hotel rooms on promotion

Their family likes to stay at the three Disney resort locations closest to the theme parks, which are slightly more expensive than Disney’s other options, so Andrea is always on the lookout for a hotel room promotion.

“We wait for that sale to come up. It requires a bit of checking and vigilance to get those rooms when they go on sale because when it does, it goes fast,” says Andrea. “It’s important to be ready to act on it because there are only a limited number or rooms and people are waiting on it.”

You can find Disney’s current hotel rates and discounts on the company’s website. Andrea says that ideally she looks for a 30% room discount and generally sees discounts crop up in the early spring, for example. As of this writing, Disney is offering 20% to 25% discounts.

Save on food and drink where you can

Because they splurge on dining at Disney, the family cuts spending on food in a handful of other ways throughout the day.

They cut spending on one meal a day by getting groceries and eating breakfast in their hotel room. Andrea says they use a delivery service to order food ahead of time and have it delivered to their room, and they get staple items like cheese sticks, milk, yogurt, bananas, water and things they can heat up in a microwave in their hotel room.

The family also brings a free carry-on bag on their flight filled with their favorite snacks to eat throughout the trip. They bring water bottles to fill up at the parks to drink throughout the day.

Wait until the last day to buy souvenirs

One lesson the family learned on their first trip to Disney World: Only buy souvenirs after you’ve seen all of your options.

“Especially when my kids were younger, you’d go, ‘Oh my gosh, this is so cool,’” says Andrea, who says they wasted some money on souvenirs early on. The next day, they’d inevitably see something they wanted more than what they’d already purchased.

Now, they buy souvenirs only after visiting all of the parks. They use a park hopper pass so they can visit the same park multiple times.

“We kind of just remind everybody before the trip that it’s going to be exciting and so many cool things and we have time to look around and think about the best options,” says Andrea.

Bottom line

These tips can help you save some money on your trip if you use them, but at the end of the day, it’s your vacation. Getting a good sense of what you want from your trip before you book will help you save overall.

For example, none of these families would consider staying off-site, in a hotel near the park but not a Disney Resort hotel, although it’s an easy savings option.

“We have stayed off property in the past. You do save, but it’s just not the same,” says Christine.
“I like the magic of staying on property. You walk into that world of Disney, it’s fun and happy and everyone is in a good mood.”

But if staying on Disney property isn’t important to you, you can save — and use your savings on things you’d personally value more.

The lowest rates for a standard room for two adults at one of Disney’s value stay resorts from Aug. 5 to 11, 2018 are, as of this writing, selling at $120.53 a night, on a 20% discount promotion. That’s a premium to pay for the full Disney experience, even at a discount, compared to a room that costs less $100 a night at a nearby hotel with a free shuttle to the Disney theme parks and free breakfast, which the Disney resorts do not provide.

Ticket prices also vary by day and theme park, so if it’s not important to you to go during peak times (which you can see when buying tickets online), visit all of the parks or upgrade to park hopper passes, you can save there, too. When it comes to saving at Disney, all about setting your priorities and doing research in advance.

Advertiser Disclosure: The card offers that appear on this site are 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 card companies or all card offers available in the marketplace.

Brittney Laryea
Brittney Laryea |

Brittney Laryea is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Brittney at brittney@magnifymoney.com

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Reviews, Strategies to Save

BB&T CD Rates and Review

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

Trying to find BB&T CD rates
Source: iStock

As you may know if you’ve done a search for BB&T CD rates, their website is not a helpful place to turn for information. Beyond a basic overview of their CDs on their website stating that they have CDs with terms ranging from seven days to five years, they do not give details on their current rates. BB&T did not respond to email and phone inquiries from MagnifyMoney asking why the bank does not publish its CD rates online. When we called their customer service number, a representative said BB&T’s CD rates change on a daily basis and said the best way to learn about CD rates is to call or visit a local branch.

So that’s what we did.

We called BB&T branches on April 4th. After conducting this research, it’s not surprising BB&T makes their CD rates hard to find — they’re terrible.

BB&T CD rates and products

BB&T offers CD terms ranging from as short as seven days to as long as five years. They have eight CD options, each with different investment goals.

7-day to 60-month

For short-term investments, BB&T offers CDs ranging from seven days to 60 months. These personal CDs offer a fixed rate of return along with the flexibility to focus on developing either a short- or long-term investment.

