What Is an Online Savings Account and How Does It Work?

What Is an Online Savings Account and How Does It Work?

Online savings accounts function similarly to traditional savings accounts, except you will manage your account entirely online or by app. Not only can these savings accounts be one-click convenient, they may offer you a healthier interest rate than accounts held at a brick-and-mortar bank.

If you’re trying to decide whether an online savings account or traditional savings account would suit you best, here are the details you need.

What Is an Online Savings Account?

An online savings account functions similarly to one offered by a traditional bank, except you manage your banking needs digitally. With an online savings account, you won’t have the option of walking into a bank when you need support, but you will be able to quickly click your way ahead and complete most transactions.

As a refresher course, savings accounts are a type of bank account designed to help you save. They keep your savings separate from the money you spend on essentials like rent and groceries, which is usually held in a checking vs. savings account.

Since the principle is that your money will sit and grow in these accounts, rather than flow in and out constantly, banks pay you interest on these funds. They get to use your money, and they give you interest in return for that privilege. As your cash grows in the account, you can achieve different goals, such as building up an emergency fund, saving for a vacation, or getting a down payment together for a house.

Earn up to 4.60% APY with a high-yield savings account from SoFi.

Open a SoFi Checking and Savings account and earn up to 4.60% APY - with no minimum balance and no account fees.


How Does an Online Savings Account Work?

You start an online savings account with an opening deposit, and then you’re ready to start saving. With an online savings account, you can manage your savings from anywhere in the world at any time of day. While there are plenty of banks and credit unions that have online account management services, purely online savings accounts often come with unique perks. For example, online banks usually don’t have a minimum balance requirement like traditional banks do. They often pay a higher interest rate, too.

You can transfer funds in and out as needed, as with any savings account. Typically, savings accounts had only allowed six or fewer transfers per month. Initiate more than that, and you might have to pay a fee. However, many banks have stopped following this guideline in recent years. Check with your bank to know the details.

It’s also worth mentioning that with an online account, you won’t be able to deposit or withdraw cash into your account by strolling into a branch. There aren’t physical banking locations to visit. You’ll need to transfer funds in and out electronically, or you may be able to use ATMs. There’s a silver lining, though. In exchange for not having to pay for the overhead that comes with running an in-person bank, online banks often offer lower fees and higher interest rates.

Depositing Funds Into an Online Savings Account

As mentioned above, it’s not possible to deposit cash into an online savings account by visiting a branch. Instead, you can deposit money in the following ways:

•   Transfer money from a linked account into your online savings account. (If you’re really committed to saving, you may want to automate recurring transfers).

•   Use a check; this deposit can be done by mobile deposit or by mail.

•   Complete a wire transfer into your online savings account.

•   Set up direct deposit of funds (say, your paycheck or other benefits) to go into the account.

Withdrawing Money From an Online Savings Account

Next, consider withdrawing and spending money from a savings account. When you have an online savings account, here are your options:

•   Transfer funds into another account (say, one held at a traditional bank), and then take out cash in person.

•   Use an ATM. Some online banks allow you to link your savings to a debit card, which makes this possible.

•   Initiate a wire transfer.

•   Put in a check request.

•   Digitally send money to other people (say, by a P2P transfer) so you don’t need to take out cash.

Cash Deposits

Unfortunately, online banks don’t usually enable you to deposit cash, as there are no physical banking locations available. See above for some of the other ways you can move your funds around so your cash gets where you want it to go.

Benefits of Using an Online Savings Account

Here are some of the key benefits you may enjoy with an online savings account.

•   Higher interest rates and lower fees. This means your savings can likely grow faster. These higher interest rates are possible because the financial institution doesn’t have to pay for expensive brick-and-mortar banking locations.

•   Manage accounts anywhere, anytime. It’s possible to do all of your basic savings account management whenever and wherever you like. The only requirement: a good, secure wifi connection.

•   Helpful mobile banking apps. Plenty of traditional banks have mobile apps, but online banks tend to have high-tech apps with better features.

•   More accessible customer service. You are likely to be able to get all of the banking support you need from the comfort of your own home or on the go. Online banks were built to be responsive in this way.

Disadvantages of Using an Online Savings Account

On the flip side, there are some disadvantages when you only bank online. Here are some of the cons of using an online savings account.

•   No face-to-face interaction. With online savings accounts, you can’t go into a physical banking location, ask questions, or sit down with a bank representative. For those who like face-to-face interaction, this can be a disadvantage.

•   Can lose account access. When a savings account is entirely online, you may lose account access in the rare event of the bank’s system going down.

•   ATM access can be limited. Some online banks don’t have their own ATMs. They may try to provide greater access with some independent ATM networks or by reimbursing customers for ATM fees incurred when using out-of-network ATMs.

