With the roller coaster ride that the stock market has been on and with seemingly every other investment vehicle going down the tubes, more and more people are desperately searching for the safest investments available. These options, while not necessarily a sure thing are about as close as you can get to a sure thing. In all cases, these investment options will not pay a lot of money and all have risks associated with them, but we’ll discuss the details of that with each option.
Savings Account / CD
The good thing about putting your money into a savings account or CD is that it is likely the single safest investment that the average consumer can make and actually make a little bit of interest. You can compare cd rates online. The reason for that is the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp, which guarantees all savings account and CDs up to $250,000 per account. This means that unless the FDIC goes broke (it’s funded by the banks, which are all legally required to contribute to it rather than by the Federal government, though the government may step in when extraordinary circumstances require them to do so), your money is secure.
The bad news with this is that while it is one of the safest investments you can make, it’s also one of the worst, for the simple reason that interest rates are so low today. If you can eke out 2-3% interest from a CD, that’s considered extremely good today. One option which has the potential to make more money but which isn’t quite as safe is foreign currency denominated CDs. These CDs are still insured, but they are denominated in a foreign currency, meaning that the value in dollar terms could go up or down. However, with the relative weakness of the dollar on Forex markets, this could be a good way to guarantee most of your money while still getting a decent return.
US Government Bonds
Another option which is considered one of the safest investments on the planet are US government bonds. Series EE bonds, which are, as of this writing, still available from the Federal Government as well as from most banks offer a fixed interest rate for the life of the bond, which is set each year. Note that as of January, 2012, EE bonds will become purely electronic rather than being offered as paper bonds.
The bad news here is twofold. First, interest rates on EE bonds are extremely low. As of July, 2011, they are in the range of 1.10% annually. This means that you can’t even keep up with inflation with these bonds. Plus, while the chances are extremely slight, there is still the possibility of the US government defaulting on their loans, as the recent impasse over the debt ceiling shows. Those looking for safe investments with slightly better returns may want to look into foreign government bonds, which often have somewhat better interest rates, though they do come with more risk since some other governments don’t necessarily have the stability of the US government.
Gold and Precious Metals
Gold is usually considered a very bad, but relatively safe investment. These days, it’s considered to be a good investment and one of the safest investments simply because gold and precious metals allow you to hedge against the possibility of a currency crash. The theory is that if the dollar is devalued, gold wouldn’t be devalued.
The bad part about gold and other precious metals is twofold. First, the stuff has to be stored and if it gets stolen, you lose your investment. Second, there has been a bubble forming around precious metals and the value of these holdings could crash.
It may seem like a strange thing to list real estate as one of the safest investments available today, given the fact that, as of this writing, we are still facing a housing crisis in the United States. However, the fact is that this is precisely the time to invest in real estate, but only if you plan to hold it for the long term. Doing so means that, even if you need to hold your real estate for 10-15 years, you’ll eventually see a good return on investment. In the interim, real estate can be rented out or lived in so you can get some benefit in the short term as well.
Finally, rounding out our list of the safest investments is another one for the long term investor. While the Dow, the S&P 500 and the NASDAQ 100 have had their ups and downs of late, historically, all of these indexes have outperformed most individual investors and so, for those looking for a safe investment, an index fund could very well be the perfect choice.
George Gallagher is a finance, investment, and education blogger. He is currently working with students to find not-for-profit private student loans.