Most people don’t believe it, but even in today’s market, you can still earn 5% interest on money sitting in an FDIC insured savings account. It does require a little bit of legwork to set up, but once you’ve done it, the entire account is completely automated. For most people, a 5% interest savings account is a perfect place to store your emergency fund (it’s where I recommend storing your emergency fund). And depending on how much you like to keep in your emergency fund, you could potentially have your entire emergency fund earning 5% interest per year.
You’re probably pretty skeptical right now, and I admit, I was pretty skeptical too when I first learned about these accounts. But now that I’ve had these accounts for a year, I can pretty much say that they work exactly as I hoped they would. I get 5% interest on the majority of my emergency fund, I never have to look at the account, and I’ve never paid any fees. If you take a little bit of time to set these accounts up now, you can have a great spot to store at least some of your emergency savings.
Some upfront caveats right away:
- If you don’t like juggling multiple bank accounts, then these accounts are definitely not for you. You’re going to need to open up 5 total accounts per person if you want to be able to max out your 5% interest savings accounts. If this doesn’t sound like your cup of tea, then probably best to just keep it simple and stick with your one savings account.
- If you’re the type of person who is deathly afraid of being charged any fees, then this account isn’t for you. However, if you follow this post exactly, you’ll never pay any fees.
- If you’re a skeptic and think that everything is a scam (which is sometimes a fair assumption), then these accounts aren’t for you. I will say that these accounts aren’t a scam if you follow my directions.
With all those caveats out of the way, it’s really up to you to decide whether you think it’s worth it to set up these accounts. I personally think it’s worth the time. $5,000 earning 5% interest per year comes out to $250 per year. To get that same amount in a standard high yield savings account would likely require you to put away at least $25,000.
Plus, if you combine these Netspend accounts with an Insight Card, you’re looking at putting away a minimum of $15,000 and a maximum of $30,000 earning 5% interest per year. That’s $1,500 of interest per year. It would take you $150,000 saved in a standard high-yield savings account to earn the same amount of interest. That’s a huge difference, that in my opinion, makes this worthwhile. A lot of people spend more time figuring out how to maximize credit card sign up bonuses (i.e. travel hacking) than it would take you to set up these accounts.
And as a bonus, if you sign up using my referral link, you can snag yourself a bonus $20 once you make your first deposit into the account. You get a 5% interest savings account and even a freebie 20 bucks to start!
What Are Netspend Accounts?
First, a little bit of background on what these accounts are. The 5% interest savings accounts are provided by a company called Netspend. They’ve been around for over a decade and deal in prepaid debit cards. I’ll say that these cards as a product are terrible. Prepaid debit cards typically prey on low-income people who can’t get access to traditional banking by charging them exorbitant fees.
Luckily for us, we can sort of fight back by signing up for a Netspend account and using it only as a savings account. Each Netspend account includes access to an FDIC insured, 5% interest savings account. The FDIC insured part is important. The money in your savings account is treated exactly the same as money in any other FDIC insured bank. And remember, we’ll never pay any fees to Netspend because we’ll never actually use the prepaid debit card.
It’s easiest to think of a Netspend account as consisting of two parts:
- A prepaid debit card (we don’t want to use this!)
- A 5% interest, FDIC insured savings account (this is what we want!)
To get the money into the savings account, we need to first move the money from our normal bank into the prepaid debit card. From there, it flows into your 5% interest savings account. You can think of the process of getting your money from your bank into your 5% interest account as looking sort of like this:
The prepaid debit card is basically a tool. We need to have it in order to get the 5% interest savings account, but we’re not going to use it for anything other than as a temporary stop on the way to the 5% interest savings account.
What’s the Catch?
Like I said, it does take a little bit of work to set these accounts up. A Netspend account only allows you put $1,000 away earning 5% interest. Anything above $1,000 will only earn 0.5% (which actually isn’t all that bad). In order to put away more money at 5% interest, we’ll need to open up multiple accounts and put $1,000 into each one.
