From the Mail Bag: How Safe is Your Cash?

Posted by: Lauren Young on March 31, 2008

I recently received this email from a reader:

Read your article on the safety of my money with my broker. It was quite interesting and necessary as I myself have started to worry about the safety of my money, some of which I have in a bank. But I have my money in cash at several brokerages as I feel I should not buy any stock at this point.

Is my money safe since it is simply in cash? Should I buy bonds simply to have my cash in something that is mine? Could you let me know about this?

This is a great question—I’ve actually been asked by several readers about the safety of their cash. This article does a good job of explaining how the FDIC works and how it protects cash bank accounts. In addition, check out this interview with the FDIC’s Shelia Blair. Finally, in this piece, Gary Schatsky, one of my favorite financial advisers, recommends the Vanguard Prime Money Market fund—it’s the place where I stash my own cash. (Keep in mind that money market mutual funds do not fall under FDIC jurisdiction.)

Now, to answer the question about whether bonds are a safer investment, I’d say: It depends. The reason why I’m hedging my answer is that while Treasury bonds are backed by the full-faith of the U.S. government, they also aren’t yielding much these days. There are better opportunities, for example, in short-term municipal bonds, but those are being whipsawed by all of the recent credit problems. If you want to go the bond route, I’d recommend some of the short-term mutual fund offerings from Fidelity, Vanguard or T. Rowe Price, which are all managed by seasoned pros.

I’m curious to hear your tips. Where are you stashing your cash right now?

Update: After reading this blog entry, Dan Wiener, editor of the Independent Adviser for Vanguard Investors newsletter, pointed out that investors in higher tax brackets should take a look at these funds since the after-tax yields are above 3%. That’s particularly beneficial if you live in a high-tax state like New York or California.

Thanks for the tip, Dan!

Reader Comments

Dividend_Growth

March 31, 2008 5:56 PM

Another good summary on cash safety has been prepared by the American Bankers Association. The article can be found at the blog post:

Are Your Investment Deposits Safe? at

http://disciplinedinvesting.blogspot.com/2008/03/are-your-investment-and-deposit-assets.html

Peter Crane

March 31, 2008 11:25 PM

Your cash is almost certainly safe, whether it's invested in a bank account with FDIC insurance (up to $100K), a money market fund (which, like all mutual funds, contains segregated assets held by a third-party custodian), or whether it's actual cash (which would likely be covered by SIPC insurance).
Pete Crane
Publisher, Money Fund Intelligence
http://www.cranedata.com

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About

Bloomberg Businessweek’s Ben Steverman focuses on the latest moves in financial markets and emerging trends in stocks, bonds, and funds, always with an eye toward giving readers a better understanding of the sometimes confusing and often chaotic world of money. Standard & Poor’s senior index analyst Howard Silverblatt will also provide his take on companies’ finances and the markets. Voted one of the “Top 100 Finance Blogs” in 2007.

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