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Do cash management accounts keep my money safe?

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Cash management accounts are accounts offered by nonbank financial service providers that allow people to save and spend their cash. CMAs are usually found at brokerages, not chartered banks, which can raise a few questions. For example, the fact that these providers can’t directly cover your funds with federal insurance might make you wary. Or you may have concerns about account security in general.

But here’s why you shouldn’t worry about the safety of your money if you put it in a cash management account.

How does FDIC insurance work with cash management accounts?

Insurance from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. is provided by partner banks. When a customer puts money into a cash management account, the CMA provider sweeps the funds to a partner bank behind the scenes so that the money is insured. CMAs usually can’t provide FDIC insurance themselves because they aren’t offered by chartered banks. FDIC insurance protects your deposits so that in the event a bank goes under, the funds in your account are safe.

FDIC insurance is typically up to $250,000 per partner bank. CMA providers are usually not responsible for making sure a customer’s total assets at a bank stay within FDIC insurance limits — for example, if you have funds in a separate checking or savings account at a partner bank that, combined with your CMA, exceed $250,000. If there’s a risk that all your funds combined at a particular bank will go over the insured limit of $250,000, you may be able to opt out of using certain partner banks and have the CMA funds swept to a different one.

CMA providers often maximize insurance by using multiple partner banks. Some CMAs are able to insure a customer’s cash up to $1 million or more by spreading out their funds across multiple banks. If you have that much money in cash, however, you may want to look into investing instead.

Customers still have access to their money when they need it, although outbound transfers may take time. Cash that’s swept into accounts at partner banks is still directly accessible. Some CMAs offer debit cards for withdrawing cash and making purchases, but some only allow customers to make online transfers to a linked bank account to get their cash.

Also see: You’re saving all wrong if you die with a pile of money

Is my money safe when it isn’t in a partner bank account?

Your money should be quite safe during the short period before it’s moved from the CMA provider into an account at an FDIC-insured partner bank. When a customer funds an account and the money is transferred to a partner bank — which usually only takes about a day — the funds should be covered in the interim by the Securities Investor Protection Corp. SIPC insurance is the brokerage equivalent of FDIC insurance. If you’re thinking of opening a cash management account, check with the provider to verify the protection offered before your funds move to a partner account.

Are cash management accounts technologically safe?

CMA providers use secure technology — such as encryption, authenticated logins and fraud detection — to protect their customers’ assets. Like most online-based financial service providers and banks, however, CMA providers deal with technical difficulties from time to time. In March 2020, for example, Robinhood experienced a major app outage that affected customers on the stock trading side of its business. And even major banks aren’t impervious to things like data breaches.

Also see: The decade’s hottest investing trend: playing it safe

But when it comes to financial products, security weaknesses also come from customers themselves. Phishing scams, the use of sketchy Wi-Fi networks or simple inattention to who may be looking over one’s shoulder during login can create vulnerabilities that allow bad actors to gain access to accounts.

Always protect your account information and follow other best practices for online safety, such as using secure Wi-Fi networks and using complex passwords and two-step authentication for secure logins.

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‘I could live on my Social Security and still save money’: This 66-year-old left Chicago for ‘calming’ Costa Rica — where he now plans to live indefinitely

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Editor’s note: This article was first published in September 2019.

A school break changed 66-year-old Martin Farber’s life forever.

In 2007, his daughter — who at the time was attending Illinois State University — decided she wanted to spend a college holiday volunteering in Costa Rica and staying with a local family, he explains. She came home raving about the experience, so, in 2008, Farber — who at the time was living in Evanston, Ill., just outside Chicago, and selling cars — took his first trip there.

“It was a big surprise to me — bumpy roads, dogs barking in the streets,” he says. “I wasn’t enamored at first.”

But as his daughter began traveling there more and eventually moved there for a year, he took additional trips to Costa Rica. It quickly grew on him — in particular, the people. “The Costa Rican people are warm, open and friendly. I felt less invisible in a strange country in a strange town where I didn’t speak the language than I did in Evanston.”

And the more time he spent there, the more it impacted him: “On one of my trips there, I thought: My daughter’s life makes more sense than mine,” he says. “There was nothing wrong with my life, but I felt that my life was out of context with who I’d become. … I would have bills and make money to pay them, but that had ceased to be satisfying,” he recalls. “I knew I needed to change my life — there was no more joy in what I was doing.”

