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What's the Difference?

Consumers can choose to put their money in deposit accounts like checking, savings, and money market accounts, as well as certificates of deposit (CDs). Each type of account has distinct characteristics that make it work best for certain purposes. Here’s what to consider when setting up bank accounts.

Checking Accounts:

Checking accounts come in many flavors, but all of them offer a highly liquid place to keep the money that you need to access often for everyday expenses and bills. You can use the money by writing a check, withdrawing from an ATM, using a debit card at a store or restaurant, or transferring funds online. Some institutions, like Vista Bank, offer a wide range of no- and low-fee checking accounts tailored to fit different lifestyles. Some checking accounts pay interest if customers meet certain requirements.

Free checking accounts may require you to maintain a certain minimum balance, make a set number of debit card transactions or use direct deposit.

Savings Accounts:

A savings account is a good place to keep money that you want to have readily available, such as emergency money, or holiday money. Savings account holders are limited to six “convenient” transfers or withdrawals, like those made by check, debit card, automatic transfer or phone, under the Federal Reserve’s Regulation D. In-person or ATM transactions are not limited.

Money held in a savings account earns a modest rate of interest, but if you have a larger sum that you won’t need to tap for some time, you might consider another type of account with a higher return.

Money Market Accounts:

A money market account is a risk-free option for parking some extra cash while still keeping it accessible. It’s appropriate for those who can maintain a higher minimum balance, say $2,500 or more, and wish to earn a higher rate of interest. Some banks allow you write checks on the accounts or use a debit card. However, as with savings accounts, federal regulations limit you to six convenient transfers or withdrawals per month. (You can still make additional withdrawals in person, by mail or at the ATM.)

Certificates of Deposit:

A certificate of deposit (CD) makes sense when you have money that you don’t plan to spend for a longer period. When you commit to a CD for a certain term, say, six months or a year, the bank agrees to pay you a set amount of interest, usually higher than the rate on a savings account.

Typically you’ll incur a penalty if you decide you want your money back before the CD matures. But some banks offer CDs with more flexibility, such as a limited ability to make partial withdrawals.

These four accounts are all extremely secure and backed by federal insurance up to $250,000. To choose the account that’s right for your needs, ask yourself whether you’ll need to access this money often, or if you’re willing to commit to a longer period to earn a higher return.

Jeanne Lee, NerdWallet © Copyright 2015 NerdWallet, Inc. All Rights Reserved

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