CDs (Certificates of Deposit) – Savings at Higher Returns Than Traditional Savings Accounts

I first learned about certificates of deposit (CDs) from my grandpa. A retired independent store owner, he lived on what I thought was a limited retirement income. He kept his money in envelopes and when the money got low he would be more cautious. When he died when I was 19, I was the one who had to go through his files and gasped when I saw the 000s at the end of his account. His "limited" funds were millions and he lived his retirement using CD ladders. Every month another CD would hit term and he would take money from the CD, put it into various envelopes that I learned was envelope budgeting, reinvest some of the money, and live with what he budgeted.
It may seem old-fashioned to invest in CDs yet they still exist for a reason. They are a type of savings account that continues to diversify your investment portfolio.

What is a certificate of deposit?

CDs are high-yield savings accounts available through banks, credit unions, and financial institutions. Unlike traditional savings accounts, however, when you deposit money into a CD, you must leave it in the account for a fixed period or term. This fixed-term equates to higher interest rates. While traditional savings accounts average 0.04%, CDs average 0.18%.
The catch, however, is you must allow the CD to reach the end of its term. If you withdraw funds before it matures you will pay early withdrawal penalty fees.

How does a CD work?

Opening a CD works the same way opening a bank account does. What you'll need to know before deciding on the CD are two things:
1. Interest rate. Of course, the point of investing in a CD is to make as much annual percentage yield (APY) as you can so you'll want to find a financial institution that can bring you the biggest return. Most CDs will offer a fixed interest rate but there are adjustable-rate options as well.
2. Terms. How long do you want to keep your money locked away is important. The longer the term, the higher the interest rate. If you are nervous about accessing your money sooner than later, choose a short-term option. You'll find CD terms from 3 months and higher.

Different types of CDs

Beyond the traditional CD are several types of CD accounts you may consider. These include:
  • Add-on CDs, which allow you to add additional funds into the CD throughout its term.
  • Brokered CDs, which are purchased through a brokerage firm that can review multiple financial institutions to find you the best rates.
  • Callable CDs may tout higher interest rates but may be "called" by the bank before maturity is met, thereby risking your rates.
  • CD Ladders that, like my grandpa used, have varying term lengths so you have access to funds throughout the long term, also known as laddering.
  • Jumbo CDs for those with at least $100k to invest.
  • Long-term CDs that have terms of 1 year or more with higher APY the longer you set your term.
  • No-penalty CDs that provide lower interest rates but allow you to take out funds before maturity without penalties.
  • Short-term CDs that offer terms from 3 months to 1 year.
  • Step-up CDs that provide you an annual opportunity to "bump up" your interest rate, should they go higher than your current rate.
  • Variable-rate CDs that can rise with rising interest rates rise or fall with dropping interest rates.

Calculate rates

You can take a look at what your savings will be by using our CD Calculator. Enter the amount of money you want to deposit, the term length, and the APY you have seen and you can see what you can earn, as well as how earnings can increase with longer terms.

CD Calculator


Best CD Rates

Ally Bank

The longer you lock in your term the higher the rate you'll find at Ally, which compounds your deposit daily. Find 1-year rates at 0.55% and no penalty rates at 0.50% Ally has 3-, 6-, 9-, 12- and 18-month or 3- and 5-year options. At 3 months, you'll only earn 0.20% APY, but it's still higher than a traditional savings account. At 5 years, you can earn 0.80%
If you renew a CD after its term, Ally will give you a 0.05% Loyalty Reward.
Ally also offers a Raise Your Rate CD (a step-up CD) for 2- or 4-years starting at 0.55%. A no-penalty CD is available with a 0.50% APY.

American Express

More than credit cards, Amex has high-yield CDs offered for 6-month to 5-year terms. There is no minimum for your initial deposit. Like others, you'll get its highest APY – 0.55% – by keeping your funds in the account the longest. Its 6-month CD offers the lowest APY at 0.10%, which may be lower than some online high-yield savings accounts; you may want to put your money into a savings account at that rate.

CiT Bank

CiT features term CDs, no-penalty CDs for 11 months, jumbo CDs, and RampUp (step-up) CDs with rates topping off at 0.50%
To open a term CD requires a $1,000 minimum and it offers the same APY for 6-month to 18-months (0.30%) and only jumps to its high at the 4- or 5-year terms. No-penalty CDs require the same opening deposit and earn 0.30% at its highest.

Marcus by Goldman Sachs

With as little as $500, Marcus provides 0.55% for a 1-year term and 0.60% for 5 or 6 years. Signup for a 9-month CD and currently find its best rates at 0.65%. On the flip side if you get a 6-month term you'll only receive 0.15% APY. The rates don't fluctuate as much as other banks offering an increase for every term increase but the APY is still a good one.

Synchrony Bank

With no minimum deposit amount required, Synchrony's 1-year CDs provide 0.50% APY. You'll find 12 different term options – the most terms offered in this list. CD terms begin with a 3-month CD at 0.15% and ending with a 5-year CD at 0.80%.

Best CD rates comparison

Ally Bank0.20%0.25%0.30%0.55%N/AN/AN/A0.60%N/A0.65%N/A0.80%N/A
American ExpressN/A0.10%N/A0.20%N/AN/AN/A0.30%0.40%0.45%0.50%0.55%N/A
CiT BankN/A0.30%N/A0.30%0.30%N/AN/A0.30%0.40%0.40%0.50%0.50%N/A
Marcus by Goldman SachsN/A0.15%0.65%0.55%N/AN/AN/A0.55%0.55%0.55%0.55%0.60%0.60%
Synchrony Bank0.15%0.25%0.35%0.50%0.50%0.50%0.50%0.50%0.60%0.65%0.65%0.80%N/A

Pros and Cons of CDs

  • Low-risk. Of the various investment products you have at the ready, this is one of the lowest risks. They are also FDIC-insured for up to $250,000.
  • High-yield savings. CDs have higher return rates than regular savings accounts found at brick and mortar banks and most online banking institutions (both of which offer CDs).
  • Variety of options. As with any savings accounts, the amount of money you'll earn depends on the period of time in which you can collect an amount of interest. You can find 3 to 6 month CDs to 5 or more years before a term ends.
  • Penalty fees. If you need to withdraw your funds before the term ends you will pay high fees and lose the rate of return expected at the deposit.
  • Not quite high-yield. While the APY is higher than a regular savings account, CDs as an investment earn less than investing in an IRA, 401(k), or the stock market.
  • No access. Unless you are willing to pay those fees, your money is not yours to access until a term ends.

The bottom line

Based on your deposit amount, CD term length, and interest rates, CDs can be a great way to set aside savings for the longer term. While the rates may not be as high as you'd like to see in a bullish return on investment for retirement, the slow and steady route does add to the winnings at the end of the race.

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