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The www.FedPrimeRate.com Personal Finance Blog and Magazine

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

A 7.5% APY Certificate of Deposit In This Interest-Rate Environment? Yes, But One Week Only!

Sometimes, junk mail is cool.

I was going through the day's mail, placing the important stuff to one side and shredding the junk. I was just about to destroy a large postcard when I noticed the numbers 7.5 in huge letters on the front of the card. Upon further examination I found that it was an unbelievable offer from a local credit union: 7.5% APY on a one-year certificate of deposit (CD) or a one-year IRA CD!

I know this is hard to believe, so I've attached a scan of the postcard to this blog post. Proof, baby!

According to BankRate.com, the average rate on a 1-year CD is 2.34% APY right now. Not bad really, considering that most banks can borrow money via the Federal Reserve at no more than 0.25%. I understand that other factors influence CD rates, but still: 7.5%? That has to be the best rate in the country! If you can find any better anywhere in the United States, please post a comment below and let us all know.

Of course, the deal comes with some tight restrictions. It's a one-week special from the Freedom Credit Union, which is about a 15 minute walk from my place. They're celebrating their 75TH anniversary (get it? 7.5 APY / 75 years.) The minimum deposit is $500 and the maximum is a disappointingly timid $1,000. If they get 350 new members before the promotional week is up, the offer is rescinded and no one else gets the deal.

A restriction I don't get: if you're between the age of 13 and 25, you can only deposit $250. What's up with that? I'm an old man so it doesn't affect me, but I think this particular dictate is unfair to young, money-savvy savers and investors.

The Freedom Credit Union is easy to join: if you work or live in my local area, you can become a member. I really like credit unions that are easy to join.

Want a piece of the action? Well, if you live in Pennsylvania you may be able to take advantage of this deal. Here are the requirements:

"...Freedom [Credit Union] personal Memberships are for anyone who lives, works, worships, performs volunteer service, or attends school in Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Montgomery, and Philadelphia Counties..."

The 7.5% APY promotion runs from April 18 through April 24. Since the offer ends if/when they get 350 new members, better not procrastinate if you want in. I have a feeling some folks are already setting up camp.

And this is why I choose to keep shredding junk mail instead on opting out of receiving it. You never know what kind of shiny nuggets you'll find among the Chinese restaurant menus and supermarket circulars. Yep.

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Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Is 5.00% APY On A 3-Year CD A Good Deal Right Now?

stock market crashWith all the chaos in the American banking system going on right now, consumers across the country are looking to for the safest place to store and grow their hard-earned dollars. The stock market crashed last week, with double-digit declines for each of the 3 major indexes. Though American equities regained some ground today, we are still dealing with a serious bear market. From the Prime Rate website:

"...Since closing with record highs on October 9, 2007, the DJIA has now lost 5,713.34 points (40.336%), while the S&P 500 Index has declined by 665.93 points (42.547%). The record high for the DJIA is 14,164.53; for the S&P 500 Index it's 1,565.15..."
Most of us don't trade individual stocks on a regular basis, but most of us are linked to stocks by our retirement savings, like 401(k) and 403(b) plans. The waning stock market is especially bad news for those near retirement, as most portfolios have lost a lot of value this year.

I Am Grateful for The Conservative Ways of Credit Unions

Back in 2003, when the Federal Reserve dropped the fed funds target rate to 1.00%, which in turn caused the U.S. Prime Rate to drop to 4.00%, I was very interested in a credit card on offer from my credit union. The APR was 6.99% fixed, and the typical credit line for this particular Visa® card was $5,000. I wanted this card bad, not just because of the interest rate, but also because it was from my credit union, and I knew that the term and conditions associated with this card would be more consumer-friendly than any card on offer from any traditional bank.

When I applied for the card, my application was met with fierce resistance. My credit score wasn't that bad, but I was, and still am, self-employed, so my credit profile must have caused one or more red flags go up. The loan offcredit cardicer who reviewed my application asked for 2 years of tax returns and proof that I was making the money that I claimed I was making on the application. I submitted all the documentation they wanted (took about a week to fax it all), but, in the end, my application was rejected. I did not received a canned "dear john" letter from the credit union. The loan officer called me at my home and explained that the credit union could not approve my credit card application because I did not have enough collateral with them, i.e. I did not have enough cash on deposit. I was told that I could reapply at any time. That rejection was painful, but I understood: the best credit cards on offer from the best financial institutions will only go to consumers who are very secure financially. If I had around $5k in my saving or checking account, I probably would have been approved.

Play it very safe; lend conservatively; don't lend unless the member has been thoroughly vetted. It's because my credit union stuck by these principles that it has managed to avoid the financial ravages caused by the excesses of Wall Street investment banks and the debt associated with lending hundreds of thousands of dollars to first and second homeowners who couldn't afford the monthly payments. Wall Street banks like Citigroup® chased the 11%-13% returns promised by super risky mortgage-backed securities, and, when the subprime fiasco was unfolding last year, ended up paying 11% on a loan from the sovereign wealth fund owned by oil-rich Abu Dhabi. Bottom line: Citi® was relegated to subprime borrower status because they got sloppy and too greedy. They were, in essence, issued an 11% APR subprime credit card by a foreign government that makes unbelievable sums of money for doing next to nothing. How's that for irony?

