Is a Checking Account Insured?

Given the economic damage caused by the coronavirus pandemic, it’s understandable that you might have concerns about the safety of your cash parked at the bank. The good news is that if your cash is deposited at a federally insured bank, it is protected by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. 

“An FDIC-insured account is the safest place for consumers to keep their money,” the FDIC said in a press statement to reassure depositors after the coronavirus lockdowns began.

What is FDIC insurance?

The FDIC was created in 1933 to protect consumers when financial institutions fail and are forced to close their doors. The FDIC insures up to $250,000 per depositor, per FDIC-insured bank, per ownership category. 

During the Great Depression, insurance for banks was not available. So when banks failed, Americans lost their savings. Now when banks fail, the FDIC steps in to protect depositors. 

“Bank failures are unusual,” says Mark Hamrick, Bankrate’s senior economic analyst and Washington bureau chief. “But when they happen, affecting covered institutions, FDIC coverage is important.”

Which institutions are covered by FDIC insurance? 

The vast majority of banks, including online banks, offer deposit customers FDIC insurance.

Anand Talwar, deposits and consumer strategy executive at Ally Bank, says online banks are no different from other federally insured banks.

“If the bank is a member of the FDIC, like Ally Bank, their deposits are covered,” Talwar says. “We just don’t have brick-and-mortar branches.”

It is rare for a bank not to have FDIC insurance, but there are exceptions. Bank of North Dakota, for example, is not FDIC-insured. Instead, it is backed by the state of North Dakota.

Credit unions are regulated differently from banks and have their own federal deposit insurance through the National Credit Union Share Insurance Fund. The fund was created by Congress in 1970 to insure deposits in member credit unions. 

It is administered by the National Credit Union Administration, or NCUA, which charters, regulates and monitors federal credit unions. The insurance is similar to what the FDIC provides, with a $250,000 cap for each account and owner.

FDIC insurance: What’s covered and what isn’t

What FDIC insurance covers

FDIC insurance covers traditional bank deposit products, including checking accounts, savings accounts, certificates of deposit, Negotiable Order of Withdrawal (NOW) accounts and money market deposit accounts.

The insurance covers up to $250,000 in deposits, per depositor, per FDIC-insured bank, per account ownership category. If an account holder has more than $250,000 on deposit across several accounts at a single bank, in her name alone, anything over $250,000 is not insured. 

An individual account is insured separately from a joint account. So, a $500,000 CD owned by two joint account holders would be fully insured because each account holder is insured for up to $250,000. 

FDIC insurance also protects interest earnings, as long as the principal and interest combined do not exceed the $250,000 cap. If you have $248,000 in a CD account that has earned $2,000 in interest, you are completely covered because your account does not exceed the insurance limit. 

However, if you have $175,000 in a savings account and $200,000 in a CD at the same bank, in your name alone, $125,000 is uninsured.

What the FDIC doesn’t cover

The FDIC does not insure investments. Even if you buy stocks, bonds, mutual funds, annuities and life insurance policies through a bank, your money is not protected. The FDIC doesn’t cover the contents of your safe-deposit box either.

Payment providers, such as PayPal and Venmo, also do not qualify for FDIC insurance, as they are not banks. There are some exceptions. PayPal states on its website that one of its products, PayPal Cash Plus, deposits funds in FDIC-insured institutions. 

PayPal-owned Venmo is not a bank and would not qualify, Hamrick notes. “These payments-processing firms are pipelines through which money passes, not banks,” he says.

How to guarantee all of your deposits are insured

You can make sure all your deposited monies are insured by keeping your cash in different ownership categories.

For example, joint account ownership offers more protection than single account ownership because each account owner is insured up to $250,000. So, if a couple had $500,000 in joint savings at the same bank, they would be insured by the FDIC.

Trusts also afford more protection. If you have a revocable trust, as many as five beneficiaries are insurable for up to $250,000 each.

Spreading your money around to different FDIC-insured banks is another way to maximize insurance protection. There are bank networks that can do that for you.

How the FDIC pays you back after a bank fails

Depositors do not need to file insurance claims to recoup their deposits. Nor do they need to apply for deposit insurance when they open up a bank account at an FDIC-insured institution.

When a bank fails, the FDIC pays depositors by giving them an account at another insured bank in the amount equal to what they had at the failed bank, up to the insurance limits. Or, it simply issues the depositor a check.

This happens the next business day or within a few days. In some cases, the FDIC has to review an account to determine how much is covered before it reimburses the account holder.

It can take a few years to recover deposits that exceed the insurance limit. As the FDIC sells off a failed bank’s assets, it issues periodic payments to depositors. Funds that exceed insurance limits are repaid on a  cents-on-the-dollar basis.

Bottom line

Consumers can rest easy if their money is deposited at FDIC-insured banks or federally insured credit unions. For those with deposits in excess of $250,000, it’s important to know how to protect all of it.

If you’re not sure whether all your deposits are FDIC-insured, get with your bank representative or use the FDIC’s Electronic Deposit Insurance Estimator (EDIE) and enter information about your accounts.