Methodology for Savings Accounts & CD Rankings

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When deciding where to stash your cash, shopping around can make a world of financial difference. Whether you’re looking to put your funds in a savings account or a certificate of deposit (CD), options abound, and going with a top rate vs. an average rate can net you hundreds or even thousands of dollars over time.

We make finding those top rates easy by publishing daily rankings of the best rates for each account type. And because we list the best-paying accounts based simply on APY, not on which financial institutions advertise with us, you can feel confident you’re seeing a list of the truly best options available.

The financial institutions and accounts we include in our lists are carefully evaluated and must meet threshold criteria in order to qualify. This guide explains those criteria and how our ranking process works.  

See which rates met our criteria with our picks for the best CDs and best high-yield savings accounts.

Eligibility for Inclusion

Institutions That Qualify

To be eligible for inclusion in our deposit account rankings, financial institutions need to meet two primary criteria. They must be:

  • Federally insured
  • Available nationwide

Federally Insured

For banks, this means they are a member of the FDIC and for credit unions, a member of the NCUA. This ensures that every customer’s deposits up to $250,000 (per person,  per institution, and per ownership category—e.g., single account or joint account) are protected by the U.S. government should the institution fail or be seized. By only including FDIC and NCUA members in our rankings, you can rest assured that funds (up to $250,000) deposited with these institutions will be safe.

Along these lines, note that this means both brick-and-mortar and online banks are eligible for inclusion. If an online bank has FDIC insurance, deposits are just as safe there as at any other FDIC institution, regardless of whether the bank operates any physical branches.

Available Nationwide

To best serve our readers nationwide, we only include banks and credit unions that accept customers from across the country. This generally means that online account opening is available and residency in any U.S. state is acceptable. 

We do make a few exceptions for banks that serve most but not all of the country; our threshold for being considered a nationwide bank is that it must serve customers from at least 40 states. The vast majority of the banks in our rankings do indeed serve all 50 states, but when that’s not the case, we indicate the exclusions with an asterisk.

Credit unions operate a bit differently in that they require membership. Eligibility for joining, called the “field of membership,” is often based on living in a particular geographic region or working for a certain employer. But many credit unions open their doors to customers nationwide with a special pathway for those who don’t otherwise meet the requirements. Sometimes this is free and other times it requires a one-time donation or membership fee to the credit union’s nonprofit affiliate. In all of our Best CDs and Best High-Yield Savings Accounts articles, we explain what is required to gain membership to the credit unions we include, while excluding any whose required donation is $40 or more. 

Savings Accounts That Qualify

For our rankings of high-yield savings accounts, we include those whose minimum balance to earn the high rate is no more than $25,000. Also, we disqualify those that cap their high-yield rate to only low balances, defined for our purposes as below $5,000. In other words, a savings account that advertises a high APY but only applies it to the first $1,000 of your balance would not qualify for our rankings.

In addition, we distinguish between savings accounts and money market accounts on the basis of check-writing privileges. Historically, money market accounts have allowed check writing and savings accounts have not, and we follow that traditional definition in our methodology. 

Note, however, that “money market” has evolved to be used as a marketing term, with some banks including it in the name of their savings account even when it does not include check writing. For our purposes, if the account does not permit check writing, it is eligible for our savings account rankings.

Certificates of Deposit That Qualify

Certificates of deposit can be considered for our standard CD rankings if they have a minimum initial deposit of $25,000 or less. Those with a required deposit of $50,000 to $100,000 qualify for our jumbo CD rankings. Though some CDs exist in the marketplace for balances of at least $250,000, the offerings are limited and we do not track nor rank these oft-called “super jumbo” certificates. 


We also exclude CDs from our definition of jumbo CDs that have a rate that’s not higher than what you could get from that institution for a deposit of less than $50,000. These are not really jumbo CDs, but rather, standard CDs marketed as jumbos.

To qualify for our rankings, CDs must also have a fixed rate that is known for the duration of the term. For this reason, certificates that are indexed, sometimes called “flex CDs” or “variable-rate CDs,” do not qualify, as their rate will fluctuate up or down with some unpredictable indicator, such as the prime rate or federal funds rate

One exception is “bump-up” certificates that offer you the option to raise your rate during the term, usually just once and at your initiation. Since you are still guaranteed the original rate if you would like it for the full term, and since exercising the raised rate option would only improve your return, we do allow these certificates in our CD rankings.

Data Collection

Our universe of nationally available banks and credit unions currently numbers about 200 physical and online institutions. Our team tracks the deposit rates at these institutions every business day, through a combination of automated and human processes, to ensure every great rate is being surfaced and every out-of-date rate is edited. We also regularly add institutions as they expand their availability or we learn of new nationwide players.

With most institutions updating their rates online in the morning hours across all four time zones, our process for collecting any new rates data takes place throughout the day, with our rankings therefore being most reliable in the afternoon.

How We Create Our Rankings

Ranking Order for Savings Accounts

Among all the nationwide savings accounts that qualify for our lists, we rank them in order of interest rate, with those paying the highest APY topping the list. When two accounts pay the same rate, our next sorting criteria is by whichever account requires the lower ongoing balance to earn the APY. So, for example, an account requiring a $500 ongoing balance would rank higher than one requiring you to keep $10,000 in the account. If there is still a tie after considering the minimum ongoing balance, we rank based on the lowest required initial deposit. Ties after that are settled alphabetically.

Ranking Order for Certificates of Deposit

Certificates of deposit are initially ranked similarly to savings accounts, with the CD paying the highest APY sorted to the top. The first tie-breaker between any identical rates is the certificate’s maturity term, or duration. Those with a shorter duration are ranked higher than those with a longer term. This is important because not every CD has a standard term of 3, 6, 12, etc. months, with many odd-term certificates existing in the marketplace. We therefore group CDs in term ranges, such as 5-9 months for the 6-month CD ranking, 10-14 months for the 1-year CD ranking, and so forth.

When two CDs are tied both in APY and term, the third sort criteria is the minimum required deposit, with those requiring a smaller deposit ranking above those requiring a large funds commitment. If still tied after this third sort, the CDs are listed alphabetically.

Choosing the Right Account for You

Our rankings aim to make your decision-making on a savings account or CD as easy as possible by distilling the rates data from thousands of deposit products and presenting you with the best-paying options. But the account you choose is still a personal decision. You may already have a relationship with an institution that is paying the seventh-best rate instead of the best, making that one much more convenient.

Or you may want to avoid a particular institution based on a negative past experience, or want to stick with a bank instead of a credit union. Account features like minimum deposit, CD term, and so forth can also make one product a better fit for you than another.

That’s why our rankings typically include 15 or more options for every product type, so you can choose the best one for your situation, confident that any one of them is among the top-paying accounts in the nation.

Article Sources
Investopedia requires writers to use primary sources to support their work. These include white papers, government data, original reporting, and interviews with industry experts. We also reference original research from other reputable publishers where appropriate. You can learn more about the standards we follow in producing accurate, unbiased content in our editorial policy.
  1. National Credit Union Administration. "Share Insurance Fund Overview."

  2. Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. "Deposit Insurance FAQs."

  3. National Credit Union Administration. "Choose a Field of Membership."