Is 5.00% APY On A 3-Year CD A Good Deal Right Now?

Right now, financial institutions are really into Certificates of Deposit (CD's),credit union CD rates as evidenced by the high yields being offered these days. A week ago, my credit union was offering -- and they were pushing this offer very hard -- a generous 5.00% APY on a 3-year CD (CD's are called Share Certificates at credit unions), which may seem kinda' weird, because, as you can see in the screen capture image I've posted to the right, the rates on offer for 42 and 60 months are lower. Should be: the longer you let them hold your money, the better the interest rate you get, right?

The target rate at which most healthy American banks and credit unions can borrow overnight funds from each other via the Federal Reserve -- the target fed funds rate -- was lowered to 1.50% last Wednesday, and is expected to be lowered again at the October 29 FOMC meeting. With all the turmoil in the credit markets, the Fed has allowed financial institutions to borrow vast sums at very low interest rates and for terms much longer than overnight[1][2][3]. But the prospect of locking in a rate of 5% for 3 years is very tempting for my credit union, because they know how rates are going to look about a year from now.

With all the money the Fed is dumping into the American and international banking systems, the price we'll all have to pay for the Fed delivering truckloads of cheap cash at the doorsteps of our bankssavings and nest egg is inflation. A lot of money is being dumped in an effort to loosen up frozen credit markets, and this will inevitably translate to high inflation down the road. The Fed will respond to runaway inflation by raising interest rates, no matter how anemic the economy is. Since all that money that'll be sloshing around in the economy is likely to cause inflation to accelerate at a fast clip, the fed funds target rate (FFTR) will likely be raised to a relatively high level. The median FFTR from 1990 to now is 4.5%; the average is 4.367%. Don't be surprised if the FFTR is 6.0% or higher 12 months from now.

So if my credit union can lock in 5% for 3 years, and the FFTR will go to 6.0% or higher within 12 months or so, then you can see that my credit union will have gained the advantage by the time the CD matures.

So, is investing in a 3-year CD @ 5.00% APY a good idea right now? Absolutely! But, if you can, go for a 12-month CD for now, or reserve as much cash as possible for next year. When the Fed ends the next cycle of raising the FFTR, I'm betting that you will be able to get even better returns with 3-5 Year CD's, so much better that I'm confident it'll be worth the wait.

Yes, I am grateful for my credit union. My Roth IRA has continued to grow despite all the nonsense going on in the banking system. And I'm confident that I have nothing to worry about.

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Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The Fed's Plan for Dealing with The Mortgage Problem

The Federal Reserve has released it's plan on how to tackle the problems in the American mortgage industry. Here's how I feel about certain bullet points from the Fed's press release:

  • Creditors would be prohibited from engaging in a pattern or practice of extending credit without considering borrowers’ ability to repay the loan.

  • Creditors would be required to verify the income and assets they rely upon in making a loan.

It's a real shame that Alt-A mortgages were abused. I was hoping this financing option would be available to me when I'm ready to buy, since I am self-employed and have undulating income. The way it looks now, ALT-A loans may eventually disappear from the market forever.

FYI: With stated income mortgages, you provide the lender with your social security number so that they can check your credit score, but the lender doesn't require hard proof of income, like a 2 years of tax returns or payment stubs. A stated income home loan is a type of Alt-A mortgage.

  • Prepayment penalties would only be permitted if certain conditions are met, including the condition that no penalty will apply for at least sixty days before any possible payment increase.

Weak! The Fed should simply ban all mortgage prepayment penalties and be done with them. This is one (of many) reason why I like credit unions much more than banks: a federally chartered credit union cannot charge prepayment penalties, ever. The Federal Credit Union Act of 1934 prohibits federally chartered credit unions from assessing prepayment penalties of any type on any loan.

A credit union is a financial institution that's owned by its members. When compared to credit unions, banks tend to offer more services, and they tend approve loans and credit card applications more readily. But credit unions almost always have better interest rates on loans, better yields on savings and certificates of deposit, and reasonable fee schedules. Also, with credit unions, the terms and conditions attached to loans and credit cards are invariably more consumer-friendly.

I like the idea of benefiting from both worlds: I keep my savings in a credit union, and my business checking account with a large bank.

  • Lenders would be prohibited from compensating mortgage brokers by making payments known as “yield-spread premiums” unless the broker previously entered into a written agreement with the consumer disclosing the broker’s total compensation and other facts. A yield spread premium is the fee paid by a lender to a broker for higher-rate loans. The consumer’s written agreement with the broker must occur before the consumer applies for the loan or pays any fees.
This will definitely help. During the height of the mortgage origination frenzy, mortgage brokers would target subprime borrowers with loans that would likely go into foreclosure, so as to make big money with premium spreads.

  • Creditors and mortgage brokers would be prohibited from coercing a real estate appraiser to misstate a home’s value
Fraudulent appraisals were a big part of the problem, and lots of guilty appraisers won't be prosecuted due to lack of evidence. This proposed rule would certainly help to keep appraisers honest.

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