Getting the most for your money and keeping it safe is a challenge these days, what with ultra-low interest rates and concerns about the safety of online banking. Let Good Housekeeping's financial experts answer common questions and help you keep your money safe and secure.
I know I can earn a bit more interest with an online bank, but I'm worried about security. How can I keep my money safe?
There have been some scary hacking stories in the news. But think of it this way. The biggest business threat to any online bank is losing the security of your information and holdings, so protecting that is its No. 1 job.
"Banks offer software that can prevent malware from infecting end users' machines in the first place and from stealing their information when they bank online and use other websites," said Yishay Yovel, vice president of marketing for Trusteers, a security firm that works with more than 200 banks and credit unions.
Also know that your bank confirms your identity with a username/password system, and may ask security questions if it doesn't recognize your device's unique IP address.
Lastly, it's important to mention that online banks don't have to pay salaries for tellers or rent for branches, so they offer higher interest rates and fewer fees. Do, however, make sure the bank you choose is FDIC-insured and has good ratings for customer service.
A quick, free search on bankrate.com shows that ING Direct offers 0.8 percent interest on savings accounts with no minimum balance or fees. For checking accounts, Ally Bank offers 0.4 percent with no minimum balance or fees. In terms of brick-and-mortar businesses, only credit unions can come close to offering that kind of deal.
The headlines have me scared of the stock market, but the returns on retirement investments are so low. Should I be in the market?
We'll assume your date with a beach chair is 10- to 20-plus years away. You have a long-term goal of retirement as far as this money goes, but you're looking at short-term numbers that darned 2 percent to 4 percent.
To earn more, you must expose yourself to risk. It's the trade-off, as it is in life. First, make your stomach less queasy by educating yourself about where your money is and what your options are. You definitely should not have all your money in the stock market at one time (even if you have decades until retirement), and steer clear of holding individual stocks. You need a mix of assets, but most of all, you need a strategy. When was the last time you sat with your 401(k) administrator or adviser?
Through recent regulations by the Department of Labor, 401(k) providers are required to provide plan participants not only with information about a plan's administrative and investment fees, but also with investment information in a way that allows the participants to "meaningfully compare the investment options."
In addition, your employer may offer you the services of an adviser. If it doesn't, or if you don't feel comfortable with the individual, find a qualified financial planner at fpanet.com, then ask for info on different funds' performance over time and at various risk levels. Â
Keeping your money safe online
Be careful when checking your email. Never to respond to an unsolicited request from a source that looks like your bank but asks you to send back personal information.