•   Fewer financial services. Some online banks offer more limited product selections than larger traditional banks. If you’re looking to manage your savings account, loans, and other financial products in one place, you may find that an online savings account doesn’t meet your needs.

Pros of Online Savings Accounts

Cons of Online Savings Accounts

•   Higher interest rates and lower fees

•   Ability to manage accounts anywhere, anytime

•   Helpful mobile banking apps

•   More accessible customer service

•   No face-to-face interaction

•   Can lose account access

•   ATM access is limited

•   Fewer financial services

Opening an Online Savings Account

If you decide you want to open an online savings account, here are the steps you will likely take.

1.    Fill out the application. This process typically happens entirely online. Generally, you will be expected to provide such information as your name, proof of address, Social Security number, and government-issued photo ID (say, a driver’s license or a passport).

2.    Choose an account type. There may be an option to choose between different savings account types, such as an individual account or a joint account that you can share with a family member.

3.    Designate beneficiaries. Next, you will need to choose a beneficiary to whom the savings account would go if you were to die.

4.    Deposit funds. Some online banks won’t require a minimum initial deposit or will only request $1. Whatever the amount may be, you will need to make that minimum deposit. (There’s no typical online savings account minimum balance to maintain, by the way. Check with banks to understand their particular guidelines.)

5.    Create login information. All online savings accounts will need a username and password. It’s important to make the password a secure one that includes one or more capital letters, numerals, and symbols. Also, it bears repeating: Don’t reuse passwords. Unique passwords will help keep you secure from hackers. This is a big issue if you are wondering whether or not online savings accounts are safe.

💡 Quick Tip: An online bank account with SoFi can help your money earn more — up to 4.60% APY, with no minimum balance required.

Online Savings vs Traditional Savings: Which Is Best for You?

There are both advantages and disadvantages to consider when choosing between an online savings account and a traditional savings account. Being aware of the unique advantages and disadvantages of each can make it easier to find the right fit.

Online Savings

Traditional Savings

•   Better rates and fees

•   Stronger digital tools and features

•   Limited product offerings

•   Minimal ATM access

•   Hard to withdraw cash

•   No face-to-face customer support

•   In-person banking locations

•   More ATM access

•   Broader range of products

•   Fewer online resources

•   Lower interest rates and higher fees

The Takeaway

Online savings accounts vs. traditional ones can be more convenient, have more digital features, and offer lower fees and better interest rates. Traditional banks, however, can make it easier to withdraw and deposit funds, and they can be the right choice for people who like face-to-face interaction when it comes to their finances. Figuring out the right fit can depend on your money style and goals.

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.

FAQ

How do I use an online savings account?

With access to a computer or a smartphone, you can access your online savings accounts from anywhere at any time simply by logging in.

What is the typical minimum balance for an online savings account?

That depends: Some online savings accounts have minimum balance requirements while others don’t. Check at the banks you are considering.

Is my money insured in an online savings account?

Your money should be safe in an online savings account, as long as the online savings account is insured by the FDIC. If so, your account is automatically insured for up to $250,000 per depositor, per account category, per insured institution.

What is the typical interest rate for an online savings account?

Interest rates vary over time and from bank to bank. Generally, online savings accounts have higher interest rates than traditional savings accounts, such as a rate of up to 4.00% APY or higher at press time.

How can online banks offer such good interest rates?

Because online banks don’t have the expensive overhead that comes with managing in-person banking locations, they can afford to pass their savings to their customers in the form of higher interest rates.


Photo credit: iStock/m-imagephotography

SoFi® Checking and Savings is offered through SoFi Bank, N.A. ©2023 SoFi Bank, N.A. All rights reserved. Member FDIC. Equal Housing Lender.
The SoFi Bank Debit Mastercard® is issued by SoFi Bank, N.A., pursuant to license by Mastercard International Incorporated and can be used everywhere Mastercard is accepted. Mastercard is a registered trademark, and the circles design is a trademark of Mastercard International Incorporated.


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 recurring deposit of regular income to an account holder’s SoFi Checking or Savings account, including payroll, pension, or government benefit 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, or are non-recurring in nature (e.g., IRS tax refunds), do not constitute Direct Deposit activity. There is no minimum Direct Deposit amount required to qualify for the stated interest rate.

As an alternative to direct deposit, 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.

Third-Party Brand Mentions: No brands, products, or companies mentioned are affiliated with SoFi, nor do they endorse or sponsor this article. Third-party trademarks referenced herein are property of their respective owners.

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Understanding ACH Returns: What They Are & How to Return an ACH Payment

Understanding ACH Returns: What They Are & How to Return an ACH Payment

The Automated Clearing House Network, or ACH, is a network that allows individuals and businesses to electronically move money between bank accounts — often within the same day. But sometimes things just don’t go according to plan, and those quick, convenient ACH payments wind up getting returned or needing to be reversed. Usually, these electronic transactions run smoothly, but at times, the funds don’t or can’t get from point A to point B.

