Generally, a high-rate money market account pays a higher APY than a checking account because banks can assume that your money will be in there for a longer period. Yes, you could withdraw from a money market account – just like you could in a checking account – but a money market account has built-in restrictions because its transactions are restricted under Regulation D. Unlike a checking account, money market accounts are limited to six “convenient” transfers and withdrawals per month. According to the Federal Reserve, these restricted transfers and withdrawals include transfers to another account to act as overdraft protection, direct bill payments, telephone transfers, withdrawals initiated by fax, computer, email or internet instruction, and transfers or withdrawals made by check, debit card or other similar method used to pay other third parties.
In the wake of the crisis two solutions have been proposed. One, repeatedly supported over the long term by the GAO and others is to consolidate the U.S. financial industry regulators. A step along this line has been the creation of the Financial Stability Oversight Council to address systemic risk issues that have in the past, as amply illustrated by the money market fund crisis above, fallen neatly between the cracks of the standing isolated financial regulators. Proposals to merge the SEC and CFTC have also been made.
The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) issued final rules that are designed to address money funds’ susceptibility to heavy redemptions in times of stress, improve their ability to manage and mitigate potential contagion from such redemptions, and increase the transparency of their risks, while preserving, as much as possible, their benefits.
A second solution, more focused on money market funds directly, is to re-regulate them to address the common misunderstandings, and to ensure that money market "depositors", who enjoy greater interest rates, thoroughly understand the actual risk they are undertaking. These risks include substantial interconnectedness between and among money market participants, and various other substantial systemic risks factors.
To many retail investors, money market funds are confusingly similar to traditional bank demand deposits. Virtually all large money market funds offer check writing, ACH transfers, wiring of funds, associated debit and credit cards, detailed monthly statements of all cash transactions, copies of canceled checks, etc. This makes it appear that cash is actually in the individual’s account. With net asset values reported flat at $1.00, despite the market value variance of the actual underlying assets, an impression of rock solid stability is maintained. To help maintain this impression, money market fund managers frequently forgo being reimbursed legitimate fund expenses, or cut their management fee, on an ad hoc and informal basis, to maintain that solid appearance of stability.
Looking closer we see that if you can meet the $3,000 minimum investment size, Vanguard’s VMMXX offers an appealing combination of relatively high returns with low expenses. If you don’t have a large amount of cash to invest, you should note that both FMPXX and FIDXX have $1MM investment minimums. If you have less than $1,000, SPRXX doesn’t meet the yield and expense ratio thresholds we laid out, but it doesn’t have an investment minimum.