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Interest Rate vs. APY: Understanding the Fine Print in Your Savings Account

Lauren Brown Updated: February 8, 2024 • 4 min read
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What is the difference between interest rate and APY? Interest Rate is the basic percentage charged on borrowed money or earned on an investment, not accounting for compounding. APY (Annual Percentage Yield), on the other hand, includes the effects of compounding interest (earning interest on interest), offering a more accurate picture of the total earnings or costs over a year. While the interest rate provides a straightforward look at what you'll earn or pay, APY gives you the full scope of your potential earnings or expenses by considering how frequently interest is compounded.

Key Differences: Interest Rate vs. APY

  • Interest Rate it is a straightforward measure of the cost of borrowing or returns on investment because it does not account for compounding within a year.
  • APY represents the total interest earned annually with the inclusion of the frequency of interest compounding within a year.

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Difference Between Interest Rate and APY

Interest Rate

  • What it is: The interest rate is the percentage of the principal (the amount of money borrowed or invested) that is paid as interest over a certain period of time. It's like the basic cost of borrowing money or the basic return on your savings.
  • Example: If you have $1,000 in a savings account with an interest rate of 5% per year, you would earn $50 in interest over one year.

APY (Annual Percentage Yield)

  • What it is: APY is a measure that takes into account the effect of compounding interest over a year. Compounding means earning interest on your interest. APY provides a more accurate picture of what you will earn or pay over a year.
  • Example: If you have $1,000 in a savings account with an interest rate of 5% per year, but the interest is compounded monthly, you will actually earn more than $50 in a year because each month's interest earnings will also earn interest in the following months. The APY might be something like 5.12%, reflecting this compounding effect.

 In comparing APY vs interest rate, the goal is not just to choose the higher rate but to identify how each contributes to your savings objectives.

Impact of Interest Rate and APY on Your Savings

Your account's interest rate and APY both influence your savings growth. The key difference between the two is that the APY incorporates the effects of compounding, providing a more comprehensive picture of your returns. However, the real impact comes down to the frequency of compounding. 

To best understand interest rate vs. APY savings account returns, consider the scenario where you have deposited $10,000 into a savings account. If the bank offers an interest rate of 2% compounded annually, your balance after one year using a simple interest calculation would be $10,200. The APY would also be 2% in this case because of annually compounding interest. This leaves your total account balance the same at $10,200. 

The difference between APY and interest rate shows when the compounding frequency increases, and this is where it will impact your investment. Continuing our example, suppose the interest is now compounding quarterly. The interest rate remains 2%, but the APY rises to approximately 2.015% because it accounts for the impact of quarterly compounding. Consequently, your balance would be about $10,202 at year-end, slightly more than with annual compounding. 

Choosing Between High-Interest Rate and High APY: What’s Better?

For savings accounts, the Annual Percentage Yield (APY) is more important to know and understand than the basic interest rate. This is because APY accounts for the effect of compounding interest over a year, providing a more accurate picture of the potential earnings from your savings.

Why APY is Important for Savings Accounts:
Compounding Interest: APY reflects how often interest is added to the account balance—monthly, quarterly, or annually—and how this compounding boosts your earnings over time. It gives you a true sense of how your money will grow.

Accurate Comparison: Since APY includes the effects of compounding, it allows for a straightforward comparison between different savings accounts or investment products. You can easily identify which account offers you the best return on your savings.

Maximizing Earnings: Understanding APY helps you make informed decisions that maximize your interest earnings. An account with a higher APY will yield more returns on your savings, assuming all other factors are equal.

Difference Between APY And Interest Rate: Example

Imagine you deposit $10,000 in a savings account with an interest rate of 1% compounded annually. At the end of the year, you'll have earned $100 in interest, making your total balance $10,100. The APY in this scenario is also 1%, matching the interest rate since compounding occurs only once a year.

Now, if the same 1% interest rate is compounded monthly, you'll have a slightly higher balance due to the monthly compounding. The interest earned each month generates additional interest in subsequent months. At the end of the year, your total balance would be about $10,104.71. The APY here is slightly more than 1%, reflecting the compounded interest.


While the terms may initially appear similar, there is a difference between APY and interest rate. The interest rate offers a simple view of what you earn annually without compound interest. The annual percentage yield (APY) is the rate that considers compounding, providing a more precise picture of your potential earnings. The effects of compound interest are why the APY is generally higher than the interest rate when compounding occurs more frequently than once a year.

In evaluating your current savings plan, consider the interest rate on your statement and calculate the APY for a comprehensive view of the return you could earn. In comparing APY vs interest rate, the goal is to choose the higher rate and identify how each contributes to your savings objectives. The more aware you are of these elements, the better positioned you will be to navigate the financial landscape and manage your savings effectively.


Is annual percentage yield the same as interest rate?

While the annual percentage yield (APY) and the interest rate tell how much you can earn from a savings account, they differ. The interest rate indicates the simple annual return. In contrast, APY factors in the frequency of compounding, providing a more accurate projection of your potential earnings for the year. The APY will be the same as the interest rate if there is annual compounding.

Is a higher APR or APY better?

While we have extensively covered the difference between APY and interest rate, you may be wondering about APY vs APR. APR is the annual percentage rate often used when discussing interest owed by a borrower. APY, on the other hand, refers to interest earned by a saver. Choosing between a higher APR or a higher APY depends on your financial circumstances and goals. A lower APR is typically better for borrowers, as it means less interest to pay. A higher APY is generally best for savers as it translates into more earnings.

What is a good APY rate?

A reasonable APY rate can vary depending on the current economic environment and the investment product. As of June 2023, the APY for a savings account is around 0.33%. High yield savings accounts offer a slightly higher return, with an APY currently ranging from 3.75% to 4.85%. It is crucial to monitor rates in real-time, though, as they can change.

Written by Lauren Brown linkedin-icon

Lauren has over a decade of experience in wealth management and financial planning. She is a CFA charterholder and holds a Bachelor's degree in Finance. Lauren has worked with several asset management firms, offering wealth advisory and portfolio management services to high-net-worth clients.