Here, we’ll take a look at why ACH payments are sometimes returned. We’ll cover:

•   What ACH turns are

•   Terms to know about ACH returns

•   What the difference is between an ACH return and a Notice of Change

•   How to return an ACH payment

What Are ACH Returns?

While most ACH payments are likely to go through, ACH returns occur when an ACH payment fails to be completed. This can happen for a few reasons, such as:

•   The originator providing inaccurate payment information or data

•   The originator providing non-existent or inadequate authorization

•   The originator isn’t authorized to debit the client’s account with an ACH payment

•   Insufficient funds to cover the transaction (which can happen, especially if the person paying doesn’t balance their bank account regularly)

Next, let’s look at how an ACH return transpires. If a merchant wants to debit their customer’s or client’s account, the merchant’s bank (at the merchant’s request) will send a request for an ACH debit from the customer’s account. The customer’s relevant ACH network will then receive an ACH payment request. Then the merchant’s bank will debit the customer’s account and the merchant’s account will be credited with the amount of money indicated in the ACH payment request.

If for some reason the customer’s bank account alerts the ACH network that they are not able to complete the transaction, the money will remain in the customer’s account. That’s an ACH return.

It costs money to process an ACH return, and that cost generally falls on the consumer. Similar to how consumers get charged a fee when they bounce a check, the consumer will typically need to pay a fee if an ACH return occurs. This bank fee is fairly small and typically only costs $2 to $5 per return.

Get up to $300 when you bank with SoFi.

Open a SoFi Checking and Savings Account with direct deposit and get up to a $300 cash bonus. Plus, get up to 4.60% APY on your cash!


Important Terms to Know About ACH Returns

To better understand how ACH returns work, it’s helpful to know a bit of the industry’s vocabulary — particularly ODFI and RDFI (which are the two parties involved in every ACH return). Here’s what these acronyms mean:

•   ODFI (Originating Depository Financial Institution): The originator of the transaction who’ll send funds

•   RDFI (Receiving Depository Financial Institution): The receiver of the funds

Another facet of ACH lingo that’s helpful to know are ACH return codes. Any ACH return that occurs will generate an ACH return code. These ACH return codes are made up of the letter R followed by some numerals. Each code represents a different reason for a return. These codes can be helpful because they inform the originator of why the ACH return happened.

The following ACH return codes are fairly common:

•   R01 – Insufficient funds. This code means that the available assets can’t cover the debit entry (like when an account is overdrawn).

•   R02 – Account closed. In other words, the client or the RDFI closed the account that should be debited or credited through an ACH payment.

•   R03 – No account/unable to locate account. In this case, the return occurred because the account intended for ACH payment doesn’t exist or the account’s owner is not the one noted by the debit entry.

•   R04 – Invalid account number structure. If something is wrong with the client’s bank account number or the number doesn’t pass validation, a R04 return code results.

•   R05 – Unauthorized debit to a consumer account. If the receiver hasn’t authorized the originator to request an ACH transfer from their bank account, the transfer can be blocked, and this ACH code will occur.

It’s worth noting that R05 return codes work a bit differently. Unlike the other ACH return codes listed, the return time frame for R05 is 60 banking days instead of two. This longer time frame gives the originator a chance to ask the receiver to allow the ACH transfer to occur or to provide them with a new bank account number to complete the transaction.

Recommended: Routing Number vs Account Number: How to Find Both

What Is the Difference Between a Notice of Change (NOC) And ACH Return?

It’s easy to confuse a Notice of Change (NOC) and an ACH return, but these are two different things. An NOC is a method used by financial institutions to notify a federal agency to correct or change account information. It applies to an entry processed by the federal agency through the ACH. A NOC is not a form of payment in and of itself. Nor does it represent a failure to complete an ACH payment transaction. It’s a request for an edit, basically, while an ACH return actually stops a transaction.

Recommended: How to Transfer Money From One Bank to Another

When Can You Request a Reversal of an ACH Payment?

For a reversal to occur on an ACH payment, certain requirements have to be met. Here are the guidelines for successfully putting the brakes on a transaction:

•   The reversal entry has to be transmitted to the bank within five banking days after the settlement date of the erroneous file.

•   Transmitting the reversing file has to occur within 24 hours of discovering the error.

If these criteria are met, the reversal of an ACH payment can proceed.

Why You Might Be Receiving an ACH Return

As you monitor your bank account, you may see that an ACH transaction, which usually happens so smoothly, is being returned. This can occur for a variety of reasons. For instance, the originator may have provided inaccurate payment information or may not have been authorized to debit the customer’s or client’s account with an ACH payment. The codes reviewed above can also shed light on why the transfer of funds was stopped. By the way, both returned mobile ACH payments and returned ACH card payments can occur.

