Online Saving Just Got Better With GE Capital’s 0.95% Interest Rate

Online Saving Just Got Better With GE Capital's 0.95% Interest Rate

The beginning of a rise in interest rates?

Today, Max members just got a raise, for doing absolutely nothing.

GE Capital Bank raised the interest rate it pays on its online savings account from 0.90% to 0.95%. Over the next 30 days, every Max member with a GE Capital account will benefit as their cash balances are reallocated, directing funds to GE Capital to earn this higher rate. For our members with $1,000,000 in cash being optimized, that amounts to $500 of incremental interest income per year for doing absolutely nothing. No need to monitor interest rates. No need to login to their online savings accounts or order funds transfers. Max does all of this automatically, in the background, with no user intervention required.

Does this foreshadow the rise in bank interest rates that we’ve long been expecting? Since the financial crisis, banks have continuously cut rates to match the decline in bond yields and manage their balance sheets. Investors have suffered. Yet the online banks – most with different business models than traditional brick-and-mortar banks – can put incremental deposits to good use. As rates start to rise, we expect more entropy in rates, along with a widening of the spread between the interest rates offered by online banks vs. their brick-and-mortar peers. This means that it will become all the more important to focus on whether your cash is optimally invested.

Today, our Max members are earning a weighted average 0.88% on their cash that’s being optimized, automatically. That’s 0.78% more than the national savings average, and 0.87% more than most money market funds. You can learn more about Max at MaxMyInterest.com

3 Ways to Optimize Everything

3 Ways to Optimize Everything

Optimize your time, your money, and your experience in-flight

At Max, we believe there’s an optimal way to do everything. Here are three of our favorite ways to optimize your time, your money, and your experience in-flight.

Wallaby Financial

Debit cards bewilder us. Why have money debited directly from your bank account when credit card companies will happily give you an interest-free loan for upwards of 30 days? (Especially when you could earn 0.90% on that cash via Max?) Furthermore, credit cards offer rewards points or other bonuses that tend to deliver an effective rebate of approximately 1%. But these points differ by card, by merchant, and even by month of the year. Who has time to keep track of which card to use in each situation?

One way to optimize your credit card points is to sign up with Wallaby, which essentially chooses the right card for you on a per-transaction basis. The service helps you figure out which card makes the most sense when you shop online. A smartphone app does this for you on the fly, so you can decide which card to pull out when you’re in a store or restaurant.

Soon, the company promises, the Wallaby Card will launch, with a single card to carry in your wallet. In the background, this card is linked to all of your existing credit cards, so when you swipe the Wallaby card in a store or at a restaurant, the Wallaby system will automatically route the purchase to the most logical one of your credit cards.

In our testing, Wallaby seems to prefer our Starwood Amex Preferred Guest card for most purchases. This is because the points this card generates can be redeemed at Starwood hotels globally, with no blackout dates. In many cases, this delivers substantially more than the industry-standard penny-per-point of value. But for some stores, seasonal bonuses put other cards ahead, and Wallaby makes the smart choice.

Uber

A great way to optimize your time is with this ride-hailing service. It’s ideal for anyone who needs to get somewhere urgently. By avoiding the hassle of hailing taxis — especially in places where it’s impossible to flag down a yellow cab — you reach your destination quicker and with less stress. Team Max recently tested Uber after a New York City charity benefit on the U.S.S. Intrepid, the warship-turned-museum anchored off Manhattan’s West Side Highway. It’s a notoriously tough place to grab a cab, but our Uber pulled up just a few minutes after we used the Uber app to reach out for a car. We’ve had similar results recently in Chicago and Boston — where UberX, which uses regular cars instead of taxis or livery cars, is considerably less expensive than cab fare yet offers better customer service, more convenient invoicing and greater transparency.

Using the app means that you can request a car at any time, see the driver’s photo and ratings, watch on an animated map as your car approaches, and then follow the route on your phone as you sit in the back. You can even send a link to a friend or relative and let them track your ride — perfect for trying to anticipate when a friend will arrive from the airport, or to ensure your teenager makes it to her destination safely. After your ride is done, your credit card of choice is automatically billed and you receive an itemized receipt by email.

The Uber network is fanning out around the world. This summer, the company is offering cars between New York City and the Hamptons as well as the Jersey Shore. Ubers are also available in each of the New York-area beach resorts. For a July 4th weekend promotion, Uber worked with Blade, a helicopter service, to shuttle revelers between Manhattan and the Hamptons, with Uber cars to run passengers to and from the helipads. Cost per 5-passenger copter: $2500 each way.

