What Is A Savings Account And How Does It Work?

By Emma Diehl · August 18, 2023 · 11 minute read

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What Is A Savings Account And How Does It Work?

Typically, a savings account is a safe, insured place to sock away your cash and earn some interest. You usually don’t use this money for spending, as you do with a savings account, nor is it necessarily the growth vehicle of investments, which also brings risk.

A savings account can be a good place to store funds for future goals. This could mean a short-term goal, like saving for holiday gifts or a beach rental next summer. You might also use a savings account for longer-term goals, like the down payment on a house.

Read on to learn about more, including:

•   What is a savings account?

•   What are the different types of savings accounts?

•   How does a savings account work?

What Is a Savings Account?

Savings accounts can be a great way to diversify a financial strategy. A person might not want to put all their money into a savings account, but a savings account can complement their larger financial plan.

Compared to investments, savings accounts can be a safer spot to put cash away for short-term savings. And, savings accounts typically earn more than checking accounts.

Savings accounts set themselves apart because:

•   They earn interest. Unlike many checking accounts, savings accounts are interest-bearing — that means the bank will pay an annual percentage yield (APY), based on the money in the account.

•   They’re insured. The money in a savings account is insured by the FDIC (Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation). The FDIC was established in 1933 after the stock market crashed. When an account is insured, it guarantees that the customer will be able to get their money even in the rare event that a bank goes out of business. Savings accounts in FDIC-insured institutions are generally a safe place to keep cash.

Savings vs. Checking Account

Are you wondering what the difference is between a savings vs. a checking account?

•   A checking account is designed to be the hub of your financial life, with money flowing in and out.

•   Typically, you will earn no or low interest with checking accounts, but you will not face transaction limits.

•   With a savings account, money typically stays in the bank (or most of it). Since the bank can then use some of it to meet other business needs (such as loans to other clients), it pays you interest for the privilege of using some of your money in this way.

•   Savings accounts typically do pay interest, though it will vary depending on the kind of account and perhaps how much you have on deposit.

•   With a savings account, you may be limited to six outgoing transactions per month, depending on the financial institution. If you go over that number, you may be charged, have your account switched to a checking account, or even have your account closed.

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How Does a Savings Account Work?

If you’re wondering, “How do savings accounts work?” know this: They usually work by you depositing funds into a savings account. The bank, as mentioned above, expects you to keep the funds there, where they can use some of the money to make, say, loans to others.

For the privilege to use your money in this way, the bank pays you interest. So, as your money sits there, it is growing. This can help you reach your financial goals sooner.

💡 Quick Tip: Typically, checking accounts don’t earn interest. However, some accounts do, and online banks are more likely than brick-and-mortar banks to offer you the best rates.

How to Use a Savings Account

Generally, a savings account is used for short-term savings goals, like an upcoming vacation or large purchase. This type of account is generally used to save or plan for expenses that don’t come up on a daily basis.

If you have multiple short-term savings goals, you might choose to open multiple savings accounts. You don’t have to open up an account for every goal, but keeping separate savings accounts could make budgeting easier. Watching balances grow could be an excellent motivator to keep saving.

On the other hand, financial minimalists might be overwhelmed by juggling multiple account numbers and balances. In that case, having more than one savings account might cause more confusion than clarity. The important thing is knowing how much you are saving and where.

Some specific reasons a person might open a savings account (or two):

•   An emergency fund. Emergencies crop up when least expected. That means the money always needs to be liquid and available. A savings account can be a good place to build and keep an emergency fund.

•   Short-term saving goals. Many things could fall under this umbrella, including upcoming travel, saving for a downpayment on a home, or putting aside funds to purchase a car. A savings account can be a good place for savings goals you hope to accomplish within the next few months or a year.

These are just a couple of the ways someone could use a savings account when it comes to personal finance.

There’s no one right way to use a savings account, and, depending on a person’s preference and goals, they might keep one or multiple savings accounts.

How Much to Keep in a Savings Account

How much to keep in a savings account will vary depending on a variety of factors, which may include your income level, your expenses and cost of living, and your financial goals.

For starters, experts advise having the equivalent of three to six months’ worth of basic living expenses in an emergency fund, as noted above. This can be a valuable cushion if you have unexpected bills or a job loss.

Otherwise, financial experts typically advise that you save 20% of your pay. Some of this might go towards investments and some might go into a savings account (or a couple of them) at the bank. It’s a personal decision.

Pros of a Savings Account

Savings accounts yield lots of benefits for their users. Account benefits vary by financial institution, so customers might want to check the fine print for rates and details.

•   Earned interest. How does interest on a savings account work? As money sits in a bank account, it makes more money. The bank pays you a rate because your money provides a service to the bank. In a nutshell, customers open a savings account and deposit cash there, earning some interest. The bank takes that cash and loans it out to other customers at a higher interest rate. But don’t worry, savings account holders can access their savings at any time.