How to Return an ACH Payment

Account holders and merchants who encounter issues with ACH payments can stop or reverse them.

If you may need to delay or adjust an ACH debit (which is an automatic “pull” from your account) as a consumer, you’ll want to contact the organization that is initiating the payment, whether this is the biller or your bank. If it is your bank, you’ll need to give them the name of the business or organization that is making the ACH debit and the amount. Ideally, you want to do this three business days before the scheduled payment date.

If you want to stop an ACH credit, which is when your bank “pulls” money from someone else’s account, you will need to notify your bank before the payment is debited. You will typically need to provide the name of the person or business that is paying you, the exact payment amount, and your account details.

The Takeaway

While ACH payments are a convenient payment method, sometimes a funds transfer fails to go through. In this situation, a returned ACH payment occurs. ACH returns can happen for a few reasons (such as the client’s bank account contains insufficient funds to complete the transfer). The entire process is fairly quick and is usually completed within two banking days. As more and more electronic transfers happen, it’s wise to be aware of this system that can step in if details are incorrect or one party can’t or won’t hold up their end of the arrangement.

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.

FAQ

What’s the time frame for an ACH debit return?

It usually takes two banking days for an ACH return to complete. However, there are select ACH return codes that result in a 60-day return period.

How much are ACH return fees?

Fees vary, but they usually cost about $2 to $5 per return. The consumer pays this charge. It’s similar to paying a fee for a bounced check.

What are ACH return codes?

Every time an ACH return happens, the originator will be sent an ACH return code. This code is represented by the letter R and a two-figure number and explains why the return happened. For example, a R01 return code indicates that the client’s bank account contains insufficient funds to complete the transfer.

Can returned ACH payments be disputed?

Yes, ACH returns can be disputed. What that process looks like varies with the reason why the ACH return occurred. Every ACH return code has a specific return time frame associated with it. Generally, the client needs to dispute the ACH return during that time frame.


Photo credit: iStock/Nicola Katie

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 recurring deposit of regular income to an account holder’s SoFi Checking or Savings account, including payroll, pension, or government benefit 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, or are non-recurring in nature (e.g., IRS tax refunds), do not constitute Direct Deposit activity. There is no minimum Direct Deposit amount required to qualify for the stated interest rate.

As an alternative to direct deposit, 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.


SoFi® Checking and Savings is offered through SoFi Bank, N.A. ©2023 SoFi Bank, N.A. All rights reserved. Member FDIC. Equal Housing Lender.
The SoFi Bank Debit Mastercard® is issued by SoFi Bank, N.A., pursuant to license by Mastercard International Incorporated and can be used everywhere Mastercard is accepted. Mastercard is a registered trademark, and the circles design is a trademark of Mastercard International Incorporated.


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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How to Write a Check: A Step-by-Step Guide

The basic steps of check-writing sound pretty straightforward: Fill out the date, amount, payee name, and add your signature.

There are, however, right and wrong ways to complete this process. And, despite the current age of online banking, there may still be times when you need to write checks and want to do so correctly. Make an error, and your check may not be cashed, which can lead to hassles and fees.

By learning the simple step-by-step process, you can fill out a check properly when you need to.

Key Points

•   Writing a check involves filling out the date, amount, payee name, and your signature.

•   Errors in check writing can lead to uncashed checks and potential fees.

•   Postdating a check allows it to be deposited at a future date.

•   Writing the dollar amount in words and numbers helps prevent fraud.

•   Signing the check is crucial as an unsigned check is invalid.

1. Date the Check

First things first: Write today’s date on the space provided in the upper right-hand corner of the check. Putting the date on your check will provide evidence of when you wrote the check.

You can also postdate a check and request for the recipient not to deposit the amount until on or after that future date.

filling out date on a check



💡 Quick Tip: Make money easy. Open a bank account online so you can manage bills, deposits, transfers — all from one convenient app.

2. Add the Recipient’s Name

In the line, “Pay to the order of,” write the name of the individual or company you are paying. Be sure to double check the spelling of the person’s name and the official vendor name to avoid any payment mishaps.

You can also make a check out to “cash,” but this poses a security risk. If you or the payee loses the check, anyone who finds it will be able to cash it. You can also write a check to yourself if you need to transfer funds from your checking account to another personal account.

adding recipients name to check

3. Write the Payment Amount in Numbers

Write the dollar and cents amount in the rectangular box, located to the right of the payee line. (Example: $156.99.) It’s essential to write the payment amount clearly for the ATM or bank worker.

filling in payment amount on check

4. Write the Payment Amount in Words

To help prevent error or fraud, write the check amount out in words on the line provided.

How to Write a Check with Cents

To write a check with cents, you’ll express the cents amount as a fraction. For example, $156.99 would read as “One hundred and fifty-six and 99/100.”