The good thing is that each person is allowed to open up a maximum of five Netspend accounts. Put $1,000 into each Netspend account and you’ll have $5,000 earning you 5% interest. If you have a spouse or partner, you can have them open up five accounts of their own as well, effectively allowing your household to put away $10,000 earning 5% interest.
Considering the fact that the average American household has less than $1,000 in emergency savings, I’d say most people would do pretty darn well if they could put away $5,000 or $10,000 earning 5% interest. On $10,000, that would be $500 per year of interest. You’d need to put away $50,000 if you were looking to get that same return in a normal high yield savings account.
In order to open up five Netspend accounts, we’re going to need to open up multiple prepaid debit cards. Each prepaid debit card is tied to a specific company, but they all have the same underlying platform with Netspend. Here are the five prepaid debit cards you’ll need to open:
- Netspend Prepaid Debit Card
- Ace Elite Prepaid Debit Card
- Western Union Prepaid Debit
- H-E-B Prepaid Debit Card
- Brinks Prepaid Mastercard
Step by Step Directions
Below, I’ve listed step by step directions on how to set up your 5% interest savings accounts. Make sure you follow these steps carefully. Don’t rush it. The actual process of opening up all of the accounts will take some time, but the actual work of opening the accounts themselves only takes a few minutes. Most of your time will be spent reading this post or waiting for the cards to arrive.
1. Set Up An Online Checking Or Savings Account With A Normal, Online Bank.
You’ll first need to get an online checking or savings account that lets you transfer money to the prepaid debit card. I recommend using Ally Bank. It’s a completely free online bank that offers a 1% interest savings account. The really good thing with Ally is that it lets you link as many external bank accounts as you want. Some banks, such as Capital One 360, limit you to linking 3 external bank accounts. Since we need to be able to link 5 external bank accounts, Ally is my preferred choice.
*Note, my experience with Netspend is entirely through linking it and doing transfers through Ally. I can’t guarantee that everything works perfectly when done using any other bank. Ally is a totally free bank, so if you don’t have an account with them, it’s easy enough to just open up an account and use it just for your emergency fund purposes. If you opt to use another bank as your normal bank account, the steps should still be the same. Just make sure that your bank has free ACH transfers in and out of the account.
2. Sign Up For Your Netspend Account.
Next, you’ll need to sign up for a Netspend account. If you use my sign up link here, you’ll get a $20 bonus to start off your account once you deposit $40 or more (note, I’ll also receive $20 as a referral bonus – it helps me run this site). Make sure that the code 1450481187 is in the Referral Code section of the sign-up form in order to qualify for the $20 bonus.
The good thing is that once you sign up for a Netspend account, you can then refer other members of your household and snag yourself another $20 bonus. In other words, you sign up for a Netspend account, collect your $20 referral bonus, then refer your spouse or partner to open up an account using your own personal referral code. They get $20 and you get $20, for a nice $40 swing. Altogether, you snag $60 and get the benefit of keeping much of your emergency fund or cash savings in a super high-yield savings account.
Unfortunately, you can only get the $20 bonus on the first Netspend account that you open. The other accounts you open won’t get any bonus.
3. Wait For Your Prepaid Debit Card To Arrive In The Mail.
After you’ve signed up with Netspend, wait for the prepaid debit card to arrive in the mail. It probably took about a week before my Netspend card arrived. The packet will have a bunch of stuff that every bank has to send. Think of things like the fee schedule, truth-in-lending act documents, etc. I pretty much just shred all of that stuff.
Also included in that packet will be your routing number and account number (just like with a regular bank). Make sure you keep this information somewhere because you’ll need that information in order to link your bank account with your Netspend account.
Now, follow the directions to activate your card. You should default into the “pay-as-you-go plan.” Stay on this plan since it has no monthly fees. We don’t care about the usage fees because we’re never going to use the prepaid debit card.
Once you’ve activated the card, stick it in a safe or a drawer for safe keeping. You’ll never use that card again.