What’s more, when he’d return from his Costa Rica trips, people noticed. “I would come back, and my friends and therapist would say: You seem better after you go,” he says with a laugh.

A view from the hot springs near Martin Farber’s home in Costa Rica.


Martin Farber

So in 2014, he packed up and moved to Orosi — a picturesque, lush small town with waterfalls and hot springs a little over an hour’s drive from San Jose — promising himself he’d stay for two years. It’s been five, and he now plans to stay in Costa Rica indefinitely. (Though Farber notes that, to him, “it’s not a retirement; it’s a chance to lead a new and different life.”)

Here’s what his life is like, from costs to health care to residency to everyday life:

The cost: While many expats spend way more living in Costa Rica, Farber says: “I could live on my Social Security and still save money.” He says “a person can live on $1,200 per month, two people on $2,000.” The key, he says, is to live more like he does and as the Costa Ricans do — in a modest home, eating local food and purchasing local goods.

Indeed, Farber himself spends just $300 a month for rent (he rents a home from a friend who moved recently and gave him a good deal), roughly $225 a month on groceries and just $50 a month total on water and electricity (the temperate climate in Orosi means you rarely need heat or air conditioning). The veteran Volkswagen
VOW,
+0.96%

 
VLKAF,
+0.98%

salesman saves money by not owning a car (those over 65 ride municipal buses for free), which can be a significant expense in Costa Rica; for his cellphone, “I pay as I go … roughly $10 may last me a couple weeks or more,” he says, adding that “many people handle there their cellphones this way. You can get them recharged anywhere.”

His major expense is travel: He goes back to the U.S. to visit his mother in Florida several times a year and lately has spent part of the summer in Chicago helping out a friend with a dealership there. He also spends a good amount of money on health care. He says that while flights can be had for as little as $350 roundtrip during offseasons, the cost can be much higher the rest of the year.

In the saddle.


Martin Farber

Health care: Farber, who has permanent resident status in Costa Rica, says he pays about $90 per month to participate in the country’s health-care system — adding that the health care he’s received has been very good. (A 2018 study of health-care quality and access in more than 190 nations ranked Costa Rica No. 62.)

When he developed a detached retina, though, he paid for the procedure out of pocket so that he didn’t have to wait for the required surgery, he says — adding that the entire procedure cost him about $5,000. “I would have had to have waited four days,” he says, if he had not paid to expedite matters. “That might have been fine, but it might not.” And he adds that the quality of care depends on where you get it in the country.

Lifestyle: Though Farber says that he “moved here with no goals and no agenda,” he’s found plenty to do. “I take Spanish lessons two days a week for two hours a day. It’s been great. I never thought I would acquire a usable language in my 60s,” he says. He also rides his bike all around the area, does some writing and belongs to a community group that undertakes projects to improve the area.

And he often simply takes in nature, which he says has been an essential part of why he feels calmer and more relaxed in Costa Rica than in the U.S. “I live at 3,000 feet but in a valley surrounded by coffee fields and lime trees and water. At night, if I open the windows, I can hear the river rushing by,” he says. “It is very calming … hundreds of trees everywhere … you know the Earth is alive.”

The historic Iglesia de San José de Orosi.


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Cons: “I don’t want to overglorify. It’s not without its problems,” Farber says of Costa Rica. “There are social problems and downsides.” He notes that crime and petty theft can be a problem (“I am cautious,” he says of his approach) and seem to have increased since he moved there, and adds that he misses out on some cultural things because of where he lives. And, he says with a laugh, “I can’t order Thai food at 9 at night.” But, he adds: “These are trade-offs — in the afternoon, I get to walk in the coffee fields and see flocks of parrots.”

Residency: To qualify for Costa Rica’s pensionado visa, expats must prove that they have a pension of at least $1,000 coming in each month. (Here are the details of that program.) Once you have lived in Costa Rica for three years, you can apply for permanent residency. Farber used a lawyer to help him figure out the ins and outs of residency options; his entire path to permanent residency took about a year, he says.

The bottom line: “After five years I am still amazed and surprised that I made the decision to lead a life I never thought I would,” he says. And while he may not stay in Orosi forever — “the town doesn’t have an ambulance, [and] I don’t know what it will be like to be 80 there,” he says — he does plan to stay in Costa Rica in no small part because of the people and sense of community. “I have the feeling that life is good here,” he says. “It’s hard sometimes, but we are all in it together.”



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