) (www.geinterestplus.com), Ford Motor Credit (F
) (800 580-4778), and Caterpillar's Cat Financial (CAT
) (800 504-1114).
Depending on how much you invest -- minimums start at $250 -- these programs pay as much as 2.6%. That beats the 2.1% on the highest-yielding money-market accounts and the 0.5% on money market accounts and mutual funds. You can also write checks on these accounts, though for sums below $250, you may pay a fee of 25 cents to $10.
The drawback: While the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. insures bank money markets, these products have no safety net. GE Capital is rated AAA; Caterpillar, A; and Ford, BBB-.) Moreover, since your money is invested in the sponsor's debt, you'll get less diversification than with a money market fund. Still, in a yield-starved market, it may be a risk worth taking. Keep your eye on the new benchmark, the USX China Index (USXChinaIndex.com), which rose 104% in 2003. Unlike the companies in the Shanghai Composite Index, all 34 stocks in the USXC index trade on U.S. exchanges. Among the leaders: China Yuchai (CYD), which owns the bulk of diesel engine maker Guangxi Yuchai Machinery, and Sohu.com (SOHU), an Internet portal. You may not want to carry a purse when you're walking a convention floor or going dancing, but you'd never leave your phone behind. Phone Thong is an easy way for women to sling a cell phone over a shoulder or around the waist for those pocketless occasions. In red or black, it's $15 at www.phonethong.net or $20 at AT&T Wireless (AWE
) stores, where it's called the Hip Hugger.