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Does It Make Sense To Buy CDs When Interest Rates Are Low?

When choosing a certificate of deposit (CD), one of the most important considerations is the interest rate your money will earn. Putting your savings in a CD can pay off when rates are high but what about when rates are low? Evaluating your financial needs and goals can help you decide if opening CD accounts is worth it.

Key Takeaways

  • CD accounts are bank deposits that earn interest over a pre-set period of time.
  • They are extremely safe investments but the profit they bring the investor in interest payments is correspondingly low.
  • The rates offered on new CDs fluctuate with interest rates in the economy at large.
  • Many banks use the federal funds rate as a guide. The rates they pay on new CDs follow the ups and downs of the federal funds rate.
  • Whether it makes sense to buy CDs when interest rates are low can depend on your financial goals and needs.

What Is a CD and How Does It Work?

A CD or certificate of deposit is a time deposit account offered by banks, credit unions, and other financial institutions. CDs allow you to deposit money and earn a set amount of interest over a set period of time. This so-called maturity term can range from 28 days to 10 years or more.

When the CD matures, you can either withdraw your savings or roll the amount into a new CD. If you withdraw your money early you will pay a penalty.

There are different types of CDs you might open. For example, banks can offer:

Yankee CDs and brokered CDs are two less common types of CD. Yankee CDs are offered by U.S. branches of foreign banks. Brokered CDs are offered through brokerages.

CD deposits are insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. (FDIC) when held at FDIC member banks. The National Credit Union Administration (NCUA) insures CDs at member credit unions. Coverage limits are the same: $250,000 per depositor, per account ownership type, and per financial institution.

Important

Withdrawing money from a CD before it reaches maturity results in an early withdrawal penalty.

How Are CD Interest Rates Set?

A CD's rate is the interest rate you earn on your savings. When advertising CDs, banks can publish the interest rate and the annual percentage yield (APY).
The APY represents the interest earned annualized over a period of one year. Most of the time, the interest rate for a CD and its APY are the same.

Banks can use a benchmark rate to set CD rates. In many cases, the rate used is the federal funds rate. This is the rate at which banks lend money to one another overnight. The Federal Reserve, also known as the Fed, is responsible for making adjustments to the federal funds rate in order to manage monetary policy in the U.S.

When the Fed raises the federal funds rate, banks and credit unions may raise rates offered on deposit accounts, including CD accounts. If the Fed cuts rates, banks often reduce rates offered on CDs and other deposit accounts. This doesn't happen instantly. The banks can take weeks to respond to a move by the Fed.

Note

Banks can set interest rates for individual CD products based on the maturity term, with longer-term CDs generally earning higher rates.

Does It Make Sense to Buy CDs When Rates Are Low?

If you're considering saving money in a CD, getting the best rate possible might be a priority. When interest rates are low, CDs can lose some of their appeal for savers, as they can offer less potential for growth overall. You may have even less incentive to park some of your money in CDs if you expect interest rates to rise in the near future.

Whether you should buy CDs or not, regardless of rates, can depend on your needs and goals. If you've maxed out your emergency fund, for example, and are saving for retirement in a 401(k) or IRA, you might have money to spare. A CD could offer a safe and secure place to keep that money until you need it and allow you to earn a little interest in the bargain.

On the other hand, if you need more flexibility with your money and want to get a higher rate, you might consider a high-yield savings account or money market account instead. These accounts can allow you to make up to six withdrawals per month and may feature more competitive rates than what CDs offer.

Tip

Online banks may offer better CD rates and savings account rates than traditional banks or credit unions.

Combat Low Rates With CD Laddering

If you're concerned about low CD rates limiting your savings growth, you may consider building a CD ladder. A CD laddering strategy involves buying multiple CDs with different maturity terms and interest rates. This approach offers two advantages.

First, by laddering CDs with different maturity terms, you're better able to keep pace with changing interest rates. Say you open three CDS: a three-month, a six-month, and a nine-month. Two months after opening them, rates go up. You can take advantage of that by rolling the three-month CD into a new CD once it matures.
Laddering can also help you to avoid early withdrawal penalties if a maturity date is always on the horizon. Once one of the CD "rungs" on your ladder matures, you can decide whether to withdraw the money or deposit it into a new CD. And again, if rates have risen since you opened the CD originally, you can capitalize on that increase.

Are CDs a Good Investment?

CDs can be a good investment for people who want a safe and secure place to save money they don't plan to spend right away. It's virtually impossible to lose money with bank-issued CDs and the rate of return is more or less guaranteed. The only time you might face risk with CDs is if you're investing in Yankee CDs or brokered CDs.

Which Bank Has the Best CD Rates?

Banks are constantly updating CD rates, so it can be difficult to find just one that offers the highest rates. In general, you're more likely to find higher CD rates at online banks versus traditional banks and credit unions. Online banks may also have lower minimum deposit requirements for CDs.

Why Do CD Rates Change?

CD interest rates are not static and banks can change them to keep pace with changes to the federal funds rate. When the federal funds rate goes up, then banks can raise CD rates. If the federal funds rate goes down, banks and credit unions may cut CD rates.

The Bottom Line

Should you invest in CDs when rates are low? It may still be a good move if you're opening CDs to meet short-term needs. If rates rise later, you could roll the money over into a new CD to earn more interest until you're ready to spend it. When deciding where to open a CD account, take time to compare the best CD rates. Also, look at the different maturity terms and types of specialty CDs a bank may offer to find the savings option that's best for you.

Article Sources
Investopedia requires writers to use primary sources to support their work. These include white papers, government data, original reporting, and interviews with industry experts. We also reference original research from other reputable publishers where appropriate. You can learn more about the standards we follow in producing accurate, unbiased content in our editorial policy.
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  2. National Credit Union Administration. "."
  3. Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. "."
  4. Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago. "."
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  7. U.S. Security and Exchange Commission. “.”
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