BB&T CD Term

APY

Minimum Deposit Amount

3 Months

0.03%

$1,000

6 Months

0.05%

$1,000

1 Year

0.10%

$1,000

18 Months

0.15%

$1,000

2 years

0.20%

$1,000

3 Years

0.40%

$1,000

4 Years

0.45%

$1,000

5 Years

0.50%

$1,000

Rates as of April 4, 2018

Not only can you find better CD rates at other banks and credit unions for each of the terms BB&T offers, you can get those better rates with smaller minimum deposits. BB&T’s offerings are far from the best in every term length above — you can see some of the top options in our monthly roundup of the best CD rates.

With the seven-day to 60-month BB&T CDs, there are no penalty-free options for withdrawing your funds prior to the CD reaching maturity. The early withdrawal penalty is the lesser of $25 or 12 months of interest for longer-term CDs. So with smaller initial deposits, early withdrawal penalties will negate any interest you may have earned.

Can’t Lose

As the name of this CD implies, whether rates go up or down, you can’t lose. Well, actually, you can: The APY is so low, you’re almost certainly going to lose money to inflation.

At the 12-month mark of the CD’s term, you may make one withdrawal without paying any fees. So if the market rate is higher than what you’re currently getting, simply withdraw the money and reinvest at the higher rate.

If, however, the interest rate you’re receiving is better than what’s currently available, you also have the option of making a second deposit into the Can’t Lose CD, up to $10,000. This locks in the rate for the new investment amount for the remainder of the term. So whether rates go up or down, you’ll lock in the higher rate.

CD Term

APY

Minimum
Deposit Amount

Withdrawal
Penalties

30-month "Can't Lose"

0.25

$1,000

No penalty for one
withdrawal after 12 months

As of April 4, 2018

Still, you can find many CDs with better APYs than BB&T’s Can’t Lose, whether you’re looking for a 12-month investment or longer.

Stepped Rate

Laddering is a way to stagger your CD investments so you’re able to take advantage of increasing rates. With the Stepped Rate option from BB&T, laddering is built into the CD product. The initial CD starts out at a lower rate and increases each year. For example:

Months

APY

12

0.30%

24

0.40%

36

0.55%

48

0.75%

As of April 4, 2018

This product also allows you to make an additional deposit each year (up to $10,000). So if the interest rate you’re receiving is better than the market, you can invest more money into your existing CD to make a higher return. But if the current CD market is offering better rates than your existing CD, you can simply take advantage of that offer and still make a higher return.

In addition, you may make a withdrawal from what you initially deposited into your Stepped Rate CD after two years. So, again, if the market changes dramatically, you may withdraw your money with no penalty and reinvest in a better option.

Or you could create a CD ladder on your own, choosing CDs with better rates than BB&T’s — higher rates are certainly available.

Add-on

The Add-on CD option from BB&T offers a 12-month CD at 0.10% and an opening deposit of $100. You’ll need a BB&T checking account and a $50/month automatic deposit from your checking account into the CD. To get a personal account, you’ll just need to set up direct deposit or maintain a $1,500 balance.

CD Term

APY

Minimum
Deposit Amount

Withdrawal
Penalties

12-month Add-on

0.10%

$100

Greater of $25 or
6 months’ interest

As of April 4, 2018

Home Saver

If you’re in the market for a new home, and you want to earn a little more interest on the money you’re saving, consider the Home Saver CD. Starting with as little as $100, you’ll be able to deposit money earmarked for your new home every month and earn 0.40% APY. With this CD, as long as you’re withdrawing the money for use toward the purchase of your new home, you won’t pay any penalties for the withdrawal. But you will need a BB&T checking account set up for a monthly deposit of $50 into your Home Saver CD.

CD Term

APY

Minimum
Deposit Amount

Withdrawal
Penalties

36-month Home Saver

0.40%

$100

No penalty for
home purchase

As of April 4, 2018

College Saver

Similar to the Home Saver CD, the College Saver CD is meant for parents or students saving for college. It offers the benefit of starting at a higher APY (0.40%) with the flexibility of withdrawing the money up to four times per year to pay for the cost of attending school. As with the Home Saver, you’ll need to have a BB&T checking account with an automatic monthly deposit of $50. The College Saver offers terms of 36, 48, and 60 months.