Seat Guru

Do you care deeply about where you sit on a plane? You should. In the same fare-class cabin, there’s a vast difference between a flight when you can be productive (or relaxed) and one where you’re crammed into a middle seat next to the restroom. Amenities like power outlets, wifi, and overhead luggage space matter. If you know where to look, you can make sure you’re getting as many benefits as you can for the airfare you’ve purchased.

Seat Guru is the savvy traveler’s go-to website to understand how differences in planes, routes, and airlines will affect your trip. It’s worth your while to check this site before you select your seat (or have your assistant factor in Seat Guru recommendations when booking each flight). Travel is about serendipity, but the fewer surprises on your flight, the better. SeatGuru tells you exactly what to expect on a given flight based on the model of aircraft scheduled to be flown, and rates each seat by comfort level and amenities.

Seat Guru is smart and helps optimize your experience in-flight. It matches up airline schedules with aircraft configurations and tracks which seats fully recline, which have power outlets, and — if you’re stuck on an old 757 that doesn’t have seat-back in-flight entertainment — which seats are within easy view of the centralized TV screens. More importantly, you’ll know whether your seat is a bulkhead seat (tradeoff: more legroom vs. no stowage for your laptop) and whether you’re situated next to the galley. Even in First and Business, where the seats tend to be more uniform, you can find out whether your British Airways seat to London faces forward or backward, whether your lie-flat seat offers 180 degrees of recline, or a skimpy 170 degrees, and whether your pod has individual access to the aisle.

Smart seat selection is the difference between a productive flight and a miserable redeye. Seat Guru can help.

The Max Blog is purely editorial, not advertising. We showcase products, destinations, and solutions we think Max members will find useful. Max does not receive compensation for mentions on the Max blog.

5 Finance Tips for New Parents

5 Finance Tips for New Parents

Some decisions you make now can affect your family’s financial picture for decades.

Expecting a baby? You will have probably prepared for the initial expenses, like a good baby swing and the reams of nappies you’ll need, but will you want your newborn to go to college someday? It sounds premature to begin thinking about tuition now, but it’s just good financial planning. Some decisions you make now, before your baby is born or while you still have a tiny newborn, can affect your family’s financial picture for decades. Here are five finance tips for new parents:

1. Set up a 529 plan

A 529 plan account allows you to set aside money for college, graduate school, and other educational expenses while gaining substantial tax advantages. The accounts can be used for the named beneficiary — your baby — as well as any siblings or descendants, so you won’t lose the money if your child grows up to be a rock star or professional athlete and never goes to college. Because of the power of compounding, money that you contribute at birth for your child’s higher education will grow over time, tax-free. If you add funds regularly — many plans offer automatic deductions that let you contribute a set amount each month from your savings accounts — you could set aside a significant portion of your child’s tuition money by the time college comes around. Then, you can help them attend whatever college they like and teach them about how Credit Cards to Build Credit and how to use money efficiently whilst they’re away. Your planning and preparation can help them be financially stable whilst at college. Shop around for the best plans; each state has different rules. Consider choosing a plan that doesn’t require your child to attend college in a particular state, because you can’t know where your family will be living by then or what your child will prefer. Because of the tax advantages, it’s often worth your time to set up such a plan even if you don’t think you’ll have trouble funding your child’s tuition. The first $10,000 contributed each year is typically state tax deductible, so for someone living in a high tax state like New York or California, that could translate into a $1,000 savings on your state tax bill each year. Not many other investments provide for a 10% gain on day one, and when combined with the fact that your 529 contributions grow tax-free, it’s obvious why establishing a 529 plan in the year that your child is born can be a wise finance move for new parents.

2. Set up baby’s first bank account

Relatives may choose to give your child money as a baby gift. Consider setting up a savings account in the child’s name or in trust for the child. You can choose your own bank, or select the one with the best interest rates, since your child likely won’t be using this money for years. Credit unions and online banks typically offer the best rates — which matter since you’re planning for many decades of compounding. CapitalOne 360 offers online accounts for children that pay 0.75% in interest, and recently offered a promotion that funds the first $30 when parents set up an account for a minor.

3. Register for airline frequent-flier numbers

As soon as you start buying a separate airline seat for your baby — you’re not required to do this until age 2, but you may want to start earlier so the baby can sit in a car seat on the plane — sign up for frequent flier numbers on the airlines you fly most often. Just like an adult, a child of any age can amass airline rewards points to earn status while flying. Even if your baby isn’t a global traveller, this is important in oversold situations — air miles members are treated better than those without a frequent flyer number on file. Also consider applying for a passport in infancy, in case your family wants to travel overseas. Even if your child can’t hold his or her head up yet, passport photos can be taken at home by lying your baby down on a white blanket, snapping a head-and-shoulders photo, and taking the memory card to your local photo store, where they can convert the file to passport-sized photos.

