Maybe you know how tedious it can be to hunt for the best interest rates on savings, CDs or any other financial instrument the old-fashioned way: Check the newspaper for ads, call banks (“let your fingers do the walking”) or even walk around the neighborhood to see what local banks are offering. If you want financial information, you have to meet with a banker or investment counselor.
With the internet, that’s all over. Banks have moved from brick and mortar to online and mobile, making it easier to shop for the best interest rates—a real necessity in the current economic environment. And the same sites that offer good information on rates can also serve as your source for the latest financial news and advice; they offer great resources for more experienced or knowledgeable investors. If you don’t fit that description, you can start with the website Personal Finance for Dummies (face up to it) and its retirement options section. And if banking ethically is up there on your list, there’s a site for you, too.
Here are some of the best websites to get the scoop.
Number, Please: Bankrate.com
With more than 40 years of financial publishing experience (first in print, and online since 1996), Bankrate.com is a leading aggregator of financial rate information. It conducts ongoing research into some 4,800 financial institutions in all 50 states.
Clicking on Bankrate.com’s toolbar at the top for “Bank Rates” reveals a pulldown menu that lets you select CD rates, Money Market rates and other interest rate topics. Once you’ve picked CD, Savings or Checking, scroll down to see a grid that allows you to sort by institution, annual percentage yield, rate or minimums. Flummoxed? A Need Help button takes you directly to the institutions’ websites. One of the plusses of this site is that it lets you gauge the financial strength of each institution, a simple 0-5 star rating.
Besides interest rates on a variety of products (savings and checking, money markets, CDs of various duration), the site also offers rate information on more than 300 financial products, such as mortgages, credit cards, new and used car loans, checking and ATM fees, home equity loans and online banking fees.
Bonus: The site’s free content includes tools,among them one that automatically calculate savings rates towards goals. Plus, Bankrate publishes original personal finance content and advice to help you make informed choices on major financial decisions.
The downsides: an annoying pop up screen that invites you to register, and for the novice, an avalanche of information that may prove intimidating.
Invest Your Time: Marketwatch.com
Marketwatch.com uses Bankrate to create a national average of interest rates, but its real strength is in the financial and investing advice it offers in an easy-to-navigate pick list.
While the website is free, it offers enhanced information for subscribers—which Marketwatch hypes often, unfortunately. Don’t bother to pay up: Luckily, the site’s free section is robust, with a substantial section on personal finance (one recent article warned about the Alternative Minimum Tax). The retirement section addresses both preparing for it (with the usual scary story about not saving enough) and being retired (“retire here, not there” is a standard feature). The most comprehensive section in the Retirement tab is the Retirement Planner, but it’s not for beginners.
The Best of Both: CNBC.com
CNBC’s idea of breaking news is “Crude Settles at $54.06, up 12%,” but don’t let that scare you. True, it specializes in financial news on national and international stock markets, investments and earnings—perfect for a sophisticated investor. Among the topics on the toolbar at the top, clicking on the Investing tab will show a dropdown menu with a variety of topics. The most helpful are in Personal Finance (these include topics for any level of financial savvy, including Retirement and Savings); and in an alphabetized tutorial series called CNBC Explains. But if you scroll down the right side of the home page—and it takes a bit of scrolling—you’ll find the mother lode: Retire Well.
This section has a bonanza of specific and highly relevant content for retirees and soon-to-be retirees. The information is updated when needed, but compelling topics can stay up for months (such as what to do with your money when you turn 70). This section also benefits from links to related topics from other areas of CNBC.com that will appeal to experts and tyros alike, such as where to retire.
All these websites link to financial news reports, making it easy to include ethical considerations in your decision making—a topic of increasing importance. If you’re looking to find places to invest your money that will benefit your community rather than fund a project you’re opposed to (for example, some people are currently withdrawing their money from banks that fund the Dakota Access Pipeline), BreakUpWithYourMegaBank.org has a directory of socially responsible institutions; most also offer credit card and checking options. You can search by city or zip, as well as by type of institution.
Do you any favorite finance sites? Share them in the comments section below!