CD Term

APY

Minimum
Deposit Amount

Withdrawal
Penalties

36-month College Saver

0.40%

$100

No penalty for
school costs

48-month College Saver

0.45%

$100

No penalty for
school costs

60-month College Saver

0.50%

$100

No penalty for
school costs

As of April 4, 2018

Treasury

This CD offers the ability to make additional deposits of at least $100 into your CD at any time and one monthly withdrawal without penalty. The CD has a six-month term with a variable interest rate tied to the U.S. Treasury Bill — if the rate goes up, you’ll make more money, but if the rate declines, you’ll make less. Right now, rates start at 1.86% and adjust quarterly. Throughout 2016, Treasury Bill rates increased almost every month and have continued to rise in 2017, reaching 1.035% in August. So this is a great option if you have the $5,000 minimum deposit amount and want a short-term investment with the option to add or remove funds from the CD.

CDARS

CDARS stands for Certificate of Deposit Account Registry Service and protects your principal and interest by making sure your money is placed into multiple CDs across a network of banks to keep your CDs insured by the FDIC (maximum limit for each CD is $250,000).

Other things to know about BB&T CDs

Does BB&T allow customers to take advantage of rising rates once they’ve opened a CD?

BB&T has two CD options that allow you to take advantage of rising rates: the 30-month Can’t Lose CD and the 48-month Stepped Rate CD. Both allow you to make a withdrawal before the CD comes to maturity in case rates increase (terms apply). They also allow additional deposits in case rates drop and you want to invest more at the existing rate of your CD. However, the current rates on those products are very low, negating the value of their flexibility.

About BB&T

BB&T (Branch Banking and Trust Co.) is a North Carolina-based bank with locations in 16 states and the District of Columbia, including Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Washington and West Virginia.

BB&T offers a mobile app for both iOS and Android. While their website is easy enough to use, finding specific information, particularly about rates, is impossible. Their customer service number isn’t much help in that regard either, with most questions answered with a suggestion to visit a branch location. As a result, if you don’t live in an area with a branch, we don’t recommend using BB&T’s CDs. To find the BB&T branch closest to you, use their branch locator.

Pros and cons of CDs

A certificate of deposit (CD) may offer a higher return than you’ll get with your savings accounts, without the risk of loss that accompanies other investment options with higher return rates. The drawbacks associated with CDs are the inability to access your funds during the term of the investment without suffering a penalty and the risk of interest rates increasing while your money is locked into a CD for a specified term.

The bottom line: Are BB&T CDs right for you?

BB&T does offer some flexible deals to its customers, but in general, better CD rates can be found at both banks and credit unions with comparable terms. You can find them on our list of the best CD rates, which we update every month.

Advertiser Disclosure: The card offers that appear on this site are 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 card companies or all card offers available in the marketplace.

Ralph Miller
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Ralph Miller is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Ralph here

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Strategies to Save

The Ultimate Guide to CD Ladders

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

The Ultimate Guide to CD Ladders

Certificate of Deposits (CDs) are some of the highest-yielding deposit accounts offered at most banks and credit unions. But, they come with a catch: your money is locked away for a certain period of time, and generally you can’t unlock it without paying an early withdrawal penalty.

It’s also no secret that interest rates are changing these days. That can also affect the returns you get from saving with CDs.Things only get more complex if you’re attempting to create what is called a CD Ladder, which can be used to take advantage of higher APYs while staggering investments so all your cash isn’t tied up for a very long time.

If you want to save money by creating your own CD ladder, you need to juggle your own financial goals with shifting interest rates and early withdrawal penalties. It’s possible that CDs may not even be the right investment tool for you. How are you supposed to decipher what’s the best course of action when there are so many competing possibilities? Fear not. We’ll help you decide whether CD ladders are the right investment tool for you and how to get the most out of them in this guide.

What is a CD ladder?

A CD ladder is a series of several CDs that are structured with varying terms. By staggering the terms, you ensure that each CD finishes its term at regular, predictable intervals. That way, you’ve got access to a steady stream of cash while still earning higher rates than you might through a regular savings or checking account.

The main disadvantage of CD ladders is that your money is locked away for a certain length of time. This differs for each CD and is called its term. CD terms can range all the way from one month to ten years. Generally, the longer the CD term, the higher the interest rate you can get.

