How do high-interest savings accounts work?

Piggy bank
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With a high-interest savings account, you’ll earn a lot more interest than you would with a traditional savings or checking account. That means you’ll generate more money from your savings over a shorter amount of time.

What's the catch? Sometimes with a HISAs, you need to make a minimum deposit, maintain a minimum balance or pay regular fees — though that’s not always the case.

APY

When you start looking for a high-interest account, the first number you’ll see will be APY, or annual percentage yield.

APY is the yearly rate of return on the money in your account, and it includes compound interest, which is the interest earned on your interest.

The more often your investment compounds and builds interest on the interest you’ve already earned, the faster your savings grow.

Comparing rates

So how much higher is the interest on a high-interest savings account? As of May 2020, the best rates were around 2.80% — that’s more than 200 times higher than a traditional savings account.

If you were to put $10,000 into a traditional savings account with a 0.01% interest rate, you’d only earn $1 in interest during an entire year.

Compare that to HISAs with a rate of 2.00%, which would earn you $200 in interest over the course of a year — quite a difference. And that’s without making any monthly deposits.

At the same 2.00% rate, making a monthly deposit of $200 over one year would earn you $222; over three years it would earn you $824, and over five years it would earn you $1,645.

As you can see, making regular monthly deposits into a high-interest account will lead to serious gains over time.

High-interest savings accounts are secure

Secure money
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Like traditional savings accounts, HISAs are federally insured up to $100,000 if you're dealing with a bank insured by the Canada Deposit Insurance Corporation (CDIC), or a credit union insured by provincial deposit insurance providers.

Old-school brick and mortar financial institutions aren’t your only secure option though; a growing number of high-interest savings accounts are being offered by online banks, and the CDIC insures many of them as well.

And since the Bank of Canada has slashed interest rates in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, many of these small online banks are offering better high-interest savings options than their big-bank competitors at the moment.

Should I get a high-interest savings account?

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The great thing about high-interest savings accounts is that they’re versatile. Whether you’re planning for your wedding or preparing for retirement, you can rest easy knowing that the money you’re putting towards your goal is growing.

Some popular reasons for opening a HISAs include:

  • Building an emergency fund.
  • Saving up for a big purchase, like a car or a home.
  • Starting a nest egg.
  • Creating a college fund for your kids.
  • Protecting your money against inflation.
  • Helping your general savings grow.

Whatever your goals are for your savings, opening a high-interest account is a smart move.

But before you jump at the first account your bank offers you, it’s worth it to shop around a bit and see what’s out there. After all, you’re not obligated to stick with your current financial institution if you can find a better rate somewhere else.

Here are a few key things you should look for when comparing your options for a high-interest account:

Interest rate

Obviously you’ll be looking for accounts with high interest rates, but make sure to clarify whether the rate being offered is standard or if it’s an introductory rate that will eventually go down. The highest rate isn’t always your best bet if it’s going to drop after just a few months.

You should also look into whether there are minimum or maximum thresholds you need to meet in order to maintain your rate, and confirm that they’re doable for you.

Fees

Some financial institutions may charge introductory fees for opening a high-interest account, and monthly maintenance fees for keeping it open. It’s important that you understand what these fees are and whether there are ways to avoid them.

Easy access to your money

How easy it will be to access the money in your high-yield account is another thing to consider. Some banks will allow you to make withdrawals instantly using an ATM card, while others may require a waiting period of several days before your transaction is processed.

Compounding offer

Lastly, you should find out how frequently the interest you earn from your account will be compounded. An account in which interest is compounded daily will grow your savings faster than an account where interest is compounded yearly. The more often interest is added to your balance, the more growth you’ll see in your savings.

Next steps

Stop getting puny returns in your regular savings account.

Take a look at several different banks, compare account features and start earning more interest on your money. No matter how much you have available for savings at the moment, opening a high-interest savings account is a wise decision.

About the Author

Shane Murphy

Shane Murphy

Staff Writer

Shane is a staff writer for MoneyWise. He holds a bachelor’s degree in English Language & Literature from Western University and is an alumnus of the Algonquin College Scriptwriting program.

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