4. Link Your Bank Account With Your Netspend Account.
Now that your Netspend account is activated, we’ll need to link it your regular bank account. For Ally bank account holders, go to Transfers in the top bar. Then click on Manage Non-Ally Accounts. Then click Add New Non-Ally Account.
For account type, choose Checking. Then enter in an account nickname and the routing number/account number for your Netspend account. For the nickname, I typically name it by the brand of card I received (i.e. Netspend, Ace Elite, etc).
Once linked, your bank will probably send some test deposits for you to confirm. Once the account is confirmed, you’ll be able to transfer money from your bank account onto your Netspend prepaid debit card.
5. Transfer Money From Your Bank Account Onto Your Prepaid Debit Card.
Next, transfer money from your bank account onto your prepaid debit card. I believe you need to transfer at least $500 in order to activate the savings account feature. Since we can get 5% interest on up to $1,000, I recommend putting the full $1,000 onto the card.
Once you do that, you should now be able to get access to your savings account. In your Netspend account, go to Move Money in the sidebar, then click on the option that says Savings Transfer. There should be an option to activate your savings account. Remember, it’s FDIC insured, so you can rest easy knowing that your money in the savings account is 100% safe.
*When you first move money onto your Netspend card, they might send you an additional Netspend “Premier” Card in the mail. Don’t activate that card. Just stick it in a drawer once you receive it and ignore it.
6. Transfer Money From Your Prepaid Debit Card Into Your 5% Interest Savings Account.
You’ve now got money in your Netspend account, but it’s still sitting on the prepaid debit card. Now that we’ve activated the Netspend savings account option, we just need to transfer the money from the prepaid debit card into the savings account. Go to Move Money, then click Savings Transfer, and then transfer all of the money from your prepaid debit card into your savings account. Your savings account should now have a balance of $1,000. Your prepaid debit card should have a balance of $0.
7. Set Up An Automatic Transfer of $1 Every 2 Months Into Your Netspend Account In Order To Avoid Any Inactivity Fees.
Success! You’ve now got $1,000 in your FDIC insured savings account earning 5% interest! Now you don’t need to feel so bad that your money isn’t working for you.
We’re not done yet, though! The only fee we need to worry about is an inactivity fee. Netspend charges an inactivity fee if there’s no activity on your account for 90 days. They don’t count withdrawals as an activity, so we’ll need to set up an automatic transfer of $1 onto the prepaid debit card at least every 90 days in order to avoid that fee.
To be on the safe side, I set up an automatic transfer of $1 every 2 months. To set this up in Ally, log into your Ally account and select Make a Transfer. Then schedule a transfer of $1 from your Ally account into your Netspend account. For frequency, set it to transfer the $1 every 2 months. By doing this, we’ll never have to worry about any inactivity fee because there will be a $1 deposit every 60 days or so.
8. Repeat The Above Steps With Each New Account.
You’ll need to do the above steps 4 more times if you want to be able to get the full $5,000 put away. If there are two people in your household, each of you can open up five total accounts, for a total of $10,000 ($5,000 for each of you).
- I recommend starting with the Ace Elite prepaid debit card next. You can sign up for the card here.
- Next, go with the Western Union prepaid debit card. The link for the Western Union card is here.
- I’d then recommend going with the H-E-B prepaid debit card. The link for the H-E-B prepaid card is here. The one thing to note about the H-E-B card is that it comes with a $2.95 activation fee. They deduct this right out of your account, so the account starts off in the negative once you sign up. The $2.95 activation fee is worth it because we’re going to get much more back in interest.
- The last card to set up is the Brinks prepaid Mastercard. You can grab the Brinks card here.
Take it slowly. I personally wouldn’t open up multiple accounts at once. Instead, apply for one card, wait for it to arrive, then activate it and fund it before moving on to the next card. You’ll avoid confusing yourself.
The good thing is that, while it might take a little bit of time for all your cards to arrive, the actual process of setting up each account only takes 5 minutes or so. I’ve spent far more time trying to figure out how to maximize credit card sign up bonuses than I have setting up these 5% interest savings accounts.