How to Write a Check with No Cents

If the dollar amount is whole ($156.00), it should read “one hundred and fifty-six and 00/100.” A banker or ATM will check that your numerical amount matches the spelled-out amount.

Recommended: What Is an Outstanding Check?

writing payment amount on check

5. Sign the Check

One of the biggest mistakes check writers make is forgetting to sign the check. Neglecting to do so makes the check invalid and uncashable. Be sure and write your signature on the bottom right-hand line of the check.

adding signature to a check

6. Add a Memo

Adding a note in the memo line on a check is optional, but it’s a good idea. Doing so will help you remember why you wrote the check in the first place: “July 1st rent” or “Beyoncé tix reimbursement.”

Some payees may require additional information which you can put on the memo line on the bottom-left corner. The IRS, for example, will ask you to write your Social Security number on your check.

adding a memo to a check

Example of Writing a Check

Now that you’ve read about writing a check, here’s what a properly filled out one looks like:

example of a filled out check

Tips for Filling Out Checks

The steps on how to write a check are pretty clear. But there are additional tips that can help protect your account and ensure a successful transaction.

Use a Pen

Protect your money. Always fill out a check in ink — preferably blue or black ink for easier readability. Using a pencil is a recipe for theft. You don’t want your payee and dollar amounts being erased and rewritten (aka an altered check).

Don’t Sign a Blank Check

Don’t sign your name on the bottom of the check until it is completely filled out. If a check has your signature, but no payee name or dollar amount, you are leaving yourself wide open for any thief with a pen to fill in the blanks.

Keep Your Signature Consistent

Maintaining a consistent signature can help a bank teller or ATM detect signs of identity fraud. You’ll be better able to prove someone other than you signed your check if you have clear signature samples.

Save a Copy of Your Check

Having a copy of your check can act as proof of payment. You can take a picture of it with your cell phone. Some banks will issue checkbooks with carbon copies—a duplicate check attached to the back of a paper one. If you press down hard enough, your writing will transfer onto the duplicate check.

Recommended: Overdraft vs Non-Sufficient Funds Fees: What’s the Difference?

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Open a SoFi Checking and Savings Account with direct deposit and get up to a $300 cash bonus. Plus, get up to 4.60% APY on your cash!


How to Protect Your Accounts When Writing Paper Checks

After mailing or handing over a check, it’s wise to keep tabs on its path and your bank account. Here are some smart moves that can help keep your records straight.

Record the Payment

Most checkbooks come with a check register — a place to record your check usage and current bank balance. It’s important to dot down:

•   The check number

•   The date you wrote the check

•   The payee information

•   The dollar amount

Doing so will help you balance your checkbook and avoid ending up with a negative balance.

Monitor for Fraud or Lost Checks

Having a record of your checks will help you avoid overdraft fees and keep track of any outstanding checks that payees have yet to cash. When you receive your monthly statement, compare it against your check register to catch any suspicious activity.

This can reveal a check that might have been cashed for a different amount than what you filled it out for. This could indicate a kind of fraud called “check washing,” in which a criminal gets a hold of your check, erases information, and fills it out to themselves.

Or you might spot that a check hasn’t been cashed in a timely manner, indicating that it’s a lost check, worth following up on.

Check Your Available Balance

You don’t want to write a check for more money than you currently have, so keep an eye on your bank balance to avoid bouncing a check. Whether you have a traditional or online checking account, you should be able to easily monitor this on your financial institution’s website or app.

Consider Automated Payments

While checks can still have their time and place in your financial life, online and mobile banking can make it easy to pay bills and otherwise send funds to other accounts. This can be accomplished quickly, easily, and securely by automating your finances.

For example, instead of writing paper checks, you could set up recurring transfers to pay bills online every month or make one-off payments as needed. These actions can be done safely and simply, and they eliminate the need for envelopes and postage stamps, too.

Recommended: ACH vs Checks: Key Differences

The Takeaway

It’s possible that check payments could eventually become a thing of the past. Until then, it’s important to know how to write a check and avoid making little errors that could result in big headaches.

Most bank accounts come with checks, but that’s not the only feature to consider when shopping for a new account.

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.

FAQ

What makes a check invalid?

Banks can refuse to cash a check due to a missing signature, insufficient account funds, invalid or illegible account numbers, or if too much time has passed since the check was dated (typically six months).

Can someone steal your identity with a check?

It is possible for criminals to use the information on your check — your name, your address, your routing number — to steal your identity. They might be able to apply for loans in your name or open bank accounts.

Where is the bank routing number on a check?

The bank routing number is at the bottom of the check, to the left. Just to the right of it is your account number, and then at the far right, the check number.

Who signs the back of a check?

The payee endorses the back of the check in order to make a deposit or cash it.