4. Add your baby as a beneficiary on your documents

The fourth finance tip is to check with your lawyer to make sure your baby is named in your will — or at least that you’ve put in a provision for your direct descendants without naming them. Also make certain you’ve added your baby as a beneficiary on all your legal and financial documents: bank accounts, 401(k)s and IRAs, pensions, life insurance, and anything else with value.

5. Set up an email address

Who knows if we’ll be using email by the time your baby is old enough to type. Just in case, new parents should sign up for a free email account with a popular service like Google’s Gmail. Try to get the baby’s name (Joseph.William.Smith@gmail.com) if possible, but don’t put into the account name itself any details that you’ll want to keep secret, like the baby’s birthdate. Email accounts are a necessity for virtually all online services, including bank accounts. Once the email address is set up, you can also cc: your child’s email address whenever emailing family photos, creating a permanent storehouse for your baby that he or she will enjoy later on.

New Money Market Fund Rules: How will they affect investors?

S.E.C. Approves Rules on Money Market Funds

S.E.C. Approves Rules on Money Market Funds

When investors think about their portfolios, they often picture several buckets: stocks, bonds, real estate, alternatives, commodities and cash. This “cash” portion includes traditional bank deposits, but also many other instruments deemed “cash equivalents,” including short term CDs and investments in money market funds.

Until now, it has been generally reasonable to assume that money market funds are as good as cash. While they’re not covered by FDIC insurance, these funds tend to be liquid and their NAV, or net asset value per share, has been pegged at $1. However, yesterday’s new money market fund rules approved by the Securities and Exchange Commission bring into stark relief why money market funds are not “the same as cash.”

The SEC announced on July 23 new regulations governing how investors can get their money out of money market funds in the event of financial-markets turmoil. The rules allow some funds to put up barriers to redemptions under certain circumstances, according to The New York Times. That means investors could potentially lose access to their cash when they need it most.

What this means, in practice, is that investors should treat money market funds differently from cash as they think about liquidity. Before these new rules, investors could typically redeem their money-market fund shares at the end of each day. But if — in the event of market turmoil — it’s not possible to access these funds right away, that money is suddenly less available to the investor, and thus less valuable. It’s often precisely when markets are most troubled that cash becomes most valuable. Ask any investor who had excess cash lying around and bought the S&P 500 index when it fell below 700; today, the S&P 500 index stands just shy of 2000.

There are plenty of situations where an investor might choose to lock up money to get a more favorable return. CDs usually promise higher rates for a longer period. Private equity investments require much longer lock-ups, typically up to 12 years.

Money market funds are a different case. At current interest rates, these investments offer little to no return. Faced with these new regulations, investors may wonder why they must bear the risk of losing liquidity without being compensated by additional interest.

How to get around this problem? For investors who are looking to keep their money liquid, available, and FDIC-insured, savings accounts at leading online banks are a smart choice. These savings accounts can pay up to 0.90%, above the 0.11% average that U.S. savings accounts as a whole pay in interest and far more than the 0.01% offered by many money market funds at present.

For those investors compelled by the opportunity to earn higher returns on FDIC-insured bank deposits, MaxMyInterest offers a convenient platform to automatically manage multiple savings accounts to achieve greater FDIC protection and maximize interest income.

5 Ways to Manage Finances as an Expat

MaxMyInterest makes it easy to manage your finances

MaxMyInterest makes it easy to manage your finances

Accepting a post in a foreign country? Living and working abroad is an exciting experience, but it can wreak havoc on your finances. Taxes become more complicated when expats are earning income and managing their finances overseas, from the J1 visa tax systems in the United States to all others around the globe. To do something as simple as access your accounts, you may need to move your banking relationships online, since your neighborhood bank may not have a branch in the country where you’re moving.

From my years of living abroad, I developed a few simple tricks to make it easier to manage our family’s finances. Here are 5 ways to keep your finances in order as an expatriate:

1. Sign up for electronic financial statements and payments.

Request that your banks, credit cards, and vendors of all sorts send you account statements and bills in electronic form instead of through the regular mail. It can take too long for mail to reach you overseas, and you could miss payment deadlines or fail to notice red flags in your accounts if you don’t see them in time. Keep the statements organized on your computer and backup the files to the cloud, using a service like DropBox. When it’s time to pay your credit card bills or other invoices, pay electronically, not by mailed check. Your bank’s website will typically let you do this online. In cases where a paper check is required, leading banks like Citibank will allow you to fill out a form on their website and they’ll mail a physical check for you, at no charge.