Logically, you’d think that the best thing to do would be to put all your money in long-term CDs, right? Unfortunately, doing so has two specific risks.

You could miss out on rising rates. If the Federal Reserve raises interest rates (as they have been doing for the past two years), many banks and credit unions soon follow by raising the rates on their own deposit accounts. But, if you’re locked into a long-term CD, you could be stuck in a high-interest rate environment with the poor interest rates from yesteryear. That means you won’t be earning the maximum amount of interest possible.

It’ll be hard to tap into your savings in a pinch. Secondly, what if something happens and you need access to that cash? Can you predict what’ll happen in five years—a home purchase, major medical bills, or some other unexpected large expense? If your money is locked away in long-term CDs, you could be out of luck unless you pay a potentially-substantial early withdrawal penalty.

Luckily, there’s an easy solution that lessens these two risks: a CD ladder.

How to create a CD ladder in 3 easy steps

A CD ladder is a pretty intricate strategy. You split your money up into equal parts and match each pot of cash to a partnering CD. Then, you line them all up in a precise order and wait for the interest to accumulate.

Sound confusing? Let’s break it down with an example to show you exactly how it works with a basic five-year, five-CD ladder.

To start, let’s assume that you have $5,000 that you want to invest in a CD ladder (although this will work with any amount of money).

Step 1: Open up five separate CDs

Divide your cash into five equal parts. What we’re going to do is open five separate CDs. So, divide your cash into five equal pots of $1,000 each.

Search and compare to find banks with the best rates on CDs. Go to your bank of choice, either in-person or online. It’s possible to open up accounts at different banks or credit unions if they offer better rates on some CDs, but keep in mind that that will increase the complexity of this strategy. Open up five separate CDs with each pot of cash all at once and on a staggered schedule. Here’s what you’ll have when you leave the bank:

  • $1,000 in a one-year CD
  • $1,000 in a two-year CD
  • $1,000 in a three-year CD
  • $1,000 in a four-year CD
  • $1,000 in a five-year CD

Mark the date that you open all of these CDs on your calendar so that you can keep up with the CDs’ maturity dates.

Step 2: Each year when a new one-year CD matures, renew it ….and convert it into a five-year CD

Every year on your CD maturity date, one of your CDs’ terms will be up. For example, if you open a CD on May 26, 2018, then your one-year CD will come due on May 26, 2019. Your two-year CD will come due on May 26, 2020, and so on.

With most banks, when a CD becomes due, it will automatically roll over into another CD of the same term length (a one-year CD will automatically roll over into another one-year CD when it matures, for example). After it automatically rolls over, you will have a grace period of around one to two weeks where you can withdraw the money, add more money, and/or change the CD to a different term length — penalty-free.

Instead of letting your CD roll over into another one-year CD, you’re going to want to switch it up. Before the grace period ends, you’ll want to renew it into a five-year CD instead. Then, in 2020, you’ll do the same thing: you’ll renew the now-mature two-year CD into a five-year CD, and so on.

If you open up all of your CDs in 2018, it’ll look like this:

  • 2019: renew the one-year CD into a five-year CD
  • 2020: renew the two-year CD into a five-year CD
  • 2021: renew the three-year CD into a five-year CD
  • 2022: renew the four-year CD into a five-year CD
  • 2023: renew the five-year CD into another five-year CD

The reason we do this is because the five-year CDs pay out vastly higher rates of interest than the shorter-term CDs. If you can keep all of your money in the highest-earning CDs, you’ll get the maximum amount of cash possible.

Step 3: Decide whether you need to pull the money out or not

The other reason we do this strategy is because if we need to withdraw the money, we get free access to one new CD per year on our CD maturity date. In our example, that means you can withdraw $1,000 (plus whatever interest the CD earned) once per year without paying an early-withdrawal penalty.

Each time a CD becomes due, you should ask yourself: Do I need to withdraw this cash for any reason? If the answer is no, then keep your money in a CD ladder. If it’s not already invested into a five-year CD, then go ahead and renew it into a five-year CD. If it already is invested into a five-year CD, then just let it auto-rollover into another five-year CD. As long as you don’t want to withdraw the cash, your CD ladder will be fully on autopilot from this point forward.

