How safe are my bank deposits?

By Sabrina Karl

For anyone stashing money in savings, nothing beats the safety of depositing it in the bank. In fact, with a small amount of homework, you can ensure that what you sock away will earn interest virtually risk-free.

The key to holding risk at near-zero is two-fold. First, the financial institution you choose matters. Banks insured by the FDIC and credit unions with NCUA insurance will protect you if the institution fails, is seized, or otherwise ceases to operate. So if an FDIC bank goes under, the U.S. government will return your funds in full.

Fortunately, the vast majority of institutions carry federal insurance, as evidenced by an FDIC or NCUA logo on their website and print materials. But it’s important to verify, as a small minority of institutions instead carry private insurance. Though some argue this equally protects you, most contend that no private insurer is as reliable as the federal government.

For those with substantial savings, it’s also important to consider how much you’re depositing. That’s because the FDIC and NCUA insure up to $250,000 for any one depositor at any one institution. If your savings fall below this threshold, you can ignore this. But note that all funds you’ve deposited with an institution – no matter the number of accounts – will apply towards the $250,000 limit.

So what to do if you have more than that on deposit? Fortunately, it’s as simple as diversifying across multiple banks or credit unions. As long as you stay below $250,000 per institution, your deposits will be fully insured.

Money deposited in a bank or credit union won’t earn as much as you might be able to in the stock market, but achieving a steady return with no risk to keep you up at night can be a worthwhile trade-off.