After three years of slowly rising interest rates, savers were looking forward to much healthier yields this year on various types of bank and credit union accounts. But fears that the economy would weaken have halted rate increases and even put them in reverse at least temporarily.

For those who want risk-free returns in this tricky environment, here’s how to maximize your yields on money-market and savings accounts…checking accounts…and certificates of deposit (CDs). 

Money-Market and Savings Accounts

Yields on money-market and savings accounts at most large, traditional banks remain at historic lows. For instance, Chase Bank was recently paying a 0.01% annual percentage yield (APY)* on its savings accounts. That’s $1 per year on $10,000. Savers can find much better rates at online banks. 

Strategy: Choose an online bank with a history of consistently high yields rather than a bank with the very highest current yield. Reason: Some newer banks recently offered money-market yields as high as 2.5% APY. But those banks are more likely to lower their rates later.

Internet-only banks that offer relatively consistent and competitive rates… 

PurePoint Financial Online Savings Account. 2.15% APY on deposits with no maximum limit. $10,000 ­minimum requirement to open an ­account. 0.25% APY if your balance falls below $10,000. No ATM card or check writing. PurePoint.com 

Sallie Mae Bank Money Market. 2.2% APY on balances of any amount. Check-writing but no ATM card. SallieMae.com

If you prefer a traditional bank with many brick-and-mortar locations, Capital One offers a high-yield online account…

Capital One 360 Money Market. The APY is 2% for balances of $10,000 or more and 0.85% APY for ­balances below $10,000. ATM card but no check-writing. Hundreds of branches in areas including Louisiana, New Jersey, New York, Texas, Virginia and Washington, DC. CapitalOne.com

Interest-Paying Checking Accounts

For the highest yields on FDIC-insured deposit accounts without having to lock up money for a period of time, high-yield checking ­accounts at some banks and credit unions offer APYs of 4% or more if you jump through several hoops. They typically require that each month you make 10 to 15 debit-card transactions…pay at least one bill online…receive statements online…and/or have at least one recurring direct deposit. If you meet the requirements, you will be reimbursed for at least some of the fees that out-of-network ATMs charge you.

Strategy: Look for checking accounts with yields at least one percentage point higher than those of the top online money-market accounts. That’s how much extra yield it takes to compensate for the extra effort demanded to meet the requirements.

Highest recent checking account yields at traditional banks offering online accounts (with the requirements mentioned on page three)…

Consumers Credit Union Free Rewards Checking. 5.09% APY on balances up to $10,000 (0.2% on balances over $10,000 up to $25,000…0.1% on balances over $25,000). In addition to typical minimum requirements, you must charge at least $1,000 monthly on a CCU Visa credit card. If you don’t meet the monthly requirements, a 0.01% APY applies on all balances for that month. The credit union has 12 branches in the Lake County, ­Illinois area. Membership is available to anyone for a onetime $5 fee to join the Consumers Cooperative Association. MyConsumers.org

TAB Bank Kasasa Cash Checking. 4% APY on balances up to $50,000. Above that amount, 0.25%. If monthly requirements are met, reimbursements up to $15 per month for ATM withdrawal fees. If the requirements are not met, your account earns just 0.05% APY. There is only one physical branch in Ogden, Utah. TabBank.com

Orion Federal Credit Union Premium Checking. 4% APY for balances up to $30,000, plus ATM-fee reimbursements up to $10 per month. You earn 0.05% on balances above $30,000 or on all balances if you fail to meet monthly requirements. There are 10 branch locations in the Memphis area and one in Little Rock, Arkansas. Among various options to become a member of the credit union, you can ask Orion to donate $10 to one of five charitable organizations. OrionFCU.com

Certificates of Deposit (CDs)

Yields on one-year CDs were recently as high as 2.95% and five-year CDs were as high as 3.35%. Note: Consider locking in five-year CDs now because their yields have already dipped in response to falling long-term bond yields and could drop further.

Strategy: Use a classic CD ladder. It’s still the best way to maintain the liquidity of your savings, boost yields and smooth your overall returns if there are rapid changes in interest rates. How it works: If you need access to money in less than a year, keep it in a savings or money-­market account. Otherwise, invest equal amounts of money in short-, medium- and long-term CDs that mature at staggered intervals—like the steps of a ladder. If rates rise, your short-term CDs will mature in time for you to reinvest the principal at the new, higher rates. If rates fall or stay flat, you have locked in higher rates on your longer-term CDs. It makes sense to keep all or most of your CDs at one institution that has competitive rates, rather than try to find the highest rate for each CD maturity at multiple institutions. Important: Your funds are FDIC-insured for up to $250,000 per insured bank for each account-ownership category. Credit union deposits have similar insurance protection from the National Credit Union Share Insurance Fund (NCUSIF), which also is backed by the US government.

Recommended banks and credit unions with online accounts that offer competitive CD or share certificate** rates overall…

Connexus Credit Union. One-year share certificate, 2.4% APY…two-year, 2.6%…three-year, 2.7%…five-year, 2.8%. $5,000 minimum per CD. Connexus has 13 branches in Minnesota, New Hampshire, Ohio and Wisconsin. To become a member if you don’t work for certain companies or live in certain communities in these states, you can join the Connexus Association for a $5 ­donation. ConnexusCU.org

State Bank of India New York. One-year CD, 2.67%…two-year, 2.73%…three-year, 2.83%…four-year, 2.88%…five-year, 2.93%. This Internet-only bank has a $25,000 minimum per CD. Note: It offers “Senior Citizen CDs” for consumers age 60 and over with a $25,000 minimum deposit that pay about one-tenth of a  percentage point more than its standard CDs do. SBINewYork.com

Strategy: Consider “add-on” CDs. They give you more flexibility than traditional CDs because you’re allowed to make additional deposits at the initial interest rate throughout the life of the CD until it matures. If rates fall, stay the same or rise, you still get the same yield as the existing CD. Careful: These CDs often come with restrictions such as a limit on the maximum amount or the number of add-on deposits. 

Recommended add-on CDs with competitive rates…

Rising Bank Rising CD. The ­Internet-only bank offers two add-on CDs. 2.7% APY for 18 months with the option of one additional deposit…2.7% for 36 months with the option of two additional deposits. For each CD, the initial minimum deposit is $25,000. The minimum deposit for add-ons is $5,000. The maximum total deposit (including any additional deposits) per CD is $500,000. RisingBank.com

Mountain America Credit Union (MACU) Growth Certificates. No limits on the number of add-ons, which can be in increments as small as $5, for all terms of share certificates from six months through five years. The most competitive rates are for one year (2.2%)…four years (2.65%)…and five years (2.7%). Minimum initial deposit is $5 per growth certificate. It requires an automated monthly deposit of at least $10, and the maximum total contribution to a depositor’s growth certificates (including add-ons) is $100,000. The credit union has more than 90 locations in Arizona, Idaho, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah. If you don’t meet MACU’s work or geographic requirements, you can join with an $8 donation to the American Consumer Council. MACU.com 

*All APYs and other rates were as of July 15, 2019, and are subject to change.
**Share certificates carry similar protections and features as CDs but are issued by credit unions instead of banks.