Mini CD ladders: Explained

The five-year CD ladder sounds great, but if you’re like a lot of other people, you might need more frequent access to your money than once per year. That’s where a mini CD ladder might come in handy.

Rather than setting it up so that a new CD becomes due once per year, you can choose shorter term CDs and stagger them so that they mature every few months instead.

Let’s look at another example—the three-month, four-CD ladder.

You would divide your cash into four equal pools and open up four new CDs with these terms:

  • Three-month CD
  • Six-month CD
  • Nine-month CD
  • Twelve-month CD

One new CD will become due every three months. When it does, you would renew it as a 12-month CD with a higher rate. That way, you can access your money once every three months instead of once every year.

If you want even more frequent access to your money, it might be possible to restructure this in a different way. Some banks have one-month CDs, although they’re not as common as three-month CDs. If you open 12 one-month CDs and renew each of them into 12-month CDs, then you could even get access to your cash every single month instead of every three months. The downside of the mini CD ladder is that you won’t earn as much, because five-year CDs carry better rates than a twelve-month CD.

What is the best CD ladder strategy for me?

CD ladders are already pretty straightforward. Open CDs of different lengths, and renew them to longer-term CDs when they come due.

But, it might surprise you to know that there are a lot of different CD ladder strategies. Whichever strategy works best for you depends on your individual situation, and what financial possibilities keep you up at night.

For example, do you worry that you’ll make a mistake by locking your money away in low-rate, long-term CDs if interest rates start to rise (a fair concern, given recent decisions by the Federal Reserve)? Or are you the type of micro-manager who optimizes every little decision so that they can maximize their monetary returns?

If so, good news. These are some of the best CD ladder strategies for different people.

Best if you don’t need frequent access to cash:

The five-year, five-CD ladder

This is the baseline CD ladder strategy we outlined above. You open up five CDs with staggered term lengths so that one new CD comes due each year, and then renew it into a five-year CD. After four years, all of your CDs will be in five-year CDs earning the maximum amount of interest.

This type of CD ladder strategy works best for folks who know they won’t need very frequent access to their money. If you choose this strategy, it’s a good idea to keep a separate emergency fund of three to six months’ worth of expenses tucked away in a high yield savings account. You definitely don’t want to find yourself in a situation where you can’t access money for a year when you really need it.

Best if you need frequent access to your cash:

The five-year CD ladder with low early withdrawal penalties

One of the main reasons to invest in CD ladders is so that you don’t have to pay steep early withdrawal penalties. These penalties are typically tallied up as a certain number of months of interest depending on the term of the CD. For example, TD Bank will charge you 24 months’ worth of interest if you take your money out early from a five-year CD

These early withdrawal penalties are pesky enough, but high fees like this could actually eat into the principal you’ve deposited into the account, especially if you haven’t earned enough interest to at least cover the early withdrawal penalty. This means you might actually end up with less money than you deposited into the account at the end of the day—not to mention how it’ll hurt your returns even if you have earned enough interest to cover the penalty.

One way to get around this is to search for CDs with low early withdrawal penalties. What exactly is a low early withdrawal penalty? According to Ken Tumin, founder and editor of DepositAccounts.com (also a LendingTree-owned company), a below-average early withdrawal penalty for a five-year CD is six months or less.

Searching for CDs with low early withdrawal penalties is the best strategy if you want to earn the most money possible but also think that there’s a high likelihood you might need to break into one of your five-year CDs outside of the once-yearly maturation date. With this strategy, you will minimize your loss if and when you need to withdraw the money early.

Maximum work for higher yields:

Juggling CDs at multiple banks

It’s very possible that the top prize for highest CD rate for each term length in your CD ladder is held by a different bank. For example, Bank A might have the highest rate for one and two-year CDs, while Bank B might have the highest five-year CD rate.

If you’re an intrepid optimizer, it’s possible to earn the most money by splitting up your CDs among different banks, according to Tumin.

If it sounds a bit complicated, it is. “Each year, you’ll have to worry about transferring the money to the [bank with the] best five-year rate,” says Tumin. It also requires a lot of organization to remember the details of your many accounts. But, there is a way to limit the chaos.

Tumin’s recommendation is easy. “Choose at least two or three internet banks, but no more than three to keep things simple,” he says. “If one bank no longer becomes competitive, you can easily keep the CD ladder going with the other banks.”

