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Saturday, July 19, 2008

» Top 5 Online Banks: Savings or Checking Accounts on Blueprint for Financial Prosperity

There are dozens and dozens of online banks offering all manner of savings and checking accounts. Some banks you’ve heard of before and some you’ve never heard of. Makes you wonder what the best online bank is huh? Before you ever deal with any bank of any kind, online or in person, be sure to double check that they have FDIC insurance (lookup) and that they’re a legitimate bank. That being said, all of the banks on this list are legitimate, have FDIC insurance, and have been in the business of banking for a few years. These aren’t no-names but their names may not be familiar to you (if you read a lot of personal finance, all of these names will be recognizable) and they’re all banks that I’ve dealt with personally or talked extensively with someone who has dealt with them personally.

Update: HSBC Direct just increased their rate to 3.50% APY, good through at least August 15th and E*Trade increased their rate to 3.30% APY.

#1. E*Trade

E*TradeE*Trade, known more as a discount broker than as a bank, takes the number one spot in my list of top online savings banks because you can link your savings account to a brokerage account and instantly transfer funds between the two. If you’re an impulsive gambler and like to plow money into penny stocks, you don’t want an E*Trade online savings account or its 3.30% APY interest rate because you’ll probably turn it into a -100% interest rate account. That being said, the appeal of this account for me is the speed and convenience of being able to transfer between the two without having to wait several days for an ACH transfer. If you have more than $5k and fancy a checking account, they have a checking account too.

#2. ING Direct

ING DirectFor the longest time, ING Direct did not have the best of rates. While other banks were up in the 5’s, they were in the 4’s. When others were in the 4’s, they were in the 3’s. Now that the others are in the 3’s, it’s glad to see ING Direct is still in the 3’s. I’m a fan of ING Direct because of how easy they make everything. Their interface is intuitive, fast, and I can easily refer other people to take advantage of their $25 new account bonus. I can commit funds to a CD in minutes and then manage it all in one place. To be completely frank, interest rate is an important factor but not the most important factor when the rates differ by fifty basis points (half a percent on $1,000 is a mere $5, plus it’s taxed!), it’s about reliability and consistency and they’ve delivered on both.

ING Direct also has a promotion where you can get $25 if you open a new account and deposit $250, the only caveat is that an existing member has to refer you. You can visit this ING Direct $25 new account promotion referral page for a list of referral links. The referrer gets $10 for referring you.

#3. HSBC Direct

HSBC DirectHow could I put HSBC Direct, the online bank rated 2006 Best Overall Online Bank by Kiplinger’s Personal Finance, at third? Sometimes that first mover advantage is difficult to overcome. Many banks appeared before HSBC but none had HSBC’s brand name power and once you have a high yield savings account, is there a real need to get another one? I actually do not have an HSBC account but many of I recently opened an HSBC Direct account and agree with my friends who have said it’s definitely one of the best in terms of features (and rates, they’ve been consistently one of the highest interest rates since their inception). The minimum amount you need to deposit to get the best rate is $1, which is the same as some other banks but E*Trade (checking) requires at least $5,000; so a minimum of $1 is not true across the board.

#4. Washington Mutual (WaMu)

Washington MutualIf you are not comfortable with a completely online experience and there are no HSBCs near you, you might want to consider Washington Mutual and their Free Checking account as an option. You can link up your regular Wamu accounts, get free checks for life, cash-back on your debit card purchases, no monthly account fees, and the awesomely powerful 3.30% APY interest rate on a checking account. For me, I already have a checking account and the desire to have such a flexible and lucrative checking account isn’t enough for me to open up another one (plus there isn’t a branch near me, on the biggest advantages of a B&M type place).

#5. Emigrant Direct

Emigrant Direct probably has the least amount of branding power compared to the rest but they were the second online bank account I opened because they had competitive rates. Their CD buying process is also quite simple, not as simple as ING Direct, but their online account system looks and acts a little dated. One knock against them, which was the big bonus for ING Direct, was their reliability. When they revamped their system, it went down for a few days. That’s not what you want in a bank where the only access is online access.

Current Rates

  • ING (open): 3.00% APY
  • E*Trade (open): 3.30% savings, no minimum.
  • HSBC Direct (open): 3.50%
  • WaMu (open): 3.30%
  • Emigrant Direct (open): 2.75% APY

There you have it, my five top online banks (though one was brokerage first and several of them have brick & mortar presences) according to my experience with them or my research of them. Please feel free to share your opinion and vote for which of these banks (or ones I left off the list) you think makes for the best online bank. (If you’re interested, here is more discussion about the best interest rate banks.)

» Top 5 Online Banks: Savings or Checking Accounts on Blueprint for Financial Prosperity
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