What Is a Certificate of Deposit and How Does It Work?
Certificates of deposit (CDs) are financial tools, typically sold by a bank or credit union, that grow a fixed amount of interest over a fixed period of time. CDs work by taking the amount you invested and adding interest before returning the funds back to your pocket. They are considered one of the safest investment options to build retirement funds.
- Written by Lindsey Crossmier
Lindsey Crossmier is an accomplished writer with experience working for The Florida Review and Bookstar PR. As a financial writer, she covers Medicare, life insurance and dental insurance topics for RetireGuide. Research-based data drives her work.Read More
- Edited ByLamia Chowdhury
Lamia Chowdhury is a financial content editor for RetireGuide and has over three years of marketing experience in the finance industry. She has written copy for both digital and print pieces ranging from blogs, radio scripts and search ads to billboards, brochures, mailers and more.Read More
- Published: March 9, 2023
- Updated: March 24, 2023
- 10 min read time
- This page features 9 Cited Research Articles
- Edited By
- The purpose of a CD is to keep idle money growing at a steady, reliable rate.
- Since most CDs need to reach their maturity date before withdrawal, they don’t offer much liquidity. You will likely face a penalty if you withdraw from your CD early. However, you can purchase a liquid CD, which is specifically tailored to allow you to access withdrawals without penalty.
- Because CDs are an FDIC-insured investing option, they present a reliable savings option for any older adult’s retirement plan.
What Are Certificates of Deposit (CDs)?
Certificates of deposit (CDs) are financial tools you can purchase directly from a bank, credit union or brokerage firm. A CD holds a fixed amount of your money for a fixed term, allowing your money to build interest during that time.
Your interest rate is set when you purchase the CD. Average CD rates vary depending on the CD type, maturity date and when you make the purchase.
Your term length is connected to your CD’s maturity date, which is when you can get your funds back and the interest earned. Common term lengths are six months to five years, according to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.
CDs are a good option if your retirement funds are currently sitting in a standard savings account and lacking growth. A CD can help combat inflation risk by allowing your money to grow with interest.
Since early 2022, the Federal Reserve has aggressively hiked the federal funds rate, putting upward pressure on CD rates across the board. This is good news for savers, but it’s important to remember that not all CDs are structured equally. Generally, the longer the term, the higher the interest rate. Moreover, the best CDs in the market typically yield around 5 times the national average.
How Do CDs Work?
CDs work as a savings account that grows your money at a set rate, over a set period of time. Your CD ends when it reaches its maturity date.
Generally, once your maturity date arrives, you get your original deposit back, along with any interest you’ve earned. You can then decide whether you want to reinvest the money into another CD or pocket your earnings to build your retirement plan funds.
One important, and often confusing, detail about CDs is that the interest rates are presented in annual terms. Cameron Valadez, CFA®, AWMA® and the co-founder of Planable Wealth, spoke to RetireGuide about how CDs’ annual rates can often be misleading.
“The key to understanding CD yields or interest rates is that they are stated in annual terms. For example, if you see a six-month CD with a 4% yield, this means it’s only going to pay 2% over six months,” Valadez told RetireGuide.
“What they’re doing is annualizing that number, and assuming that when the CD reaches maturity in six months and you get your money back, you will reinvest that money into another six-month CD paying that same 2%. That’s where that 4% comes from.”
“So, if you’re buying CDs that are less than one year, this is where it gets tricky. People think they’re going to get the rate listed for six months, when that is not true.”
There are two other important factors to consider on how CDs work — when you can deposit money and when you can access your funds.
While a CD is like a savings account, you can’t add funds regularly to your CD. You can only deposit money in your CD at the time you purchase it. Usually, the minimum deposit requirement for a CD is $500, according to CNBC.
You can only access the money in your CD after your maturity date has passed. However, some CDs make periodic interest payments, rather than compensating you in full at maturity.
Reguardless of how interest is paid, if you access your funds before your maturity date, you’ll face an early withdrawal penalty. However, you can purchase a liquid CD, which has the rare feature of allowing early access to funds without the penalty.
Are CDs Safe Investments for Retirement?
Most CDs purchased from banks or credit unions are insured up to $250,000 by either the FDIC or NCUA, making them safe investments for older adults preparing for retirement.
Compared to the new age investments for retirement — like cryptocurrency and micro-investing — CDs offer a secure opportunity to those with a large nest egg looking to grow their funds.
“CDs can be a great tool for retirees to utilize over a short period of time, within a few years or less, to keep idle cash working,” Valadez told RetireGuide.
This isn’t to say CDs are 100% riskless and you should throw all your funds into them. You should still diversify your investments and consider all your options. Learning about each type of CD can help you determine if they fit your retirement plan needs.
“CDs can be a great tool for retirees to utilize over a short period of time, within a few years or less, to keep idle cash working,”
Types of CDs
You should consider the different types of CDs before making a purchase. Some offer unique features, like early access to funds, a flexible interest rate or even an option to convert U.S. currency to foreign currency in your CD.
- Traditional CD
- A traditional CD is issued by the bank, has a set interest rate, is noncallable and you can only access your funds at the maturity date.
- An add-on CD allows you to contribute to the money in your CD throughout the term.
- Typically, you have a set interest rate with a traditional CD. A bump-up CD allows you to request a higher interest rate if they rise during your term.
- A callable CD can be “called back” by the issuer before its maturity date.
- Equity-Linked CD
- An equity-linked CD ties the rate of return to the performance of a stock index, like the S&P 500 Composite Stock Price Index.
- Foreign Currency CD
- Foreign currency CDs convert your U.S. dollars into a foreign currency, like euros for example.
