3 best online savings accounts for 2013

By Michele Lerner

If you've been frustrated by the low rate of return on your savings account, your frustration isn't likely to end soon. The Federal Reserve says it will keep short-term interest rates near zero until the unemployment rate drops below 6.5 percent, which some economists believe won't happen before 2015. However, that doesn't mean you have to wait years to boost your interest earnings.

The top savings account interest rates

If you've been curious which banks offer the highest deposit interest rates, a recent survey may offer some helpful clues. MoneyRates.com performs a quarterly survey of savings accounts and money market accounts that examines deposit interest rates across a sampling of 100 U.S. banks. The America's Best Rates Survey, as it's called, lists each quarters's top-10 banks for both savings and money market account yields.

But in January MoneyRates expanded its time-frame to identify its list of best savings accounts for 2013. This survey consisted of an evaluation of savings accounts interest rates across the past year, giving savers a more complete picture on which surveyed accounts stood out throughout the previous months.

Best online-only savings accounts

Online banks have consistently topped recent America's Best Rates list. But because not every consumer is ready for an online-only banking experience, MoneyRates split its list of best savings accounts into separate traditional and online categories. But for those who are ready for an online-only banking relationship -- and the higher interest rates that may come with it -- here are MoneyRates' top-three online savings accounts for 2013:

  1. Ally Bank. Ally Bank offered the highest savings account interest rates of the financial institutions tracked by MoneyRates, posting an average of 0.87 percent for the previous year. MoneyRates also reports that Ally offers multiple options for deposits, a consumer-friendly website and ATM fee reimbursements.
  2. American Express Bank. Savings account interest rates at American Express Bank averaged 0.86 percent in the annual survey. The bank has more than $21 billion in deposits and offers both CDs and savings accounts.
  3. Sallie Mae Bank. Sallie Mae's average interest rate of 0.85 percent ran close to the rates offered by Ally and American Express. Sallie Mae is a smaller competitor in terms of deposits, with just a little more than $5 billion. MoneyRates reports the Sallie Mae website is less user-friendly than Ally's, however.

The rise of online-only bank accounts

Online savings accounts may rank well on interest rates largely because these financial institutions don't have to pay for bank branches and can therefore entice customers with higher interest rates. Consumers may be catching on to this: A recent report on 2012 banking data by TNS revealed that online banks were the only type of bank to increase their market share in 2012. According to the TNS report, deposits at online banks have more than doubled in the past five years.

So if you're truly serious about finding the best savings account interest rates, it may be worth your while to check out online-only banks. But you may not be alone in doing so.