Thoughtful financial planning is what will determine your success as an investor. A good rule of thumb when planning is to organize your financial goals into three planning time horizons. These horizons typically include short-term goals that you want to achieve in the next six months to five years, medium-term goals that you want to achieve in the next five to ten years and long-term goals that you want to achieve in ten years or more. Investors often use a variety of different investments for medium and long-term goals because they have a longer period of time to recover from potential downturns before needing their money. When looking at short-term goals, where you may need to withdraw sooner and cannot afford to lose money on riskier investments, there are a couple of options to consider.
Understanding high-interest savings accounts (HISA) and Guaranteed Investment Certificates (GICs)
Short-term goals might include saving for a down payment on a new car you want in a few years, an exciting trip to Hawaii or even establishing an emergency fund. Regardless of your short-term goals, HISAs and GICs enable you to generate returns on your principal without exposing your money to the risk of loss.
As the name implies, HISAs are savings accounts that generally offer higher interest rates than traditional savings accounts. Whereas a normal savings account may have an interest rate of approximately 0.5-0.8 per cent, a HISA may have an interest rate of 1.5 to 2.25 per cent. This may not sound like much of a difference, but if you saved $10,000 in a savings account with a 0.8 per cent return and another $10,000 in a HISA offering 2.25 per cent, after five years your HISA would have generated a whopping $770 more than the traditional savings account.
GICs are another avenue for investors to save for short-term goals. By purchasing a GIC, you are locking away your money for a set amount of time to receive either a fixed or variable interest rate. While these rates can range from approximately 1.5-5.00 per cent, depending on how long of a term you select, the money becomes inaccessible until the term finishes. If you need the money sooner, you will often need to give advance notice and pay a penalty that can severely negate any returns you would have made.
What should you consider before using a HISA or GIC?
With guaranteed returns, it may seem like HISAs and GICs are the perfect investment, but there are things to consider:
1) Open vs Locked-in: HISAs allow you to access your money when needed, whereas GICs have your money locked in. Make sure you assess whether the liquidity of your money is important. For something like an emergency fund, you want to make sure you have immediate access.
2) Fluctuating interest rates: During times of high inflation like we are currently seeing, the Bank of Canada increases interest rates financial institutions can offer to incentivize Canadians to spend less and
save more. If inflation decreases in the market, you can expect interest rates to lower on GICs and HISAs.
3) Neither are ideal for medium to long-term goals: While they are less risky than other types of investments, HISAs and GICs interest rates rarely surpass inflation (the yearly increase in the cost of goods and services). So while they are ideal for short-term goals, the purchasing power of your money will diminish over the medium and long term by using HISAs or GICs exclusively.
HISAs and GICs can be powerful tools in helping you reach your short-term goals. By considering when you need to utilize the money and how readily you will need access to it, you can choose the suitable one for you.
Author: James MacTavish
Senior Advisor, Investor & Industry Education
Alberta Securities Commission