Where you put your money depends on a multitude of circumstances related to your own individual needs and desires as well as the state of the economy. Regardless of your savings and investment choices, you face three kinds of risk: interest rate risk (value of your investment changes as interest rates rise and fall); inflation risk (inflation diminishes the return on your investment); price risk (the actual value of your investment may go down).
Listed below are a few savings and investment options and a brief description:
Passbook Accounts – Most of us are introduced to the world of finance with a passbook savings account from our local bank. Advantages: No risk; federally insured; convenient. Disadvantages: Low interest rates; possible fees for low balances.
Bank Money-Market Accounts – These accounts pay a variable rate of interest and the banks set the rates. There can be a rule on how much you have to withdraw at one time and how many withdrawals you can make by check per month. Advantage: In high-interest periods, it usually pays more than passbook accounts; easy to open; convenient access; federally insured; combined bank balances (checking plus passbook plus money market) may get you a free checking account. Disadvantages: In low interest-rate periods, it pays about the same as a passbook account; monthly fees if your account falls below the required minimum balance.
Mutual Fund Money-Market Accounts – In this case money is pooled by a number of investors into a mutual fund that buys short-term securities like Treasury securities, high-quality bank certificates of deposit, etc. These are considered safe (some buy only U.S Government securities), and you can write an unlimited number of checks on the fund. Advantages: Higher short-term returns than with bank money-market accounts; liquid; diverse investments. Disadvantages: Don’t have federal deposit insurance; management fees.
Certificates of Deposit (CDs) – You deposit money (usually in a bank, savings-and-loan, or credit union) for a specified period at a specified interest rate. Your principal never fluctuates. Advantages: Interest rates usually higher than money-market accounts or passbook accounts; federally insured. Disadvantages: Penalty for early withdrawal.
U.S Treasury Bills – You loan money to U.S. Government when you buy a Treasury bill – or the other two Treasury securities listed below (Treasury notes, Treasury bonds). Treasury bills are short-term obligations that mature in three months, six months, or a year. They do not have a stated interest rate; you buy them at a discounted rate and your profit (interest) is the difference between what you pay and the face value when the T-bill matures. Minimum investment is $10,000. Advantages: Extremely safe; short maturities; exempt from state and local taxes; can buy directly from a Federal Reserve Bank. Disadvantages: High minimum investment; no interest payments; interest rates are usually lower than with longer-term investments.