Consumers are likely experiencing sticker shock as new government data shows annual inflation rising at the fastest pace in more than 30 years.
So-called headline inflation, including food and energy prices, rose at a 4.4% annual rate in September, the fastest since 1991. With higher prices likely here to stay for now and interest rates still low, inflation could also be taking a bite out of another important area for consumers: their emergency savings.
Consequently, you may want to re-evaluate where your cash is deposited. While it may be tempting to chase higher returns, it’s still best to take a conservative approach.
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“With cash, if it’s intended for something like an emergency fund or a short-term expense, it needs to be kept safe,” said Ken Tumin, founder and editor of DepositAccounts.com. “Stocks or bitcoin or other types of investments are not appropriate for it.”
There are generally a handful of options for emergency funds. Each offers potential benefits and drawbacks.
If you want to keep things simple, an online savings or checking account can be the best way to go, Tumin said.
“By being liquid, you always have the option to move it if the rate goes down or if you find a better rate elsewhere,” which is particularly important if you’re worried about inflation, Tumin said.
High-yield checking accounts
Many U.S. banks and credit unions currently offer high-yield reward checking accounts, according to Tumin.
Some those provide accounts that pay at least 3% interest on deposits of up to $10,000.
That beats the average savings account, which may have interest rates as low as 0.14%.
Like other accounts, these often come with some strings attached, such as requiring regular debit card usage.
Yet there are other potential perks, such as no monthly fee or 2% cash back on up to $200 in purchases per month, for example.
Investing in I bonds offers a particular advantage in today’s environment because they are indexed to inflation, according to Tumin.
Unlike some other investments, I bonds allow you to defer federal taxes on the money until you redeem them or they reach their 30-year maturity.
However, there are some trade-offs. One downside is that you are limited as to how much you can invest per year, which is currently $10,000.
You also cannot redeem the money within the first 12 months of the issue date. If you take the money out within the first five years, you may lose three months’ worth of interest. However, that beats the early withdrawal penalties for some five-year certificates of deposits, which can be at least six months’ interest, Tumin noted.
Certificates of deposit
Generally, it is not a great time to invest in CDs, Tumin said, due to the fact that their rates are currently at all-time lows. If you invest now, you could be locking that rate in long-term.
That could lead to regrets if interest rates go up in the next year or two.
Another thing to watch out for with CDs: harsh early withdrawal penalties. However, about a dozen online banks are now offering CDs that will not penalize you for taking your money out early, Tumin said.
Consequently, it can pay to shop around.
“The only reason to get a CD would be if you could get significantly more than what you can at a savings account rate,” Tumin said.