• 0.40% up to $15,000; 0.75% for more than $15,000 on checking
• 0.95% on savings, any balance.
Why it's a winner: Tiptop rates, with no maintenance fees whatsoever. Second-time awardee Ally offers checking account yields higher than what most banks offer on savings; plus its savings account rate is among the industry's highest. (Online banks have lower overhead than brick-and-mortars, allowing them to provide better terms.)
You can use any cash machine for free: Ally doesn't charge you -- a common perk from online banks, which don't have their own ATMs -- and also reimburses the other bank's charges without limit in the U.S. You also get free transfers to and from accounts at other banks. And there's no mimimum to avoid fees.
Caveat: Still no remote check deposit, which the bank promised last year. Reps now say the feature will be available by the end of 2012.
Why it's a winner for 1-year CDs: Front-of-the-pack rates -- just compare them to the average of 0.31% on a one-year CD -- and the flexibility to flee as needed if you're willing to sacrifice 9¢ on $100. You can earn 0.92% on an 11-month CD with no-penalty early withdrawals, or 1.01% on a 12-month CD that charges 60 days of interest for early withdrawals. Plus, there's no minimum deposit.
Another perk from Ally: When you open your CD, the bank will give you the best rate within a 10-day window, so you won't be nailed by a short-term drop in rates or a just-after-you-signed-up spike.
Caveat: No real advantage to locking your money up right now, since you can get comparable rates with Barclays' or Ally's savings accounts.
Don't let the shaky economy stress you out. A grand can still improve your career prospects, lower investment risk, make your home safer and more.
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