2. Ask if your bank offers foreign-currency-denominated accounts.

If your home bank has branches in your new country, inquire about what’s involved in using your account once you arrive. Ask if you need to get a new account denominated in your new country’s currency, tied to your existing home account. If this isn’t possible, research local banks by asking other expats based there. Make sure you’ll be able to conduct business with your local bank in English if you don’t speak the local language.

3. Choose your credit cards wisely.

If you don’t want to pay steep fees when you use your credit card in a foreign country, make sure your card allows for free currency translation. One such card is the Platinum Card, from American Express; other cards from Capital One, Citibank, Chase and Barclays offer this service as well. Also check that you’ll be able to redeem whatever loyalty points your main credit card offers — frequent-flyer miles, cash-back points, or hotel nights — while living in your new country.

4. Understand your insurance policy and coverages.

Evaluate your insurance coverage. Your employer will likely provide you with health coverage. Just make certain it has the benefits you need when living and traveling overseas. Check that your homeowner’s insurance policy will cover you while living abroad in a house you’ll likely be renting. If not, or if you’ll be selling your home in the U.S., arrange for renter’s insurance or make sure your employer is covering this for you. This is also a good time to check on your life insurance policy, as certain countries may require a rider or be excluded from coverage.

Many frequent travelers and expats choose to carry medevac insurance, which will fly you to a hospital or even all the way back to the U.S. in the event of a serious medical emergency. Some credit cards offer this benefit to cardholders. Be sure to check the fine print on your card’s policy. It may be worthwhile to arrange for your own private medevac insurance.

5. Use MaxMyInterest.com to manage your cash from overseas.

Expats often keep a lot of cash back in the U.S., with little need for it on a day-to-day basis. Our service, MaxMyInterest.com, works well for expats who want to maximize the interest they earn on this cash while keeping within the FDIC deposit-insurance limits. (In fact, I came up with the idea for Max while living in Asia, trying to manage our finances.)

Once you set up Max by linking online bank accounts to your regular brick-and-mortar checking account, the system works automatically to rebalance your cash as interest rates change, sending it to the banks that pay the highest interest rates. You can access Max from anywhere in the world. All you need to set up a Max account is a U.S. mailing address and tax ID number. Max members are currently earning 0.76% more than the national savings average. The extra interest income earned via Max could translate into an extra sightseeing trip to explore your new home country, or to travel back to the U.S. to visit friends and family.

Gary Zimmerman is the founder of MaxMyInterest.com.

How can U.S. depositors protect their cash against earning negative interest?

Protect your cash against earning negative interest.

Protect your cash against earning negative interest.

The European Central Bank’s announcement that it will lower interest rates in the Eurozone and charge banks to park their funds in Frankfurt overnight brings renewed attention to the problem of bank depositors earning little interest on their savings accounts.

The ECB’s move is designed to spur banks to lend out more in the form of loans to European companies and individuals. By cutting its deposit rate to negative 0.1%, the central bank aims to boost economic growth in the region, which has struggled to overcome a sovereign-debt crisis that followed the global financial crisis and sparked a deep recession.

As the world emerges from the financial troubles of the last half-decade, central banks are signalling that low interest rates will continue. The U.S. Federal Reserve is ending its own quantitative-easing program, which pumped extra money into the economy, but rates are only expected to rise slowly for the next few years, unless inflation spikes sharply.

While more bank loans could have a positive effect on European businesses and encourage companies in the region to invest more, this is not good news for bank depositors. They are already suffering from ultra-low interest rates on savings accounts. Many people are fundamentally uncomfortable with the idea of having to pay to keep their money in the bank. With today’s near-zero interest rates on offer from most banks, the real return on cash is often negative, even in the U.S.

Fortunately, depositors have options. In the U.S., online banks have lower operating costs than traditional brick-and-mortar banks and are thus able to pay higher interest rates to their depositors.

With Max (MaxMyInterest.com), we have built an automated system that helps depositors benefit from the higher rates on offer from FDIC-insured online banks. Today, our members are earning a weighted average 0.87% on their cash, or 0.79% net of fees, which compares favorably to most bank accounts or money market funds that offer little to no yield.

The effects of compounding are important to an investor’s portfolio. Earning an extra 0.70% to 0.80% on deposits, year after year, can have a profound impact. Most Max members can expect to earn tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars in incremental interest over their investment horizons, simply by using Max to help continuously optimize their cash allocation across multiple online bank accounts.

