Friday, December 9, 2011

Money Market Rates 12/11

Here are the latest money market interest rates of the banks that I've been tracking on my blog. Note that these rates are sorted by APY, and represent institutions that I have accounts at, or have otherwise mentioned in my blog:

1.00% Discover Bank Online Savings
0.90% American Express High Yield Savings
0.90% Urban Partnership Bank Online Savings
0.89% Ally Bank Online Savings
0.85% ING Direct Orange Savings
0.80% HSBC Advance Online Savings
0.70% FNBO Direct Online Savings
0.40% Western FCU Money Market
0.15% E*TRADE Complete Savings
0.15% Chase Plus Savings
0.10% Citibank Savings Plus
0.10% Travis CU Flexible Money Market
0.06% Patelco CU Money Market Account

In some cases, MMA interest rates are tiered. If this is the case, I usually report the interest rate at the $10,000 tier in these updates.

Rates are believed to be accurate as of 12/8/11. I did not include banks that had special, or introductory rates in the list because they are not ongoing interest rates. I am also not including non-liquid accounts such as CD's in the list. This month, I am adding two additional credit unions to the list so that readers have a comparison point to banks.

Discover Bank currently has the highest interest rate of 1.00% among the banks that I'm tracking. A one-time favorite, Ally Bank Online Savings has dropped a few positions in my list. Rounding out the bottom of this list are two credit unions, Travis CU, and Patelco CU. I question the motives of those who have encouraged others to transfer their money from banks to credit unions during Bank Transfer Day last month.

The credit unions on my list are on par with Citibank, which is really the bottom of the heap, as far as banks are concerned. However, Citibank does have a special promotion going on where you can get either $200 or $400 for opening a new Citi Checking Account. Of course, there are a few catches to this offer. First of all, you are required to set up direct deposit, and need to make electronic bill payments for at least two months. The Citibank account offers a $200 bonus, and the Citigold account offers a $400 bonus. While not a requirement to receive the bonus, you need to keep $6,000 ($15,000 after December 9, 2011) in the Citibank account to avoid a $20 monthly fee. And $50,000 is required to avoid a $30 monthly fee for the Citigold account. In spite of these potential fees, this bonus offer might be worthwhile for some depositors.

It seems that the general interest rate trend is down. I was especially disappointed that the interest rates for Citibank and Chase were so low. Since I still have significant funds in these institutions, I think that it is time for me to consider moving some money around to other institutions, but I won't be transferring the funds to a credit union.

So, that is the latest list of money market rates. Please let me know if you know of any higher interest rates.


Monday, December 5, 2011

TurboTax Offers Free Tax Advice

I just received a note from the PR folks at Intuit (TurboTax) letting me know that they are offering free tax advice to their customers. I guess it is time to start thinking about 2011 taxes. I have been using computer tax software to prepare my taxes since 1996, and I plan to do so again this year. Once again, the two main contenders are TurboTax and H&R Block. I have not yet decided which of these software products I will use.

Anyway, the point of this post is that TurboTax is offering this free tax advice service to registered TurboTax users from 12/1/2011 to 4/1/2012. Of course, the first question that comes to my mind is what constitutes a "registered TurboTax user"? On the TurboTax website, you can register and start your tax return for free. You are not charged until you decide to use their product for filing. In fact, TurboTax offers 1040EZ and simple tax return preparation for free. So, I would guess that anybody could be entitled to this free tax advice.

This is a departure from the service that they offered last year which allowed you to submit a tax question through their website: (Note that this website appears now to be disabled.) Any questions about the free tax advice offer should be directed to TurboTax Support.

The main thing that I like about their new offer is that it is valid until the beginning of April, when most people will need the advice. Previously, TurboTax limited their free advice service until the end of January. Few people are organized enough to know what tax question you want to ask before then. After January 2011, the price of their free advice increased to $39.95.

Getting back to tax preparation software, I have used both TurboTax and H&R Block to prepare my taxes. Without going into a lot of detail, the end result of using both programs was 100% identical. So, my recommendation is if you have used TurboTax in the past and were happy with the end result, you should probably stick with that choice. On the other hand, if you used H&R Block At Home (or other tax software) and found that to be satisfactory, you probably won't gain much in switching to TurboTax. I have found that TurboTax usually ends up costing a little bit more than the equivalent competitive tax software.

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