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Help! I have $500,000 and I don't know where to put it

I have about $500,000 in cash and may buy a house in the short- or long-term, not sure. Someone knocked on our door and bought our house and we plan to rent until we figure out our next move. How can I go about getting total safety and the best yield?

Well, lucky you. How come the only people who knock on my door want me to give them money?

Based on your question, I'm assuming you want to access your cash at any time and don't want any risk to your principal. So that rules out stocks, bonds, preferred shares and other publicly traded securities that can fluctuate in price. It also rules out guaranteed investment certificates that require you to lock up your money for a fixed period.

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One option to consider are cashable GICs. I glanced at the rates offered by, a Vancouver-based deposit broker, and a cashable GIC is currently paying 1.7 per cent. However, there's a minimum holding period of 30 days.

You can do significantly better than that with a high-interest savings account, which will give you the best of both worlds – a good rate and unfettered access to your money. The general rule here is that the more obscure the institution, the higher the interest rate.

Winnipeg-based AcceleRate Financial, for example, is currently paying 2.1 per cent in its daily interest savings account. It's a safe place to stash your cash because deposits are fully insured – without limit – by the Deposit Guarantee Corp. of Manitoba. For more information on coverage, click here.

What's more, there are no set-up fees and no account minimums, said Donna Strutinsky, marketing co-ordinator with AcceleRate's parent, Crosstown Civic Credit Union. You probably won't hear about AcceleRate if you use a deposit broker to search for the highest rate, because "most credit unions don't use deposit brokers. There could be costs associated with it … and we don't want to pass that along to our members," she said.

With interest rates at historic lows, some investors are parking large sums with AcceleRate. "I know they have received $1-million deposits or higher," she said.

Several other Manitoba-based credit unions are currently paying 2 per cent. Given the tiny difference in rates, it's worth comparing the features and services available at different institutions.

If you want to scour the marketplace quickly, you can compare high-interest savings and GIC rates on From the main page, click on the "Personal Finance" tab near the top. Then look for the "Savings Rate & GIC Comparison Tool" on the right-hand side. A drop-down menu lets you choose the term you're looking for, and there are buttons that let you survey all financial institutions (including credit unions), or just banks and trusts.

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You'll see that, like AcceleRate, Vancouver-based Peoples Trust is also offering 2.1 per cent on its high-interest savings account. Unlike AcceleRate, Peoples Trust is backed by the Canada Deposit Insurance Corp. It's an important distinction because CDIC insures deposits only up to $100,000, so – unless you're willing to roll the dice – it would be a mistake to park any more than that in a single account. Remember, too, that as your account earns interest, it could exceed the $100,000 maximum.

To make sure you are fully covered by CDIC, you would have to spread your money across different CDIC member institutions, or across different types of accounts at the same institution. For example, if you had $100,000 in a high-interest savings account, you could also have $100,000 in a registered retirement savings plan at the same institution and be covered, as long as the money was in a savings account, GIC of five years or less or other qualifying deposit (sorry, stocks, bonds and mutual funds aren't eligible). You can read more about what's covered and what's not here.

How can companies such as Peoples Trust offer such a high rate when larger, better-known competitors are paying well under 2 per cent?

"We don't have a lot of high overhead when it comes to maintaining branches. We don't do much advertising at all," said Jeanette Curtis, senior manager of deposit services with Peoples Trust. "People have learned about this account by word of mouth and by going on our website."

You won't make a lot of money at today's rock-bottom interest rates, but if you shop around and research the various options available, you'll be able to keep your cash safe and earn a return that's higher than the microscopic rates available at most financial institutions.

If you ultimately decide that you'll be renting for a long period – say five years or more – that would be the time to consider taking a little more risk with a portion of your $500,000.

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About the Author
Investment Reporter and Columnist

John Heinzl has been writing about business and investing since 1990. A native of Hamilton, he earned a master's degree from the University of Western Ontario's Graduate School of Journalism and completed the Canadian Securities Course with honours. More

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