NEW YORK (MainStreet) — You want to make your money work for you but are risk averse? Understandably, given the tumult in financial services over the past 15 years. That’s where the traditional savings accounts enter. Isn’t that unimaginative? Kind of. But there’s another, plus side: it's a defensive play to protect your money.

“It’s the only investment with no risk," said Greg McBride, chief financial analyst at "You have complete access to the money whenever you want. The interest is pure gravy.”

McBride is saying a savings account is just about the only risk-free instrument out there that pays a guaranteed returnm and, sure, the numbers are low, but guaranteed money, with no risk, is the reason to take a look at savings accounts.

And then you hit a speed bump. You could park an extra $1,000 in a Chase savings account and your interest rate will be 0.01% (subject to change). Bank of America pays the same. That would give you around a dime at the end of a year.

“If you use a big bank, you deserve to be treated like crap,” said New Yorker Trevor Ewen, who blogs about personal finance at He added: “My tendency is to favor credit unions and online banks.”

Why? They pay more interest. Often a lot more. “You can get 100-fold more interest if you shop around,” said McBride. He assured that an alert, persistent saver can score a rate of perhaps 1%, maybe a bit more - and despite getting 100 times more interest the risk is still zero, because the account is insured by the U.S. government.

Put that same $1,000 in an account paying 0.5% and you have $5 at year end. At 1% the interest is $10. At 1.25% it’s about $12.50. Or you could earn a handful of pennies at Chase.

That gives you a stark choice. Park extra cash where you already bank, and get bupkis for it, or shop around a little. The smart call is: shop around.

Remember too: all that glitters is not gold. Said John Egan, editor-in-chief of who recently went on a personal hunt for high paying savings accounts: “One thing I would urge caution about is savings accounts that offer high introductory rates but then lower those rates in a few months. It might not be worth all the hassle if the long-term rate is considerably less.” Egan, incidentally, said he parked his money at institutions -- GE Capital Bank and - that pay over 1%.

PR man Chad Reid said, “I literally split my savings between Barclays bank and Ally, because they go back and forth on which one offers the greatest yield -- both generally around 1%.”

Mike Pelosi, a digital media specialist at e-commerce app company CardBlanc, said his research finds Synchrony Bank is a winner. “Their spot interest rates over the past few months have hovered above 1%,” he says. Synchrony today is paying 1.05%. 

What about credit unions? Some of them are now offering a tempting deal - with complications. Case in point: a highly appealing offering is via Long Island based NEFCU that’s called Go Green checking. No, it’s not exactly a saving account. But what it is is a fully featured - free - checking account and it pays 1% interest and up, with a few strings attached.

Laureen Straub, a senior vice president, explained that to qualify for the 1% interest a member has to enroll in e-statements (no mailed statements), have direct deposit or one bill pay and use a debit card for minimum of $250 per month. Sound easy?

To get 2%, the member needs to maintain deposits or loan balances of $25,000.

For 3%, the member needs loans of $25,000.

Fall short of any requirements and, said Straub, you still get absolutely free checking.

High interest earning balances are capped at $25,000 incidentally. Anything above that earns 0.5%.

Many other credit unions offer similar products, said experts, and their aim is to bribe members into increasing their relationships with the institution. If this appeals to you, shop around. You'll find a local provider. And, yes, the federal government insures accounts at credit unions so there is no risk.

Bottomline: if you have money you want to park in an interest bearing account - but want zero risk - shop around. There are institutions that pay enough to make it worth the hunt. “Savings accounts are really the only free lunch,” said McBride.

This article is commentary by an independent contributor. At the time of publication, the author held TK positions in the stocks mentioned.