- High-Yield CD
- A high-yield CD is similar to a traditional CD, but with a higher interest rate.
- IRA CD
- You can open a CD in your Roth IRA, which would then deem this type of CD an IRA CD. People may consider an IRA CD to avoid their income from being taxed.
- Jumbo CD
- A jumbo CD requires a larger initial deposit compared to a traditional CD.
- Liquid CD
- A liquid CD allows you to access your funds early without a penalty.
- Step-Up CD
- A step-up CD offers gradual increases in the interest rates over time, instead of a fixed rate.
- Zero-Coupon CD
- With a zero-coupon CD, you pay a discounted price for the CD, but don’t get interest throughout the term.
- Variable Rate CD
- A variable rate CD still has a set term length but allows your interest rate to fluctuate.
Bank vs. Brokered CDs
Two common types of CDs are traditional CDs, typically purchased at a bank, and brokered CDs, which can be purchased on the secondary market. Both CDs are FDIC insured up to $250,000, but they have different features that may make one better suited for you over the other.
For example, brokerage CDs can be riskier since they could be callable. If a CD is callable, the issuer can call them back at any time. This means you’d need to figure out a new method of investing your funds. Due to the risk, a callable brokerage CD can have a higher interest rate.
Traditional bank CDs can have a lower interest rate compared to brokerage CDs, but they could be a safer investment option.
You can ladder multiple CDs with different maturity dates to retain access to some of your funds. Some people prefer to do this over a jumbo CD, so they are not locked in until a single maturity date. If you ladder multiple CDs, you can unlock your funds and the interest you’ve earned as each CD matures.
“Retirees should have a very clear focus on the money they are considering laddering into CDs. The strategy is going to require ongoing management as the CDs mature, and you’ll need to do research on reinvesting your money,” Valadez told RetireGuide.
What are the Pros and Cons of CDs?
A main benefit of CDs is that they are reliable with low risk. However, this advantage also presents one of the glaring drawbacks — low risk means lower returns. With inflation still at a high 6.4% in 2023, the money in your CD could lose purchasing power if the inflation stays on trend.
- Low-risk investment
- FDIC-insured up to $250,000
- Guaranteed returns, especially if your CD is noncallable
- Laddering option available to maximize payout
- Inflation could make your CD lose purchasing power over time
- Could face withdrawal penalties
- Can’t typically add to your CD balance regularly
- Low returns compared to other higher risk investment options
- Offers less liquidity compared to other options, like money market accounts
Alternatives to CDs
CDs aren’t a one-stop shop for your retirement investment strategies; there are other alternatives you can consider. If you’re trying to get the closest alternative with similar features to a CD, Valadez recommends a short-term U.S. government treasury bond.
“I would say, in general, a U.S. government treasury bond is the next closest alternative investment to a CD if it has a comparable maturity to the CD and is held until maturity. In addition, the U.S. treasury bond is backed by the full faith and credit of the U.S. government, while CDs are backed only up to $250,000 by the FDIC.” Valadez told RetireGuide.
|CDs vs. Alternative||Main Difference Between CDs and the Alternative|
|CDs vs. Bonds||If interest rates are high, a CD is more likely to have a better return than a bond. If rates are low, a bond will be a better investment.|
|CDs vs. Stock Mutual Funds||While CDs are safer investments, stock mutual funds offer significantly higher financial returns.|
|CDs vs. Annuities||Annuities pay you a steady stream of income over time, while CDs usually provide a lump sum once it matures.|
|CDs vs. Savings Accounts||Savings accounts allow you to make withdrawals with no issues, while with most CDs, you face withdrawal penalties.|
|CDs vs. Money Market Accounts||CDs tend to have higher interest rates compared to money market accounts.|
|CDs vs. Treasury Bills||Treasury bills and CDs both have a maturity date, but a treasury bill is considered a short-term U.S. government debt obligation.|
|CDs vs. IRA||An IRA will provide you with a tax break, while a CD offers no tax benefits unless you purchase an IRA CD.|
FAQs About CDs
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9 Cited Research Articles
- Gravier, E. (2023, March 1). The Best CD Rates of March 2023. Retrieved from https://www.cnbc.com/select/best-certificates-of-deposits/
- Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. (2023, February 21). National Rates and Rate Caps. Retrieved from https://www.fdic.gov/resources/bankers/national-rates/index.html
- U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. (2023). Certificates of Deposit (CDs). Retrieved from https://www.investor.gov/introduction-investing/investing-basics/investment-products/certificates-deposit-cds
- U.S. Inflation Calculator. (2023). Current US Inflation Rates: 2000-2023. Retrieved from https://www.usinflationcalculator.com/inflation/current-inflation-rates/
- Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. (2022, September 13). Your Insured Deposits. Retrieved from https://www.fdic.gov/resources/deposit-insurance/brochures/insured-deposits/
- Gravier, E. (2020, November 8). You Can Earn More Interest When You Put Your Money in a CD—Here Are the Different Types Offered. Retrieved from https://www.cnbc.com/select/types-of-certificates-of-deposits-cds/
- Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. (2020, August 27). What Is a Certificate of Deposit (CD)? Retrieved from https://www.consumerfinance.gov/ask-cfpb/what-is-a-certificate-of-deposit-cd-en-917/
- Powell, R. (2015, May 29). Tap Your 401(k) To Buy High-Yield CDs? Retrieved from https://www.usatoday.com/story/money/columnist/powell/2015/05/29/retirement-plan-withdrawals/28029917/
- U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. (n.d.). Equity-Linked CDs. Retrieved from https://www.sec.gov/answers/equitylinkedcds.htm
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