Three years after the Federal Reserve started raising benchmark interest rates in the U.S., what the country’s biggest banks pay depositors is shockingly low. Like next-to-zero low. At Citigroup, it’s 0.04 percent. At JPMorgan Chase, it’s even lower: 0.01 percent.
How is that possible? Because clients haven’t seemed to care all that much about getting paid more. They’ve kept depositing new money anyway, so there was no pressure on these banks to push up rates and absorb additional costs.
But there’s a whole set of other banks out there — generally a lot smaller, more digital and hungrier for new cash — that are aggressively trying to lure depositors. In this universe, which includes American Express and Marcus, the new consumer unit of Wall Street giant Goldman Sachs Group, savings-account rates of 2 percent or more are common.
Now, this might not seem like much in historical terms, but when compared to the Fed’s benchmark rate, at 2.5 percent, and the U.S. 10-year bond yield, 2.4 percent, it’s not bad, especially in an economy where inflation is a mere 1.5 percent. Some Americans seem to finally be taking notice. Deposit growth at many of these online banks is quickening.
While the flows into these lesser-known names isn’t of a magnitude that would have much of an impact on the nation’s top banks, they are starting to hurt the ones just a notch below these behemoths. Regional banks like Citizens Financial Group and U.S. Bancorp. Both of them have said in recent weeks that they’re finding it harder to attract deposits and anticipate having to bump up the rates they offer.
“First-quarter results probably will show a continued rise in deposit costs,” said Allen Tischler, an analyst at Moody’s. “Even if the Fed’s on pause and rates aren’t necessarily rising, not all depositors have taken advantage of rates that are higher today than they were a year ago. So there probably will be continued catch-up, particularly on the consumer side.”
The average rate on a checking account is a measly 0.29 percent, up from just 0.24 percent a year ago, according to Informa Research Services.
“It went from really, really bad rates to just really bad rates,” said Ray Montague, Informa’s director of deposit-product research.
That’s one reason consumers have been slow to move their cash: Rates just haven’t been high enough to make a difference to the average consumer. For someone with $1,000 in savings, a large bank offering 0.05 percent pays out 50 cents a year in interest. Moving to a higher-yielding account — say, the 2.25 percent offered by Goldman’s Marcus product — would yield $22.50 a year in interest.
“Is it worth it for $20 to move your money? The answer is no,” said Gerard Cassidy, an analyst at RBC Capital Markets. “If you have $100,000, it’s worth it. I think what you’re finding with Marcus and these other products is the average deposit is quite large because it is that money that is moving to higher rates.”
The top banks have been the biggest beneficiaries of the Fed’s rate hikes, which lets them charge more for loans while the amount they parcel out in interest on checking and savings accounts stays relatively stable. At JPMorgan, the biggest U.S. bank, deposits have been surging despite the paltry returns, rising at twice the industry average since 2014.
“The incremental deposits we acquired in this time alone would be enough to create the seventh largest U.S. bank,” Thasunda Duckett, who leads consumer banking at JPMorgan, said at the company’s investor day in February. “We’ve been successful because we’ve won at both acquiring new relationships and satisfying existing ones.”
At regional banks, rates have looked a lot like they do at the very top. On average, savings accounts at the 50 biggest banks pay just 0.05 percent.
The pressure building on some of them to start bumping those rates up comes at a tricky time, just when the Fed is signaling that it’s concerned the economy is slowing and it’s unlikely to keep raising the benchmark rate. That will make it hard for them to further bump up the rates they charge on loans while they lift payouts on savings accounts, squeezing their margins.
What banks are offering
Here are some of the higher offerings with balance minimums of $1 to $500 that will pay you more, according to Bankrate. The rates quoted may increase or decrease as the Feds change rates, but the latest Fed guidance is that they expect to leave rates alone for a while. All banks listed provide accounts insured by the FDIC up to $250,000 per account. Credit unions are not included because none that we know of are paying rates above 2 percent. Why? Credit unions and banks with brick-and-mortar locations typically have more overhead than online sources and therefore pay less interest.
1. Mysavingsdirect — 2.4 percent APY. It’s an online bank, a division of Emigrant Bank, founded in 1850. No minimum balance required, interest compounds daily. Downside: No ATM access or mobile app.
2. Citibank Accelerate — 2.36 percent APY. Anyone who has a Costco membership probably already has a Citi credit card. “Citi Accelerate is the only high-yield savings account at a major bank with no minimum deposit,” according to a Citi spokesperson. Downside: A $4.50 monthly fee unless the balance is $500 or more. Possible marketing for other Citi products.
3. Synchrony Bank — 2.25 percent APY. “Its savings account and other depository products are consistently among the top-paying accounts,” according to Bankrate. Highly regarded customer service and perks such as free ID theft resolution and travel discounts. Downside: No checking-account option.
4. American Express National Bank — 2.1 APY. This is surprising, considering that many American Express products can be fee-heavy. But this is a competitive interest rate without any monthly fees or minimum balances. Downside: No physical banks, no checking-account option, no mobile-check option except for Amex credit-card customers. Possible marketing for other Amex products.
5. Discover Bank — 2.1 percent APY. Discover Bank also offers checking accounts and other consumer products. Plus there’s a bonus. Get $150 if you sign by May 20 with a $15,000 balance or more. There is no minimum balance requirement to receive the 2.1 percent. Downside: No physical locations, so cash deposits not possible. Possible marketing for other Discover products.
FYI, those looking for higher rates with very little risk can also check out certificates of deposit (CDs). The highest rates are between 2.7 to 2.75 percent for dollars locked in for 1-2 years with minimum deposits of $1 to $500.
The information on what specific banks are offering was reported by John Ewoldt at the (Minneapolis) Star Tribune and added to this Bloomberg report.