Dismal rates on online savings accounts and certificates of deposit pose an uninhabitable environment for disposable savings. Here are a few places fit for your money to grow until rates return to satisfactory levels.

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Keeping a substantial amount of cash in an interest-earning deposit account appears to be more and more of a fruitless venture as interest rates continue slip.

With $10,000 in a 1.00% APY online savings account or 12-month CD, you’ll earn $100 in interest after one year.

With $10,000 in a 2.00% APY 5-year CD, you’ll earn $1,041 in interest at maturity.

Savers who’ve enjoyed pre-crisis 5.00% APYs can only reminisce while diverting their disposable savings to places the offer prospects of better returns because preparing for retirement isnt’ getting any easier.

Before putting your cash to better use, play it safe by establishing an emergency fund – 3 months of living expenses is a good start.

Read: Transfer Limits Could Be Holding Your Money Hostage

1. Retirement Accounts

Contributing to retirement accounts should be the first step after getting the paycheck. The tax-deferred nature of 401(k)’s and individual retirement accounts (IRAs) allow investments to grow faster.

However, not everyone chooses to max out their retirement contributions, especially their 401(k)’s. Some contribute just enough to get the employer match while others contribute sparingly. For 2011, the IRS allows a maximum 401(k) contribution of $16,500. If deposit yields aren’t helping to fulfill financial goals, there is plenty of room here to boost returns.

Many workers intend to open an IRA, which can be done online in 10 minutes, but never conjure up the initiative to do so. There is no better time to get started than now. For 2011, the contribution limit for IRAs is $5,000 ($6,000 for ages 50 and older). Use the IRA contribution calculator for your specific finances.

After contributing to retirement accounts, the simplest route for the do-it-yourself investor is to invest in diversified index funds – covering stocks and bonds – with low expense ratios.

2. Series I Savings Bonds

Like CDs, government bonds are not yielding the same returns from a few years back. But, inflation is helping to keep lift bond yields over CD rates.

Series I savings bonds issued from November 2011 to April 2012 will dish out a composite rate of 3.06% for six months. I-Bonds cannot be be redeemed in the first year and an early redemption penalty – the last 3 months of  interest – applies for the first 5 years.

Since rates fluctuate with inflation, it is possible that the composite earnings rate is 0% for the subsequent six months.

If the rate happens to be 0% after six months, I-Bonds that are purchased now will effectively earn 1.54% APY when redeemed in 12 months. If there is no interest earned in the last 3 months, there is no penalty.

That yield beats any 1-year CD currently available.

Series I savings bonds can be purchased at TreasuryDirect.gov (paper and electronic bonds) or at a financial institution (paper bonds). You can buy a maximum of $5,000 in paper bonds and $5,000 in electronic bonds.

3. Rewards Checking

Rewards checking accounts offer unconventionally high interest yields for a transaction account – but it takes a little bit of work. In exchange for a high yield, you usually have to make a number of debit card purchases, sign up for online statements, and post certain transactions such as direct deposit or online bill payments.

These accounts are not commonly found at major national banks or online banks. They’re typically available at local community banks or credit unions.

For example, East Carolina Bank’s Rewards Checking has a 3.01% APY on balances up to $15,000. The bank has only 25 branches throughout eastern North Carolina.

4. Debt

With the leading online savings rates around 1.00% APY and 5-year CD rates near 2.00% APY, it is highly unlikely that your debt have a lower interest rate.

So, if you have extraneous savings, use it to pay off debt to prevent you from losing money. And, don’t forget the great feeling of reduced financial burden after making an extra mortgage, loan, or credit card payment.

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