Photo credit: iStock/payphoto

SoFi® Checking and Savings is offered through SoFi Bank, N.A. ©2023 SoFi Bank, N.A. All rights reserved. Member FDIC. Equal Housing Lender.
The SoFi Bank Debit Mastercard® is issued by SoFi Bank, N.A., pursuant to license by Mastercard International Incorporated and can be used everywhere Mastercard is accepted. Mastercard is a registered trademark, and the circles design is a trademark of Mastercard International Incorporated.


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 recurring deposit of regular income to an account holder’s SoFi Checking or Savings account, including payroll, pension, or government benefit 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, or are non-recurring in nature (e.g., IRS tax refunds), do not constitute Direct Deposit activity. There is no minimum Direct Deposit amount required to qualify for the stated interest rate.

As an alternative to direct deposit, 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.

Non affiliation: SoFi isn’t affiliated with any of the companies highlighted in this article.

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ACH vs Check: What Are the Differences?

ACH vs Check: What Are the Differences?

While both ACH and checks have their upsides, ACH tends to be the quicker and more secure payment method. However, in your financial life, there will probably be times when one is a lot better suited to your needs than the other.

Here’s a detailed breakdown of ACH vs. check, the pros and cons of each, and how they stack up.

What Is ACH and How Does It Work?

An ACH transfer (named after the Automated Clearing House network) is an electronic banking transaction that is processed through the ACH network. The network is a major financial hub, made up of around 10,000 institutions. Through the ACH network it is possible to process the following transactions:

•   Direct debits

•   Direct deposits

•   Direct payments

•   Electronic checks (eChecks)

•   Electronic funds transfers (EFTs)

Businesses and consumers have the option of using ACH transfers to make direct payments (known as ACH debit transactions) or direct deposits (ACH credit transactions). Some financial institutions even make it possible to schedule and pay bills electronically via ACH transfers. You are probably familiar with ACH transactions when you set up autopay on an account, whether it’s a utility bill or your gym membership.

You may wonder how long ACH transfers take. Because they are electronic, ACH transfers can clear banks in a matter of a few business days as long as there are enough funds in the account. However, there are times where ACH transactions will take longer. This is especially common if a transaction is suspected to be fraud.

However, for something like a direct deposit of a paycheck, ACH can be quite quick. When the payment hits your checking account, it’s immediately available. You don’t have to run around with a paper check that needs to be deposited. That can make a big difference between getting paid by ACH vs. a check.

Get up to $300 when you bank with SoFi.

Open a SoFi Checking and Savings Account with direct deposit and get up to a $300 cash bonus. Plus, get up to 4.60% APY on your cash!


💡 Quick Tip: Help your money earn more money! Opening a bank account online often gets you higher-than-average rates.

Pros and Cons of ACH

Like any financial tool, ACH transfers have some advantages and disadvantages worth considering. Here’s a closer look at some important pros and cons.

Pros

Cons

•   Free. Most, but not all, ACH transfers are free.

•   Errors can be reversed. You can sometimes request a transaction reversal for ACH transfers if an error occurs.

•   Simple and straightforward. Convenient form of payment allowing you to pay without cash.

•   Secure. The digital nature of these payments can make them less likely to have funds stolen.

•   Fees can apply. May need to pay a fee to expedite bill-pay services or to make a transfer to an outside bank.

•   Slow timeline. Can take up to three days for a transfer to go through.

•   Potential roadblocks. Daily transfer limits apply.

What Is a Check?

A check is a payment method that involves making a payment using a paper check that has the payment amount and the payee’s bank account information on it. Once someone writes a check, the recipient can cash it and receive the funds.

Pros and Cons of Using a Paper Check

While not as popular as in the past, checks are still one of the most basic and time-honored financial tools at your disposal. They allow you to move money around without paying a fee, and they are a secure way to do this. What’s more, checks create a paper trail with proof that funds have been received.

But they can wind up costing you, they can take longer than you might expect, and sadly, there are scams that prey upon those who use checks. Here are some of the pros and cons of using a check to make payments or to receive payments in chart form.

Pros

Cons

•   No fees. Electronic payments can come with fees, but there are no fees for standard checks once you purchase them.

•   Safe way to send money. Cash can be lost or stolen. If a check is lost or stolen, the person who finds it will have a hard time cashing it thanks to handy security features.

•   Proof of payment. Checks have a paper trail confirming proof of payment.

•   Check scams exist. Check scams can be dangerous and easy to fall for.

•   Checks cost money. Typically, you don’t pay a fee when you use a check, but it costs money to buy checks, and depending on your situation, you might have to pay a fee to cash a check at some locations.

•   Processing delays occur. Paying by cash, credit, or electronic transfer can usually occur more quickly than paying by check.

Recommended: Ways to Send Money Online

ACH vs Check: The Differences

Here, a side-by-side comparison of ACH vs. checks. It’s important to note that both have their own unique set of advantages and disadvantages, but much of the choice about which to use will depend on your particular circumstances and preferences.