It’s also a good idea to maintain a savings or money market account at the same bank for each of your CDs — as long as the account has no minimums and no monthly fees, since it will probably be empty much of the time. This bank account is strictly meant to be a temporary holding account for the CD money you hold within the same bank.

“If you need to access the money before maturity, it’s much easier to have the CD funds (minus the early withdrawal penalty) transferred to a savings or money market account that is at the same bank,” Tumin advises. “Once it’s in the savings/money market account, it’s easy to open a new five-year CD at another bank.”

Hedging your bets against rising interest rates:

The barbell CD ladder

The barbell CD ladder is the best CD strategy if you’re worried about rising interest rates while most of your money is locked away into lower-rate CDs. With this strategy, you divide your money yet again: half into a high yield savings account (a separate savings account from your emergency fund), and half into a five-year CD ladder.

The advantage of keeping your money in a high yield savings account is that if interest rates rise, you can immediately withdraw that cash when you see fit and invest it into CDs.

Of course, the trick is knowing when to pull the trigger and move your money from the savings account into a CD. If you do it too soon, interest rates may rise again, and if you’re too slow, you may lose out on potential gains. It’s a balancing act and since it’s impossible to predict the future, there’s no way you can really know when the right time is for sure. You just have to do it and hope for the best.

How do CD ladders hold up to other investments?

CD ladders are just one of many investment choices you can make. To see how they stack up compared to other common options, we’ll show you what you can theoretically earn in 10 years with a $10,000 deposit using each of the following choices: a five-year, five-CD ladder, the stock market, a high yield savings account, and just keeping the cash stuffed under your mattress.

Five-year, five-CD ladder

For this scenario, let’s assume that you start out with the standard five-year, five-CD approach. You will start by putting $2,000 each into five CDs of the following term lengths: one year, two years, three years, four years, and five years. Each year when a CD comes up for renewal, you renew it into a five-year CD.

After the fifth year, we’ll assume that you continue keeping all of the CDs in five-year terms for another five years. According to Ken Tumin, the average yield on a 5-year CD ladder is about 2%, so we are using that as the hypothetical return on investment. Of course, rates ebb and flow all the time, so this is merely an estimation.

Risk:

One of the safest options. The FDIC and NCUA insures your money up to $250,000 at each bank or credit union, respectively.

Reward:

$1,290

The stock market

For long-term investments (retirement, for example), the stock market remains the gold standard for investing. Over the last six decades, the S&P 500 (one of the most common measures of the stock market as a whole) has returned about 7% per year.

We can’t predict the market’s returns, obviously, but we’re going to assume that someone investing in a broad-based S&P 500 stock market index fund would earn 7% on their investments each year for 10 years. Here’s how they would fare.

Risk:

Very high. People can and do lose significant amounts of money in the short term while investing in the stock market.

Reward:

$9,671.51

High yield savings account

High yield savings accounts offer the maximum amount of liquidity. If you might need your cash at any moment, it’s a good idea to keep it in a high yield savings account. The tradeoff is that you’ll earn less interest than you might with the five-year, five-CD ladder.

We used the highest rate (1.50% APY; current as of 12/12/17) for personal savings accounts available nationwide that were listed on DepositAccounts.com. We assumed a $10,000 deposit saved up over a 10-year period.

Risk:

Very safe. Anything you keep in a bank (including CDs or savings accounts) is insured up to $250,000 by the FDIC or NCUA for banks and credit unions, respectively.

Reward:

$1,605.41

Under your mattress

Who hasn’t heard stories from their grandparents about saving up their extra cash in a hidden mason jar or under their mattress? Back in the days when banks failed in the Great Depression, losing your life savings was a real concern. Thankfully, these days the FDIC and NCUA programs make your deposits safe at each bank or credit union up to $250,000.

Now, the danger lies in not earning any interest on your money. Inflation eats away your money’s value at a rate of around 3% or more per year. That means if you’re not earning at least 3% interest, your money is probably losing value rather than gaining value.

If you started out with $10,000 in 2007 and kept it stuffed away in your home for ten years, here’s what would happen.

Risk:

Very unsafe. That money could easily be stolen or lost in a fire, not to mention what’ll happen as inflation erodes its value.

