A list of the highest yielding Individual Retirement Accounts offered by local banks and savings and loans shows that rates here lag well behind those in California but are higher than or at least competitive with those elsewhere in the country. The study is being released today by Washington Consumers' Checkbook.
Although the figures are two months old, a spot check of a number of the institutions mentioned confirms that many are still valid. The rates range from 11.79 to 9.86 percent. See accompanying chart.
In addition to rates, the Checkbook contains information not found in some other IRA books, including tables on simple and compound interest. The authors warn savers against opening an account solely because of a high advertised rate without checking the accrual basis. For example, the 13 percent simple interest for 48 months offered by a Maryland savings and loan translates into an annual equivalent yield of just 11.04 percent.
If variable rate IRAs are listed only by current interest rate, the customer should ask the institution to calculate the exact annual yield for purposes of comparison. As a general rule, add one-half of one percentage point to a 10 percent rate compounded daily or monthly for an annual yield of 10.5 percent; 0.40 percent if compounded quarterly. The more frequently the interest is compounded, the higher the annual yield.
Checkbook also lists three strategies for "playing the market" or maximizing the return on bank IRAs. The first requires the customer to find a long-term, fixed-rate, simple interest account that allows him or her to add money to it at the original interest rate at any time before maturity. By putting a small initial deposit in this type of account, a customer can put the remainder in a variable rate IRA and then switch it back to the fixed rate account if market interest rates go down.
The second strategy involves finding an institution that does not charge penalty fees for early withdrawal. State-chartered savings and loans and credit unions are the most likely candidates. Also, four out of five institutions waive the penalty for persons over 59 1/2 years of age. By depositing the money in a long-term, fixed-rate account, the customer gets protection if interest rates decline. If they go up, he or she can withdraw and invest elsewhere.
The third strategy is simply to find an institution that guarantees a relatively high interest rate floor as a protection against declining rates. Checkbook lists two area banks with 10 percent floors, D.C. National Bank and First and Merchants National Bank.
Advice is offered on spotting the least onerous type of withdrawal penalty, on avoiding a long-term, variable rate account that fluctuates at the institution's discretion and guarding against automatic renewals.
Checkbook also offers counsel and rates on other types of IRAs such as annuities and mutual funds and gives a sample of fees charged by brokerage firms on self-directed accounts. Finally, it contains information on how fast to make withdrawals from a retirement savings account and how to invest those funds when retirement time approaches.