ACH

Check

•   For the most part, ACH transfers are free unless a rush fee or a fee for transferring to an outside bank applies.

•   It is sometimes possible to request a transaction reversal for ACH transfers if an error occurred.

•   ACH payments are fairly simple and easy to conduct.

•   ACH transfers can take a few days to clear.

•   There are no fees associated with checks, but consumers do have to buy the checks to be able to use them.

•   Checks offer a safe way to make payments, but there can be issues with scams and stolen checks.

•   Checks provide a convenient paper trail that cash payments lack.

•   Checks can take several days to clear.

Recommended: Average Savings by Age

Which Should You Consider Using?

There’s no right or wrong answer when it comes to choosing a check over an ACH transfer. Both have unique advantages and disadvantages. Consider these scenarios:

•   Because it’s possible to set up recurring ACH transfers, that can be a much more convenient option if someone wants to schedule ongoing automated payments such as rent or bills.

•   Checks, which are very secure and convenient, may be a better fit for one-off payments such as paying the babysitter or a hairdresser.

As you see, the decision depends on what best suits your needs for a particular transaction.

The Takeaway

Both ACH transfers and checks offer benefits. They can be convenient, secure ways to transfer money, though ACH may be faster and safer. Which one is the “best” will often depend on the unique preferences of both parties involved in the transaction. You may well find yourself toggling between the two during your everyday financial life.

While you’re thinking about which kinds of payments work best for you, consider your banking options.

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.

FAQ

Is an ACH payment a check?

No, ACH payments are an electronic transfer processed through the Automated Clearing House network, which is a network made up of around 10,000 financial institutions. A check is a different kind of payment, using a paper document and being processed in a different way.

Is ACH better than checks?

Not necessarily. ACH can be faster, cheaper, and more secure in certain scenarios, but both can be useful ways to make payments.

Is ACH cheaper than checks?

When it comes to check vs. ACH costs, ACH payments can be cheaper than checks in some cases, but not always. ACH payments are free, whereas consumers generally need to buy checks to use for payments. However, you may run into fees when doing certain ACH payments.

Is ACH safer than a check?

Both checks and ACH transfers are very secure, but ACH payments are known to be more secure, thanks to the extra layers of protection in place due to encryption that occur during the transfer. Both checks and ACH transfers do require that the identity of the recipient be verified before the transaction can complete. Fraud and mistakes can occur for both payment types.


Photo credit: iStock/bernardbodo

SoFi® Checking and Savings is offered through SoFi Bank, N.A. ©2023 SoFi Bank, N.A. All rights reserved. Member FDIC. Equal Housing Lender.
The SoFi Bank Debit Mastercard® is issued by SoFi Bank, N.A., pursuant to license by Mastercard International Incorporated and can be used everywhere Mastercard is accepted. Mastercard is a registered trademark, and the circles design is a trademark of Mastercard International Incorporated.


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 recurring deposit of regular income to an account holder’s SoFi Checking or Savings account, including payroll, pension, or government benefit 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, or are non-recurring in nature (e.g., IRS tax refunds), do not constitute Direct Deposit activity. There is no minimum Direct Deposit amount required to qualify for the stated interest rate.

As an alternative to direct deposit, 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.

Third-Party Brand Mentions: No brands, products, or companies mentioned are affiliated with SoFi, nor do they endorse or sponsor this article. Third-party trademarks referenced herein are property of their respective owners.

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Interest Rates FAQ: How the Federal Fund Rate Impacts Your Savings

It’s been a tumultuous couple of years for interest rates. After reaching a historic low during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Federal Reserve enacted a series of rate hikes in 2022 and 2023—culminating in the highest rates in decades—in an effort to fight persistent inflation. So far, in 2024, the Fed has held its rate steady at 5.25% to 5.50%. Though many economists expect rates to decrease this year, the number of cuts, and how steep they might be, remain unclear. And it’s always possible that rates could remain unchanged or even increase if economic conditions shift.

Learn more: SoFi’s Liz Young Thomas Looks at the Fed’s May Statement

Changes to the Fed’s interest rate, or federal funds rate, almost invariably create a ripple effect of changes throughout the economy, impacting interest rates on loans, mortgages, and savings. Here’s a closer look at the Federal Reserve and how its economic outlook and policies can impact your accounts.

Q: What Is the Federal Reserve?

A: The Federal Reserve System was founded by Congress in 1913, with the primary goal of promoting the stability of the U.S. banking system. Since then, the Fed’s mandate and methods have evolved—today the work includes regulating financial institutions, directing monetary policy, managing inflation, and keeping employment rates high. And one of the key levers it pulls to those ends is adjusting the federal funds rate.

Q: What Is the Federal Funds Rate?

