What is a money market account?

Smiling mother with laptop paying bills online with family in backgroundImage: Smiling mother with laptop paying bills online with family in background

In a Nutshell

A money market account is essentially a hybrid between a checking and savings account. It lets you write a limited number of checks each month and sometimes make debit purchases. And your money will earn a higher interest rate in a money market than it will in a checking or savings account. But keep in mind that this type of account may come with monthly minimum balance requirements and maintenance fees.
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A money market account is like having a savings account with the flexibility of a checking account.

And it almost always offers higher-than-usual interest rates (as an annual percentage yield) than savings and checking accounts.

The downside is that with a money market account, you only get six transactions (transfers or withdrawals) per month, or per account cycle of at least four weeks. This is because of Regulation D, a federal law that limits transfers and withdrawals from money market accounts. A transaction could mean writing a check, moving money from one account to another, or using a debit card to make a purchase.

If you go beyond the transaction limit, you may get hit with a fee. For example, US Bank charges $15 each time you go over the limit of six.

Because of the higher interest rates you get along with access to cash, keeping your money in a money market account may be beneficial when you’re saving for things like …

Read on to learn more about money market accounts.

Pros of a money market account

1. You’ll earn higher interest on your money

Money market accounts tend to have higher interest rates than checking or savings accounts. The national average rate for money market accounts with deposits smaller than $100,000 was 0.06% in mid-March 2021, according to the Federal Reserve. But rates can be even higher if you choose to open a money market account at an online bank. For example, Ally Bank offers 0.50% and Brio Direct offered 0.60% on their money market accounts as of March 2021.

2. Money market accounts are insured

Just like a savings account, the funds in your money market are insured as long as you’re doing business with a bank that’s insured by the FDIC or a credit union insured by the NCUA. Each account type is insured for up to $250,000 per depositor, each insured financial institution. That means that if the bank or credit union goes under, you’ll get your money back up to the insured amount.

3. You can write a few checks here and there

Money market accounts, like checking accounts, allow you to write checks. But unlike checking accounts, money market accounts limit you to only six transactions a month — transferring money from one account to another, debit purchases, bill pay and checks all count as transactions. And just a note: Don’t confuse a money market account with a money market fund, which is a low-risk investment fund that is not covered by the FDIC.

Cons of a money market account

1. You have to maintain a minimum balance

The first downside is that you might not have enough cash to open a money market account since some banks require a large initial deposit to open one or to earn the interest you’d like. Beyond the opening-deposit requirements, you may also need to maintain a certain balance in the account at all times in order to earn the best interest or avoid fees.

Basically, if you’re actively working on other financial goals that make it hard to gather up all that money, a money market account may not be for you.

2. You get dinged with fees for dipping below the minimum balance

Once you get together enough for a minimum balance, you have to make sure your money market account stays above that threshold. If you dip below a minimum balance requirement, you may get hit with a maintenance fee that pretty much cancels out the higher interest. 

3. You only get six transactions each month or account cycle

Transactions can include certain types of withdrawals, transfers between accounts, debit purchases and check payments. Anything beyond the six and you may face a penalty. For example, Ally Bank charges $10 for each additional transaction and US Bank charges $15.

If you think you’ll need to use your money market account more as a checking account than savings, do some research on high-interest checking accounts.

Bottom line: Does a money market account make sense for you?

It all boils down to being able to access your money (in case of emergency or other infrequent need) and competitive interest rates. You may want to consider opening a money market account if you can relate to the following:

  • You keep high balances in your checking account
  • You write few checks or make few debits each month
  • You don’t want to commit to other types of savings accounts that lock up your money for a certain amount of time, like CDs or IRAs

Remember that because of the transaction limits, a money market account probably isn’t the right choice if it’s for regular monthly expenses.

If you do want to open a money market account, do your research and find one with a competitive interest rate. Might as well make the most of the money that’s sitting there!

About the author: Claire Tak has a background in editorial content marketing and strategy and writes about credit cards, paying off debt and saving money. She’s obsessed with travel and audiobooks. Read more.