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How to Make the Most of Your Savings

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Learn how to ladder CDs to maximize return.

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The economic downturn has led many to boost their savings.

Some economists predict the savings rate, the difference between earnings and expenditures, will rebound to 3% to 5% this year after a negative rate in 2005. Earlier this year, Goldman Sachs estimated that the savings rate could go as high as 6% to 10% in 2009.

But interest rates are painfully low and are unlikely to rise anytime soon. One solution: laddering your certificates of deposit.

Each rung in the ladder is a different maturity date. Purchasing short- and long-term CDs allows you to spread out the interest rate risk. You may not earn as much as you could by locking your money in for more than 5 years, but you will be able to catch higher rates in the future.

If you have $100,000 to set aside, consider putting $20,000 in 5 separate CDs with maturity dates 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 years in the future. As each CD matures, roll the money into a new 5-year CD. This will allow you to lock in the best current interest rate available while being able to get your hands on $20,000 each year if needed, thanks to the staggered maturity dates.

If interest rates fall, you've got 80% of your money locked in at a higher rate. If interest rates rise, you can get a higher rate each year because you haven't locked all your money into a single, long-term CD.

However, if you might need access to your money on short notice, keep the terms shorter. Warning: this will sharply reduce the yield.

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation now insures deposits up to $250,000 per depositor through December 31, 2013. Unless Congress acts, the amount will return to $100,000 per depositor for all accounts except IRAs on January 1, 2014.

As pitiful as current interest rates are, a CD will boost the yield beyond a savings or money market account. Rates vary among banks, so shop around. Bauer Financial is a good place to compare interest rates. It also ranks the strength of individual banks, but charges for the full report.
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