Banking Finances & Money

Emergency Fund Saving Options

By Jim

Jim usually writes at Blueprint for Financial Prosperity, please stop on by and check out his stuff!

With the economy showing weakness and the financial industry in tatters, a lot of people are feeling jittery about their future. One of the best things you can do to allay those fears is to prepare for the worst by starting or boosting your emergency fund. Your emergency fund is a sum of money you set aside to help against the worst, be it a medical emergency or the loss of a job.

The general consensus has always been to save about 6 – 12 months of expenses and label it your emergency fund. In these dark economy times, you might want to push that number up to 18 months, especially if job loss is a possibility for you. Having an emergency fund can help prevent you from falling into a downward spiral of credit card debt and financial ruin (the majority of bankruptcies were caused by medical bills!).

Emergency Fund Option Rules

How you come up with the money will be a test for you, but here are some suggestions for where to put it as you save. Rule number one when it comes to your emergency fund is capital preservation. It cannot, under any circumstances, lose money. Ever. That fund is there for emergencies only and you should never put it at risk. One day, if and when you need it, you have to be confident that it will still be there.

The second rule to emergency funds is that they must be easily accessible. If it takes more than a month get your money out, that’s far too long. I set a month at the maximum because you can always use a credit card to tide you over until you get access to the funds. The options I list below will all liquidate within a week or two.

The Options

Online Banks

A safe option available to everyone is an online high yield savings account. An online high yield savings account is a savings account that offers a high rate of return in return for your patience in working with a completely online system. The best ones have rates in the 3% range (currently) and they’re all FDIC insured up to $250,000 (until December 2009, then it’s back to $100,000). This is a competitive rate on a completely liquid account that you can access anytime without penalty. In return for this, you will have to contend with the prospect that there will often be no branch to visit and everything will be conducted online. When you compare it to typical bank savings rates under a percent, this is a no-brainer for a fund that you, hopefully, won’t need to access too often.

Certificates of Deposit (CD)

Another strategy is to use certificates of deposit. A certificate of deposit is a bank deposit product that has an interest rate that beats regular savings accounts. The trade-off with a CD is that you are “locked” into the product for the duration of its term. CDs come in a variety of term limits but the most common are in multiple of years (12-months, 24-months, up to 60- and 72- months). They aren’t completely locked though, you can often close a CD by paying a small interest penalty. The best CD rates are in the 4% range and, should you choose, you can always use a CD ladder to boost your emergency fund’s interest accrual rate (explained below).

Laddering CDs

Laddering CDs for your emergency fund is another popular option and it refers to buying CDs of different maturities such that one CD is maturing each month. Imagine the rungs on a ladder and each one being a CD. As each CD matures, you hold onto it for the month and then buy another CD at the end of the month. This keeps one month’s worth of expenses in your account while the remaining 11 are earning a higher interest rate. Some banks, such as ING Direct, even make it easy for you to set up a CD ladder.

If you’ve been thinking about where to put your emergency fund, I hope those three options are on your list.

About the author

Clever Dude


  • I’d caution against putting an emergency fund in CDs. The point of an emergency fund is to get the money NOW in case something goes wrong. CDs charge penalties and can be a pain to get money quickly.

    I recommend the first option—the online savings account/interest checking.

  • @Jim – I disagree about the general consensus being 6-12 months expenses, I have read in the past and recently that 3-6 is the general consensus but it should be increased to 6-12 in these economic times. Maybe that is just a difference between financial bloggers/readers and the rest of the world?

    I think as you get into the 6-12 month emergency fund time frame CD’s and CD ladders get more appealing because the amount of money gets so large. If you are like me and just finally got 3 months minimum expenses in the bank… anything more complicated than an online savings account doesn’t make sense.

  • How long does it take for typical people to finally get their emergency fund to 6 months expenses? 12 months seems impossible.

    It would take me close to 3 years to save up 6-months worth of bare minumum expenses for the both of us. Should we be living as frugally as absolutely possible (think broke college student without CC’s) until we get it up there? That could be a depressing 3 years if that is the case.

    The 2,500 we have saved now wouldn’t even cover 1/2 a month’s expenses.

  • It’s difficult to decide how much to allocate to an EF. Because you need the money in other areas and other savings. Right now I have a small split emergency fund/vacation fund that I put a little in each month. I currently keep it in the bank where I know it’s safe, although gaining very minimal interest. CD’s I don’t think are a good idea because they aren’t as liquid and you could face harsh penalties if you really need the money right away for an emergency and have to take it out of the CD.


  • I’ve always read 3 to 6 months in an emergency fund was the rule. Though one could start at 3 to 6 months and keep on saving. I would stick with a regular deposit account, like an Online Savings Account which has a higher rate then a traditional brick and mortar bank. I would not consider a time deposit account like a CD, just in case you need the money right away you can withdrawal funds without incurring a penalty.

  • Allocating funds to an emergency funding options is better specially today where every corner of the country’s bad beaten by the recession. Job loses and company closes even the one of the top company in the world, Microsoft. They had a decline in revenue and the first round of layoffs in company history, according to CFO Chris Liddell.

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