If you’re a two-person household, you can have your spouse follow the same steps at the same time as you do. Have them start with the first Netspend card, then move to the next one after it’s set up.
How To Withdraw Money From Your Netspend Account
When you want to withdraw money from your savings account and back into your regular bank account, you just need to do the following steps. Any money in your savings account needs to flow through your prepaid debit card first. Remember how we saw the money flow into the Netspend savings account? It should flow the opposite way when you’re withdrawing money from the account. Think of it as looking like this:
The other key to remember is to do the withdrawals from your normal bank account. The only action that should happen in Netspend is transferring money from your savings account onto your prepaid debit card and vice-versa.
An example will help:
Let’s say we want to take out the full $1,000 from our 5% interest savings account. First, I’d go into my Netspend account and transfer $1,000 from my Netspend savings account onto my Netspend prepaid debit card. Then, I go into my normal bank account (Ally bank in this case), and schedule Ally to withdraw $1,000 from my Netspend prepaid debit card. That’s it.
Just make sure if you’re withdrawing money that the money has been moved out of the savings account and onto the debit card. Your bank can’t pull money directly out of the savings account. If you attempt to pull money without any money on the debit card, you’ll get hit with a fee for insufficient funds. Just think of the debit card as a funnel. Any money that you want to pull from or put into the savings account must first flow through the prepaid debit card.
Other Things To Note About Your Netspend Account
A few other important things to note:
- Interest is paid quarterly, rather than monthly. That means you’ll see interest post around January 1st, April 1st, July 1st, and October 1st of each year. The account terms also state that if you close the account before the interest is earned, you lose the interest for that quarter. If you want to close the account, try not to do it before you’ve collected the interest for the quarter.
- Whatever you do, do not use the prepaid debit card for anything! Put it away and never use it. The only thing I did once I received it was to activate my account.
- Make sure that you use your regular bank account if you want to ACH money in or out of the account. Remember, the prepaid debit card account acts like a funnel. Any money going in or coming out must go onto the prepaid debit card first. Don’t do anything in the Netspend account other than to move money between the prepaid debit card and the 5% interest savings account.
- You can only earn 5% on up to $1,000. Each individual Netspend account is limited to 5% interest on only the first $1,000. Anything above $1,000 earns just 0.5% interest. If you want, you could just keep the interest in there. It won’t destroy you to have a little extra in the accounts. What I like to do is each time the interest posts, I withdraw all of it and bring each account down to $1,000. If you wanted to make it easier for yourself, you could just withdraw all of the excess money once per year.
And that right there is the definitive guide on how to earn 5% interest on your emergency fund by using a Netspend account. It might look like a lot of work, but trust me, it’s not that much. The only real work is reading this post to understand how this process works. The good thing is that I’ve synthesized everything for you so that you don’t have to figure it out yourself.
- I think this is the perfect account to use for an emergency fund. A household could open up 10 total accounts (5 between each person) and fund each account with $1,000 for a total of $10,000 earning 5% interest. It would take five times as much money saved away to earn the same amount of interest.
- The good thing about keeping your emergency fund here is that you will be less tempted to use it unless there’s a real emergency. It just adds another small layer between you and your emergency fund, but it’s still liquid and readily accessible.
- If you’re worried about liquidity, keep a base emergency fund (maybe your first month) in your normal bank account. That way, you don’t have to worry about waiting a few business days for your funds to arrive.
Yes, it takes a bit of time to set these accounts up. You do have to sign up for them, then wait for the cards to arrive. But the actual time you have to spend activating and setting up the accounts is pretty minimal. And once set up, you never have to really touch the accounts again. I’d say that the extra interest makes it worth the effort. Plus, I always like telling people that most of my emergency fund earns 5% interest.
***Make sure that you don’t read this post just by itself. Combine these Netspend accounts with the accounts available through Insight and you can get 5% interest on up to $30,000. Go to Part 2 of this series – Insight Card: Get Even More 5% Interest Savings if you want to maximize your 5% interest savings.