Money market deposit accounts and mutual funds are a safe place to park your cash for a short period of time. But before you put a chunk of money into either one, make sure you understand:
- the difference between a money market deposit account and a money market mutual fund
- whether your money is insured or guaranteed
- what types of returns you should expect, and
- which type of money market is best for you.
Money Market Deposit Accounts
Money market deposit accounts are a cross between a checking and a savings account. They earn a bit more than interest-bearing checking accounts, but restrict the number of deposits or withdrawals that can be made each month.
These deposit accounts are offered by banks and are insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) up to $250,000 per person, per bank. As long as the balance in the account remains below the insurance limit, every bit of principal and interest earned on the account is 100% guaranteed. (To learn more about how your money is protected by the FDIC, read Nolo's article FDIC Insurance: How Safe Is Your Money?)
Like most safe investments, they won't make you rich. The rate of return paid on the accounts varies according to market conditions and the bank's standard rates, but in today's market, is usually only a tad higher than standard savings account rates. By and large, they generally pay a bit less than the rate of inflation.
Money Market Mutual Funds
Money market mutual funds are offered by investment companies. They are investment pools that buy safe, short-term securities, such as Treasury bills, certificates of deposit, and commercial paper. (Commercial paper is an IOU issued by a company that needs money in the short term to finance accounts receivable, inventories, or other short-term needs.) Unlike money market deposit accounts, but like other investment accounts, money market mutual funds are not federally insured.
Money Market Fund Values
The income earned on money market mutual funds will vary based on the performance of the underlying investments. But, because these investments are fairly safe, they don't pay high returns -- although the yields are a bit higher than on money market deposit accounts.
Beware of money market funds offering a high return. If a money market fund's return is a lot higher than that of a deposit account, take a closer look. A high return on one of these funds could mean the investment manager is doing something fishy, making the fund less safe than average.
Use Money Markets For the Short-Term
Both money market deposit accounts and money market mutual funds are simply places to keep your money for the short term. They are not good places to put your money for long-term investment. Because they earn so little, parking long-term assets in a money market guarantees you'll lose buying power to inflation.
Which Money Market is Best for You?
To decide which type of money market is best for you, consider your reasons for setting this money aside.
- Money market deposit account. If you plan to use the fund to handle emergencies, or near-term bills, you might be best off with the money market account, where check writing is likely to be as seamless as it is at your local bank, so long as you make no more than the allowed number of withdrawals per month.
- Money market mutual fund. If you're parking cash while you figure out where to better invest it, a money market mutual fund might be the better choice because you could then easily transfer those assets into a fund at the same company with a single phone call or click of the mouse.
To learn about more about investing and other money issues affecting families, get The Busy Family's Guide to Money , by Sandra Block, Kathy Chu, and John Waggoner (Nolo).