•   Easy access. A savings account is typically more liquid than an investment account, making it a good candidate for short-term savings goals, since account owners can easily and quickly access their money. Typically, a customer can transfer the funds online with the click of a few buttons.

•   Low risk. Since savings accounts are liquid and easy to get to, they’re generally regarded as low risk. Savings accounts don’t have the risk associated with investing. If a person is saving up for a big purchase in the next year or two, they might want to consider keeping the money in a savings account, where they can access it easily without the concern of market volatility.

💡 Quick Tip: Want a simple way to save more everyday? When you turn on Roundups, all of your debit card purchases are automatically rounded up to the next dollar and deposited into your online savings account.

Cons of a Savings Account

While savings accounts have their fair share of benefits, they also have a few drawbacks. Depending on a person’s needs and savings goals, these accounts might not always be the best fit. Here are a few things to keep in mind while mulling over where to deposit extra cash:

•   They might require a minimum balance. Some savings accounts require a minimum balance, depending on the financial institution. That means the account can’t fall below a certain amount. If it does, there could be a fee or extra charges headed the account holder’s way.

•   Limited transactions. With the benefit of higher-than-average interest comes the drawback of potentially limited savings account withdrawals, deposits, and transfers. The Federal Reserve lifted its rule that banks must penalize members who make more than six transactions per month from their savings accounts in 2020. However, banks can still penalize you (with fees) if they want to. It’s a good idea to ask your bank about its policy before making more than six transactions in a month.

•   Setup fees. Depending on the financial institution and type of account, there could be fees associated with opening a savings account. This varies by institution.

•   No tax advantage. If you are thinking about saving for your future, you might get tax breaks with a different kind of retirement vehicle, such as a 401(k) or an IRA.

Types of Savings Accounts

While they follow the same general rules, not all savings accounts are built the same. What follows are some different types of savings accounts you’ll likely find available.

1. Traditional Savings

Consider this a beginner’s savings account. A traditional savings account is offered by most financial institutions, and typically comes tied directly to a checking account. A traditional savings account typically will have a low-interest rate compared to other savings accounts.

2. High-Yield Savings

As the name suggests, a high-yield savings account will have a higher yield than a traditional savings account. The higher APY may come with caveats that vary by bank, such as requiring a large initial deposit and/or monthly balance. The bank might also be more likely to limit transactions to six per month.

3. Online Savings

Online-only banks don’t have to support expensive brick-and-mortar branches, which can enable them to offer annual APYs that are higher than traditional savings accounts. These online savings accounts also tend to have low initial deposit requirements and typically don’t charge monthly maintenance fees.

Alternatives to Savings Accounts

There are other short-term savings options that don’t involve investment risk. Here are a few alternatives.

Certificate of Deposit (CD)

A certificate of deposit (CD) is similar to a high-yield savings account when it comes to interest rates. However, when a person sets up a CD, they have to commit to keeping it there for a certain amount of time, and early withdrawal can lead to penalties. As a general rule of thumb, the longer the length of the CD, the better the interest rate.

Money Market Deposit Account (MMDA)

A money market deposit account (MMDA) is often similar to a high-yield savings account, but account holders typically need to meet requirements and adhere to the transaction limits to see the benefits. These may include a minimum balance, and a limited number of transactions per month (including deposits, withdrawals, and transfers).

Cash Management Account

A cash management account (CMA) functions as both a spending and a savings account and often offers a higher interest rate than a traditional savings account. With many CMAs, account holders can write checks, pay bills, transfer funds, and make deposits. CMAs are offered by both brick-and-mortar and online financial institutions.

What to Consider When Choosing a Savings Account

When choosing a savings account, consider the following factors:

•   Interest rates: There is considerable variation, and your money might earn a fraction of a percent or several percentage points. It can be wise to shop around for the highest rates.

•   Fees. Some financial institutions may hit you with fees, such as monthly account maintenance fees. Ask in advance before signing up.

•   Minimum opening deposit and balance requirements. These can stipulate that you put and then keep a certain amount of money in the account. Make sure you are aware of the guidelines and can adhere to them.

•   Transaction limits. As discussed above, some banks place limits on the number of times you can pull money out of your savings account. Know whether your account would have penalties if you exceed the number.

•   Accessibility. You want to be sure you can reach your bank and your money when you need to. Depending on your banking and lifestyle, this could mean a local vs. a national bank, or an online bank vs. a traditional one.

Opening a Savings Account

A savings account is a bank account that lets you store your money securely typically while earning interest.
Using a savings account separates money you intend to use at a later date, say for a large purchase or upcoming event, from everyday spending money that is kept in your checking account.

High-yield savings accounts and online savings accounts often offer higher interest than traditional savings accounts.

Interested in opening an online bank account? When you sign up for a SoFi Checking and Savings account with direct deposit, you’ll get a competitive annual percentage yield (APY), pay zero account fees, and enjoy an array of rewards, such as access to the Allpoint Network of 55,000+ fee-free ATMs globally. Qualifying accounts can even access their paycheck up to two days early.