Periodically reviewing one’s portfolio and ensuring that cash is working as hard as possible — while spread across enough banks to be adequately covered by FDIC insurance — is one way to enhance returns without taking on more risk. Many depositors, however, are too busy to focus on how they manage their cash. In a time of low interest rates, it’s crucial to keep on top of which online banks are offering the best rates and move deposits accordingly — or let Max handle it for you, automatically.

Gary Zimmerman is the Founder of MaxMyInterest.com.

4 Ways to Keep Your Cash Safe

Watch your cash grow with Max

Sitting on a lot of cash?  Make sure it’s fully insured.

Banks are the safest place to keep your money — until they’re not. It’s a remote risk, but bank failures do occasionally happen.  It’s important to ensure your cash is adequately protected, before it’s too late.

That’s why deposit insurance exists. In the U.S., the government’s FDIC insurance program guarantees the first $250,000 of a depositor’s cash in each insured bank. But many depositors hold much more than the FDIC limit in cash, leaving a portion of their cash at risk in the unlikely event of a bank failure. Investors keep a portion of their financial assets in cash precisely because they don’t want to take risk, so it makes sense to ensure that as much of your cash as possible is protected by FDIC insurance.

Here are 4 ways to keep your cash safe:

1. Open multiple account types

FDIC insurance tops out at $250,000 per depositor, per account type, and per bank. If you set up an account for yourself, one for your spouse, and one held as a joint account in both of your names, together you now have $1 million in FDIC coverage at that bank: $250,000 for each of your individual accounts, plus another $250,000 for each of you for the joint account.

2. Ask if your bank has multiple bank charters

The largest national banks often have more than one bank charter. This means they can offer their account holders the ability to have accounts at what’s technically more than one bank. Because FDIC coverage applies per bank, this can increase the deposit insurance that account holders can receive. If you hold $750,000 at a bank that has three bank charters, you may be insured under FDIC rules for the entire balance. Ask your bank if this applies to your accounts and read the fine print to ensure you are adequately protected.

3. Open accounts at different banks

To make sure your cash in the bank is insured, you can open accounts at a variety of banks. That way, even if one bank fails, you’ll still have access to your accounts at the other banks.  Be sure to keep your accounts below the $250,000 FDIC coverage limit at each bank.

As you spread your accounts among different banks, consider online banks as well as traditional brick-and-mortar banks. Savings accounts at online banks often pay considerably more in interest, because they don’t have to support the same level of expenses for branches or tellers. Just be sure to monitor the rates your banks are paying, so you can make certain you’re getting the most interest you can. Banks change their rates frequently.

4. Use MaxMyInterest.com to manage accounts held at multiple banks to keep you within the FDIC limits while earning more in interest

If you’d like a solution to help you manage your existing brick-and-mortar checking account along with online savings accounts, while optimizing the amount of interest you earn, try our service, called Max, at MaxMyInterest.com. Max uses the links between your brick-and-mortar checking account and your online savings accounts to optimize the amount you earn in interest on your cash in the bank, while respecting FDIC limits. That means that your money automatically moves between your own accounts to stay within the FDIC limits at each bank, while helping you earn as much interest as possible, even as rates change.

As an alternative to bank accounts, many investors choose to keep cash in money market funds.  This is especially prevalent within brokerage accounts.  However, shares of these funds aren’t insured, which means they could potentially lose value. During the global financial crisis, one such fund, the Reserve Primary Fund, dipped below $1 per share in value, sparking an exodus from this class of investments. Since then, Americans’ investments in money market funds have fallen from $4 trillion to $2.7 trillion today.

One downside of money market funds: many of these funds currently yield as little as 0.01% annually. By contrast, bank accounts typically pay 10 times that much in interest and online savings accounts managed through the MaxMyInterest.com system are yielding approximately 80 times more, even after taking fees into account.  Max members are currently earning a weighted average of 0.87%, or 0.79% net of fees, all via FDIC-insured savings accounts at leading online banks including American Express, Barclays, GE Capital, Ally Bank and Capital One 360.

Gary Zimmerman is the Founder of MaxMyInterest.com.

Welcome to the New Max Blog

Here at Max, we like to optimize everything. So while we’re focused on helping you earn as much as possible on your cash, we also think about how to make the most out of life (and invest or spend the incremental interest income that Max generates.)

Today, we’re launching a new blog, focused on optimizing your finances and your lifestyle. Much like Max itself, the content of our blog is all editorially independent — Max does not accept compensation to feature companies or services on our blog. We’re simply looking out for your best interest.

If there’s something you’d like to see on the blog, please contact us. In the meantime, we hope you enjoy our personal finance blog, Basis Points, and our lifestyle blog, Max Luxe.

Best,

Team Max