Online savings accounts are accounts you set up and manage online from your computer, tablet or phone. They’re just like a traditional savings account, helping you to earn interest on money you’ve socked away. But instead of visiting a local branch to manage your account, you log in to your account online to transfer money, confirm your balance and even deposit checks.
With less overhead, these accounts generally offer a higher APY (Annual Percentage Yield) and charge lower fees than conventional bank accounts. And because everything is handled online, you can enjoy 24/7 service.
To sign up for an online account, you often need to link an active transaction account — like an everyday checking account at a traditional bank. That’s because most online savings accounts don’t come with a debit card. The only way to access your money is by transferring it to your transaction account, where you can then access it through your bank’s branches and ATMs.
Online accounts don’t usually charge transfer or monthly account fees, offering an inexpensive way to build your savings. With most accounts, interest on your balance is calculated daily and deposited into the account at the start of the following month, but compounding frequency and pay periods vary by bank.
Why do online accounts generally offer stronger interest rates?
Interest rates tend to be higher for online accounts than conventional ones because they don’t require expensive physical branches. By forgoing wages for tellers and branch managers, janitorial staff, utility bills and other expenses, banks can pass the savings on to customers in the form of stronger interest rates.
As with traditional accounts, rates fluctuate according to the prime rate set primarily by the Bank of Canada and other banks. Your rate may also changeif you received an introductory promotional offer that reverts to another rate after a set period.
Do I get instant access to transferred funds?
It depends. If your online savings account is linked to a chequing account from the same institution, you can generally access transfers instantly. However, if the money comes from another financial organization, it can often take 1-3 business days for the funds to show up in your online account.
When she transfers money between her Tangerine bank accounts, she sees the transfers complete instantly. However, when she transfers from Tangerine to her EQ Bank Savings Plus Account, it can take two business days for the funds to clear.
The longer processing time is partly due to increased fraud-prevention measures for transfers among multiple institutions.
But it also helps the Bank of Canada keep track of the tens of millions of money transfers, and the billions of dollars, that move across the country every day.
When the funds are sent from Tangerine, they go to the Automated Clearing Settlement System (ACSS), which is run by Payments Canada, an organization tasked with managing bank routing numbers in Canada as per the Canadian Payments Act of 1980. (This act has subsequently been updated and replaced by newer legislation.) You can read more about how monetary exchanges are handled in Canada on the Bank of Canada’s website.
The ACSS receives transactions made during the day and clears them overnight. Additional time is used to allow both sending and receiving institutions to make adjustments to the transaction if necessary and to calculate interest on the funds being transmitted. Afterwards, the funds are sent from the ACSS to EQ Bank where they are deposited into Sarah’s savings account.
Actual processing times may vary, but electronic transfers in Canada generally follow this process to ensure that payments are processed safely and efficiently.
What features do online savings accounts offer?
If you think an online savings account might encourage you to save, compare the features available across accounts to find the right rate and the most convenient options for your needs.
Link your online savings account to a conventional account.
Many online banks make it easy to transfer money between your linked accounts. If your accounts are with the same institution, you might be able to see same-day transactions.
24/7 access to your money — even on the go.
Online savings accounts offer easy access to your money whenever and wherever you like. Many banks go beyond allowing you to bank from home and also offer the flexibility of a mobile banking app. These apps allow you to monitor your savings and even deposit cheques from your phone.
Deposited funds are typically insured.
Check that your bank is approved for coverage under the Canada Deposit Insurance Corporation (CDIC), which guarantees your deposits up to $100,000 in the event your bank fails.
You get a competitive interest rate.
In most cases, online savings accounts offer higher interest rates than standard in-branch savings accounts. If you’re lucky, you might get a promotion or special offer for an especially high introductory interest rate. These rates are offered for a specified period, after which they revert back to the bank’s normal interest rate.
You’ll pay little or no fees.
Generally, online savings accounts don’t come with transaction fees or monthly fees. You can save even more by avoiding accounts that charge maintenance, statement and ABM fees.
Flexible transaction limits.
Your daily transfer limit could be as high as $10,000 with select accounts. Call your bank to ask for an adjustment. They may allow you a temporary adjustment in order to make a big, one-time transaction, or you may actually succeed in getting your transfer limit permanently raised.
What are the upsides and downsides?
Consider the benefits and drawbacks of an online savings account before logging on.
Generally no minimum balance. The majority of online savings accounts remain in good standing no matter how much they hold. Some even allow you to open an account without a deposit. If you’re interested in a bank, ask about terms and conditions before making a decision.
Competitive interest rates.Interest rates on online savings accounts are typically higher than those at your local bank. You may even qualify for a bonus introductory rate.
Flexible terms. Deposit what you can and withdraw whenever you’d like. Often, you don’t need to meet specific terms, though accounts offering bonus interest rates may require a minimum monthly deposit.
Must link to a bank account. Although you don’t face many fees, your linked account may charge you to make transactions.
Transfers are slow between banks.Transfers from one bank to another take longer than transferring between accounts within the same bank. You may have to wait several days for your funds to appear.
No bank branches or debit cards. Many online savings accounts aren’t supported by physical bank branches or debit cards, which could be inconvenient if you rely on them.
How do we research online savings accounts?
Ever wondered what makes one online savings account better than another? Convenience, rates, fees and other perks can all affect your ability to save, so we consider the following criteria when bringing you information about online savings accounts in Canada: APY (Annual Percentage Yield), convenience and ABM access, account features, deposit requirements, service charges and eligibility.
The most common account questions answered
Yes. It is possible for nonresidents to open online savings accounts. However, financial institutions reserve the right to deny applications.
It depends. Because interest is considered income, you must include it in your annual tax return, unless the interest is earned in a Tax-Free Savings Account (TFSA) or some other tax-sheltered investment vehicle. Whether the CRA ultimately charges you taxes on the interest you declared depends on the amount you earned, your overall income and your personal circumstances.
Talk to a tax accountant or a lawyer who specializes in tax law for details regarding your specific circumstances. You can also check out this article to learn more about paying tax on interest earned in a savings account.
Shirley Liu is Finder's global program manager. She was previously the publisher for banking and investments and has also written comparisons for energy, money transfers, Uber Eats and many other topics. Shirley has a Master of Commerce and a Bachelor of Media, Journalism and Communications from the University of New South Wales. She is passionate about helping people find the best deal for their needs.
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