Reward:

$1,805.67

Is creating a CD ladder worth it?

Whether or not a CD ladder is worth it depends on your individual situation and what your goals are.

According to Tumin, there are four things you need to keep in mind when deciding if a CD ladder is worth it for you: liquidity (how easy it is to access your cash), simplicity (how much work do you want to put into pulling off a master-CD-ladder?), maximizing your yield, and your investment time frame (do you want to invest indefinitely, or complete the CD ladder at a certain point in time?).

We’ve outlined several CD ladder strategies above that you can use to meet your goals. Compare them to your other options: will keeping your money in a high interest savings account, the stock market, or some other investment option work better for you?

In general, CDs today are earning far below what they used to. In July 1981, for example, you could get a one-month CD on the secondary market (i.e., buying it from an individual who has a CD, rather than a bank or credit union) with a whopping interest rate of 17.68% APY. Today the rates for a similar three-month CD are averaging 0.240% APY—quite a difference!

That means that today, CDs are generally not going to be your highest-earning option. This is especially true if you hold a large number of short-term CDs, as the mini CD ladder strategy calls for.

“I don’t think other CD ladders with shorter-term CDs are worth it,” says Tumin. “They don’t really provide much more liquidity,” especially if you opt to invest in five-year CDs with low early withdrawal penalties.

In fact, almost all CDs except for five-year CDs earn even less than a high yield savings account. Currently, banks are offering as high as 1.50% APY on high yield savings accounts—just under the current average interest rate for five-year CDs (1.57% APY).

If your CD investing strategy involves anything other than holding long-term five-year CDs (not counting the start of the CD ladder strategy when you hold CDs of several term lengths), then CDs may not be worth it when compared to a high yield savings account.

FAQ: CD ladders

If you really are terrible at saving money, CD ladders can be a great way to keep you disciplined. The extra sting with the early withdrawal penalty might be enough to help you overcome the urge to pull the money out before its term has ended.
Yes. CD ladders work well as a savings strategy for large purchases. You will need to do a lot of planning, however, to start the CD ladder and make sure all of your cash is outside of the CDs by the time you need it.
Yes. The money you earn in interest from your CD ladders is taxable. Your bank or credit union will issue you a Form 1099-INT at the end of the year for you to report on your tax return.

A grace period is the amount of time you have to withdraw, add funds, or change the CD to a different term length after it has matured. You typically have a one to two-week grace period after your CD matures.

It’s called a “grace” period because usually your CD will automatically roll over into another CD of the exact same term length. Normally this means you would then owe early withdrawal penalties if you take the money out early. Instead, banks offer you a “grace” period where you can withdraw the money without paying any early withdrawal penalties.

There are several other types of CDs:

  • Callable CDs offer higher interest rates, but the banks may cash them out for you at any time if they desire.
  • Bump-rate CDs offer staggered, increasing interest rates over time.
  • No-penalty CDs have lower interest rates, but no early withdrawal penalties.

It is possible to use them in your CD ladder, however you need to choose these CDs carefully. For example, what kind of monkey wrench would be thrown into your plan if you invest in a callable CD and it is indeed cashed out by the bank early? Or, would a no-penalty CD really offer rates that beat out a high yield savings account?

A jumbo CD is just a regular CD, but for a very large amount of money. Each bank or credit union has their own definition of what a “jumbo” CD is. For example, to invest in a USAA jumbo CD, you’ll need to bring at least $95,000 to the table. CIT Bank, on the other hand, requires a slightly larger minimum deposit of $100,000 to qualify for a jumbo CD.

Jumbo CDs typically offer much higher rates than regular CDs and can help you earn even more money in a CD ladder if you’re able to take advantage of them.

It depends on the type of CD ladder you use, and the savings account you’re comparing it with. In general, though, the five-year, five-CD ladder strategy will beat out even a high yield savings account in the long run.

For most people, no. We compared the outcomes from a five-year, five-CD ladder above with the typical returns you could expect from a stock market. A hypothetical $10,000 investment in a CD ladder earns $1,531.11 in interest over a 10-year period.

Compare that to typical stock market returns for the same amount of time and money: $9,781.51. The stock market far, far outperforms the CD ladder. If you’re saving for a very long-term goal like retirement, it makes more sense to grow your money in a high-yielding investment like the stock market, even if it is riskier.