Better banking is here with SoFi, NerdWallet’s 2024 winner for Best Checking Account Overall. Enjoy up to 4.60% APY on SoFi Checking and Savings.


How exactly does a savings account work?

A savings account is typically a secure, insured way of keeping your money and earning interest.

Can you withdraw money from a savings account?

Yes, you can likely withdraw money from a savings account. Check with your financial institution if they have a monthly limit regarding the number of withdrawals or whether there are fees if your balance falls under a certain amount.

Is a savings account worth it?

For many people, a savings account is a worthwhile financial product. It keeps your money secure and pays some interest as you save towards goals, whether that’s an emergency fund or a travel fund.

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SoFi members with direct deposit activity can earn 4.60% annual percentage yield (APY) on savings balances (including Vaults) and 0.50% APY on checking balances. Direct Deposit means a deposit to an account holder’s SoFi Checking or Savings account, including payroll, pension, or government payments (e.g., Social Security), made by the account holder’s employer, payroll or benefits provider or government agency (“Direct Deposit”) via the Automated Clearing House (“ACH”) Network during a 30-day Evaluation Period (as defined below). Deposits that are not from an employer or government agency, including but not limited to check deposits, peer-to-peer transfers (e.g., transfers from PayPal, Venmo, etc.), merchant transactions (e.g., transactions from PayPal, Stripe, Square, etc.), and bank ACH funds transfers and wire transfers from external accounts, do not constitute Direct Deposit activity. There is no minimum Direct Deposit amount required to qualify for the stated interest rate.

SoFi members with Qualifying Deposits can earn 4.60% APY on savings balances (including Vaults) and 0.50% APY on checking balances. Qualifying Deposits means one or more deposits that, in the aggregate, are equal to or greater than $5,000 to an account holder’s SoFi Checking and Savings account (“Qualifying Deposits”) during a 30-day Evaluation Period (as defined below). Qualifying Deposits only include those deposits from the following eligible sources: (i) ACH transfers, (ii) inbound wire transfers, (iii) peer-to-peer transfers (i.e., external transfers from PayPal, Venmo, etc. and internal peer-to-peer transfers from a SoFi account belonging to another account holder), (iv) check deposits, (v) instant funding to your SoFi Bank Debit Card, (vi) push payments to your SoFi Bank Debit Card, and (vii) cash deposits. Qualifying Deposits do not include: (i) transfers between an account holder’s Checking account, Savings account, and/or Vaults; (ii) interest payments; (iii) bonuses issued by SoFi Bank or its affiliates; or (iv) credits, reversals, and refunds from SoFi Bank, N.A. (“SoFi Bank”) or from a merchant.

SoFi Bank shall, in its sole discretion, assess each account holder’s Direct Deposit activity and Qualifying Deposits throughout each 30-Day Evaluation Period to determine the applicability of rates and may request additional documentation for verification of eligibility. The 30-Day Evaluation Period refers to the “Start Date” and “End Date” set forth on the APY Details page of your account, which comprises a period of 30 calendar days (the “30-Day Evaluation Period”). You can access the APY Details page at any time by logging into your SoFi account on the SoFi mobile app or SoFi website and selecting either (i) Banking > Savings > Current APY or (ii) Banking > Checking > Current APY. Upon receiving a Direct Deposit or $5,000 in Qualifying Deposits to your account, you will begin earning 4.60% APY on savings balances (including Vaults) and 0.50% on checking balances on or before the following calendar day. You will continue to earn these APYs for (i) the remainder of the current 30-Day Evaluation Period and through the end of the subsequent 30-Day Evaluation Period and (ii) any following 30-day Evaluation Periods during which SoFi Bank determines you to have Direct Deposit activity or $5,000 in Qualifying Deposits without interruption.

SoFi Bank reserves the right to grant a grace period to account holders following a change in Direct Deposit activity or Qualifying Deposits activity before adjusting rates. If SoFi Bank grants you a grace period, the dates for such grace period will be reflected on the APY Details page of your account. If SoFi Bank determines that you did not have Direct Deposit activity or $5,000 in Qualifying Deposits during the current 30-day Evaluation Period and, if applicable, the grace period, then you will begin earning the rates earned by account holders without either Direct Deposit or Qualifying Deposits until you have Direct Deposit activity or $5,000 in Qualifying Deposits in a subsequent 30-Day Evaluation Period. For the avoidance of doubt, an account holder with both Direct Deposit activity and Qualifying Deposits will earn the rates earned by account holders with Direct Deposit.

Members without either Direct Deposit activity or Qualifying Deposits, as determined by SoFi Bank, during a 30-Day Evaluation Period and, if applicable, the grace period, will earn 1.20% APY on savings balances (including Vaults) and 0.50% APY on checking balances.

Interest rates are variable and subject to change at any time. These rates are current as of 10/24/2023. There is no minimum balance requirement. Additional information can be found at https://www.sofi.com/legal/banking-rate-sheet.

Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.


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