Rates on high-yield checking accounts continue to fall, but some banks and credit unions are offering deals that let you earn far more on your cash than many other banking products out there, according to Bankrate's annual survey.
The average high-yield checking account earns 2.05% annually, down from 2.56% last year and 3.30% in 2010, according to Bankrate's survey.
While high-yield accounts often make customers jump through more hoops -- like requiring a certain number of debit transactions per month, online bill pay or direct deposit -- it can be worth it. At an average APY of 0.06%, standard interest-bearing checking accounts pay barely enough to notice.
And high-yield checking account rates also handily beat the next best alternative for liquid cash: online savings accounts.
"For account holders who can routinely meet the monthly requirements, high-yield checking accounts are a no-brainer cash investment," said Greg McBride, senior financial analyst for Bankrate.com.
The Boeing Employees Credit Union tops Bankrate's list of high-yield checking accounts. The credit union, which is open to Boeing employees and their family members as well as residents of the state of Washington, currently pays a 6.17% annual yield on its Advantage Savings and Checking Accounts. The next highest-earning account is Consumers Credit Union's nationally-available Free Rewards Checking account, which pays an APY of 4.09%. (See the list of the top 10 highest yielding checking accounts below).
If a customer fails to make the minimum 10 debit transactions in a month or any of the other requirements the bank imposes on a high-yield account, however, rates revert to a vanishingly low default level, usually somewhere between 0.05% to 0.15%.
In addition, the banks only pay those high yields up to a certain amount; any cash kept in the account over that amount earns the much lower default rate. Boeing's cap, for example, is just $500 so the 6.17% yield can't produce much more than $30.85 a year in interest.
Other caps are not so miserly. Consumers Credit Union pays its generous yield on deposits of up to $10,000, according to Bankrate. Depositors could clear more than $400 a year in interest should they keep $10,000 in their account at all times and meet all of the requirements.
Hundreds of small community banks have joined forces to offer these kinds of high-yield checking accounts under the national brand name Kasasa to their customers.
And while some of high-earning checking accounts are only available to residents of particular states or members of certain organizations, 23 of the 57 accounts Bankrate surveyed are available nationwide to anyone who picks up a phone, said McBride.
"Whether one is right for you boils down to whether you can meet the requirements," said McBride.