This post has been updated. It was originally published Dec. 19, 2016.

Advertiser Disclosure: The card offers that appear on this site are 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 card companies or all card offers available in the marketplace.

Lindsay VanSomeren
Lindsay VanSomeren |

Lindsay VanSomeren is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Lindsay here

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Investing, Life Events, Retirement, Strategies to Save

Think Twice Before You Max Out Your 401(k)

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

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Financial planners can’t emphasize the importance of saving for retirement enough: The earlier you start saving and the more you contribute, the better. But should you max out your retirement account? And if so, how do you do it? 

Unfortunately, there’s no solution suitable for all; every individual has a different financial situation.  

But let’s start with the basics: The maximum amount of money you can contribute to your 401(k), the retirement plan offered by your company, is currently $18,000 a year if you are under age 50, and $24,000 if you are 50 or older. If you were starting from scratch, you would have to tuck away $1,500 a month to max it out by year’s end.  

This is a big chunk of money. And although there are multiple benefits to saving for retirement, you may want to think twice before hitting that maximum.  

Remember, this is money that, once contributed, can’t be withdrawn until age 59.5 without incurring penalties (with some exceptions).  

What’s more, putting away a significant portion of their savings to max out their retirement fund doesn’t make much sense for some workers.  

If you are fresh out of college and your first job pays $50,000 annually, you’d need to save 36 percent of your paychecks to max out your 401(k) for the year.   

“Everyone needs to save for retirement, and the more dollars you could put in, the earlier, the better, but you also need to live your life,” says Eric Dostal, a certified financial planner with Sontag Advisory, which is based in New York. “To the extent that you are not able to do the things that you want to accomplish now, having a really really robust 401(k) balance will be great in your 60s, but that would cost now.”  

A few things to consider BEFORE you max out your 401(k)

  1. Do you have an emergency fund for rainy-day cash? If not, divert any extra funds to establish a fund that will cover at least three to six months’ worth of living expenses.  
  2. Do you have high-interest debt, such as credit card debt? High-interest debts, like credit cards, might actually cost you more in the long run than any potential gains you might earn by investing that money in the market.  Still, if you can get a company match, you should try to contribute enough to capture the full match. It never makes sense to leave money on the table.  
  3. Do you have other near-term goals? Are you planning to buy a house or have a child anytime soon? Do you want to travel around the world? Do you plan to pursue an advanced degree? If so, come up with a savings strategy that makes room for your nonretirement goals as well. That way you can save money for those big-ticket expenses and will be less likely to turn to credit cards or other borrowing methods. 

Maximize your 401(k) contributions

If your emergency fund is flush, your bills are paid and you’re saving for big expenses, you are definitely ready to beef up your retirement contributions.   

First, you’ll want to figure out how much to save.   

At the very least, as we said above, you should contribute enough to qualify for any employer match available to you. This is money your employer promises to contribute toward your retirement fund. There are several different ways a company decides how much to contribute to your 401(k), but the takeaway is the same no matter what — if you miss out on the match, you are leaving free money on the proverbial table. 

If you are comfortable enough to start saving more, here is a good rule of thumb: Save 10 percent of each paycheck for retirement, though you don’t have to get up to 10 percent all at once.  

For instance, try adding 1 percent more to your retirement fund every six months. Some retirement plans even offer automatic step-up contributions, where your contributions are automatically increased by 1 or 2 percent each year. 

Larry Heller, a New York-based certified financial planner and president of Heller Wealth Management, suggests that you increase your contribution amount for the next three pay periods and repeat again until you hit your maximum.  

“You will be surprised that many people can adjust with a little extra taken out of their paycheck,” Heller said.   

Once you’re in the groove of saving for retirement, consider using unexpected windfalls to boost your savings. If you get an annual bonus, for example, you can beef up your 401(k) contribution sum if you haven’t yet met your contribution limit.  

A word of caution: If you’re nearing the maximum contribution for the year, rein in your savings. You can be penalized by the IRS for overcontributing. 

If your goal is to save $18,000 for 2017, check how much you’ve contributed for the year to date and then calculate a percentage of your salary and bonus contributions that will get you there through the year’s remaining pay periods.  

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Shen Lu
Shen Lu |

Shen Lu is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Shen Lu at shenlu@magnifymoney.com

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