A: Banks frequently borrow money from one another to ensure they have sufficient reserves to cover consumer withdrawals and other commitments. The federal funds rate influences the interest rate U.S. banks use when lending money to other banks.

The federal funds rate is set by the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC), which is responsible for setting a range of monetary policies that can influence inflation and economic growth. The FOMC is made up of 12 members who meet approximately every six weeks to discuss a range of economic policies, including adjustments to the federal fund rate.

Q: What Factors Influence the Fed’s Rate?

A: The FOMC determines interest rate policy based on a wide range of economic indicators including inflation, employment levels, and durable goods orders data, which can provide insight into the economic health of a variety of industries such as technology, transportation, and manufacturing.

When these market indicators suggest that the economy is languishing, the FOMC may reduce the federal funds rate to make borrowing less expensive in the hopes of boosting economic activity. More money in consumers’ pockets typically means more spending and more money streaming into the economy.

When prices are rising too quickly, the FOMC may increase its interest rate, making it more expensive to borrow. That can slow spending and, in theory, help keep inflation in check.

Q: How Does the Fed Influence My Savings APY?

A: As mentioned above, the federal funds rate directly influences the interest rates banks use to borrow from or lend money to one another. But secondary effects eventually impact the wider economy, including the interest rates banks and financial institutions use when lending money through credit cards, personal loans, and mortgages. It can also affect the annual yield percentage, or APY, for savings accounts.

A federal rate decrease should eventually translate into lower interest rates when you borrow money to buy a house or car. It may also lead to a lower APY on your savings account.

When the federal rate increases, on the other hand, it becomes more expensive to borrow money, and savings account APYs typically increase.

Because most savings account APYs are variable, they tend to rise or fall in the wake of federal rate changes. There are accounts—such as fixed-rate certificates of deposit offered by some banks and credit unions—that have APYs that do not change, regardless of how the federal fund rate fluctuates.

Q: Do Other Factors Influence My Savings APY?

A: Federal fund rate changes have a substantial influence on saving account APYs—but they are not the only factor.

Some banks offer high-yield savings accounts with APYs that are considerably higher than the national average rate. Online-only banks and credit unions, for example, generally have less overhead than traditional brick-and-mortar banks, which may influence their ability to offer higher APYs.

Larger banks tend to be less dependent on deposits than those with a smaller regional presence, for example, so those smaller banks may offer higher rates.

Competition among banks for consumer deposits may also drive changes to the APYs they offer.

Even among these different scenarios, however, the Fed’s interest rate adjustments can still influence whether these banks’ APY rates rise or fall over time.

Recommended: What Is a Good Interest Rate for a Savings Account?

Q: How Has the Fed Adjusted Rates Recently?

A: After the economic crisis of 2008, the Fed presided over a period of relatively low and stable interest rates. Rates began to tick up gradually in 2015 until the COVID-19 pandemic upended the economy in 2020. The FOMC followed with two steep rate cuts to encourage economic activity, at the time, bringing interest rates down to historic lows.

Since then, as the U.S. has grappled with its highest rate of inflation in decades, the Fed has initiated a series of increases, culminating with a rate of 5.25% to 5.50% in July 2023 — the highest level in 23 years.

Federal Funds Target Rate (2015-2024)

Source: Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis

Q: When Will the Next Rate Change Come?

A: The FOMC typically convenes eight times per year—but it does not necessarily adjust rates at every meeting. In addition, banks and financial institutions sometimes adjust their own interest rates ahead of FOMC meetings, especially when economic conditions or signals from the Fed suggest a rate change may be forthcoming. The Fed publishes the schedule of FOMC meetings on its website.

The Takeaway

While the FOMC sets the federal funds rate to directly influence the rates banks use to lend money to each other, the rate has a broader effect on the U.S. economy, impacting many financial services and products including personal loans, mortgages, and savings accounts.


Photo credit: iStock/Sadeugra

SoFi® Checking and Savings is offered through SoFi Bank, N.A. ©2023 SoFi Bank, N.A. All rights reserved. Member FDIC. Equal Housing Lender.
The SoFi Bank Debit Mastercard® is issued by SoFi Bank, N.A., pursuant to license by Mastercard International Incorporated and can be used everywhere Mastercard is accepted. Mastercard is a registered trademark, and the circles design is a trademark of Mastercard International Incorporated.


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 recurring deposit of regular income to an account holder’s SoFi Checking or Savings account, including payroll, pension, or government benefit 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, or are non-recurring in nature (e.g., IRS tax refunds), do not constitute Direct Deposit activity. There is no minimum Direct Deposit amount required to qualify for the stated interest rate.

As an alternative to direct deposit, 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.

Our account fee policy is subject to change at any time.
Third-Party Brand Mentions: No brands, products, or companies mentioned are affiliated with SoFi, nor do they endorse or sponsor this article. Third-party trademarks referenced herein are property of their respective owners.

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