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As a college student, what are my options for investments to keep up with inflation?

Savings accounts are worthless as I don't have enough capital to make any benefit. I am sitting at around $11,000 in a checking account.

I really don't want to be locked out and away from my money like an IRA I think it's called. I just like having access (control issues).

Would CDs be a viable option or stock swinging in my spare time?

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I think you need to understand the options better before you go around calling anything worthless...

$11k in a 1% savings account gets you just over $100 each year. Obviously you're not buying Ferraris with your returns but it's $100 more than your checking account will pay you. And, you're guaranteed to get your money back.

I think a CD ladder is a great way to store your emergency fund. The interest rate on a CD is typically a bit better than a regular savings account, though the money is locked away and while we seem to be on the cusp of a rate increase it might not be the best time to put the money in jail. Generally there is some sort of fee or lost interest from cashing a CD early. You're still guaranteed to get your money back.

Stock trading is probably a terrible idea. If you want some market exposure I'd take half of the money and buy a low expense S&P ETF, I wouldn't put my whole savings if I were you (or if I were me). Many large brokers have an S&P ETF option that you can generally buy with no commission and no loads. Vanguard is a great option VOO, Schwab has an S&P mutual fund SWPPX, and there are others. Actively trading individual stocks is a great way to let commissions and fees erode your account. There are some startup alternatives with lower fees, but personally I would stay away from individual stock picking unless you are in school for Finance and have some interest in paying attention and you're ready to possibly never see the money again. You're not guaranteed to get your money back.

There are also money market accounts. These will typically pay some interest based on exposing your funds to some risk. It can be a bit better return than a savings account, but I probably wouldn't bother.

An IRA (ROTH and Traditional) is just an account wrapper that offers certain tax benefits while placing certain restrictions on the use of some or all of the money until you reach retirement age. As a college student you should probably be more concerned about an emergency fund or traveling than retirement savings, though some here may disagree with me. With your IRA you can buy CDs or annuities, or stocks and ETFs or any other kind of security. Depending on what you buy inside the IRA, you might not be guaranteed to get your money back.

First you need to figure out what you'd like to use the money for. Then, you need to determine when you'd need the money for that use. Then, you need to determine if you can sleep at night while your stock account fluctuates a few percent each day. If you can't, or you don't have answers for these questions, a savings account is a really low friction/low risk place store money and combat inflation while you come up with answers for those questions.

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    Note that you can pull your contributions out of a Roth IRA any time for any reason without a penalty. You can't pull the gains out until retirement, but as a college student, there is very little downside to using a Roth IRA for savings when compared with a brokerage or savings account. – farnsy Sep 24 '16 at 14:38

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