Fed Chairman Jerome Powell hikes interest rates — but most savers would never know it

Story by Brett Arends


Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell has hiked interest rates again, to 5%, the highest they’ve been in almost a generation.

But you wouldn’t know it to look at the interest rates being offered on a typical bank account.

The average one-year Certificate of Deposit from a federally-insured bank is paying just…1.49%, according to the FDIC.

The average savings account pays interest of just 0.37%.

And the average “interest” checking account: 0.06%.

The same institution taking your money and paying you this little can then just turn around and deposit it at the Fed for an overnight rate of 4.9%, with zero risk.

These rates are derisory. They are far below the rates you can get from shopping around. And they are of course far below inflation, currently 6%, which means the people holding their money in these accounts are going backwards, not forwards, financially.

“Deposit rates typically move in the same direction as the Federal Reserve’s benchmark lending rate, but often with a lag,” Sayee Srinivasan, chief economist of the American Bankers’ Association, told us: “If the Fed continues to raise interest rates, bank rates can be expected to move higher as well.”

Really? Let’s hope. But rates have been rising for a year. The effective fed-funds rate was already above 2% last August and 4% by December. Yet many depositors are still getting interest rates little better than zero.

“Bank rates are set in a highly competitive market with other financial institutions, and banks will continue to compete for customers on fees, products and services, and innovation,” Srinivasan added.

Naturally, the banks won’t compete if we don’t force them.

They can get away with this sort of thing because of customer inertia, and ignorance. How many people know exactly what interest rate they are currently getting on their savings account? Or their checking account? And when in a busy schedule does someone find time to check—or to do something about it?

Most people probably find that on any given day they have dozens of much more urgent priorities. It’s always something we can get to tomorrow.

We’ve been lulled by a generation of ultra low interest rates not to care too much anyway.

Great for the banks. Not so great for us.

One of the problems for savers is that the banks got flooded with deposits during the Covid crisis, as people collected stimulus checks, canceled spending plans, and stayed at home. Total deposits rocketed by nearly $5 trillion, or 35%, during the first two years of the crisis and have only been slowly coming down in the past year. So the banks don’t really need our money.

But with the Fed raising interest rates, there are now much better deals out there for those with the time and energy to take advantage of them. Bankrate cites savings accounts paying 4%. There are one year CDs available paying 5.3%, available through your broker. And why keep money at a checking account paying 0.06% when you can get a money-market account with check writing privileges, now paying 4.5% or better?

Meanwhile, banks take advantage of those who don’t shop around.

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