Certificates of Deposit Risks and Returns

Look at both CD risk and CD returns before buying.

A certificate of deposit is an interest-bearing, FDIC-insured investment. The risks and returns of certificates of deposit are on the low end of the spectrum compared with other investment options, but that doesn’t mean that CDs are risk-free assets. You should be aware of the types of penalties and risks that could affect your CD rates and APY before you invest.

On the return side of the ledger, CDs generally don’t pay a high rate of interest, but the rate you do get heavily depends on the type of CD you purchase.

Risks of Certificates of Deposit

Like most financial products, CDs do carry some degree of risk. Although your principal and interest are insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, CD risk does exist. Evaluate your certificate of deposit risk level by taking a look at some of these CD properties:

  • Early Withdrawal Penalty: If you take your money out before the CD matures, you’ll likely be subject to some penalty fees which can diminish your return and, in some cases, even your principal.
  • Reinvestment Risk: If interest rates go down and your high-interest CD account matures, you might have to roll it over at the lower rate.
  • Inflation Risk: If the rate of inflation exceeds the interest rate on your CD, you’ll have less purchasing power than when you get your money back.
  • Limited Insurance: If you buy CDs at a premium in the secondary market — meaning that you buy them from a broker and pay more than face value  that additional amount is not covered by FDIC insurance. And although FDIC insurance limits are high at $250,000 per account, the entire amount will not be covered if you buy a CD of greater than that value.

Potential Returns of CDs

Although a CD is a low-risk investment by design, it can still help you build your financial worth. Here are some CD characteristics  and CD strategies — that can help you earn the best CD rates and boost your CD returns:

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  • Higher Interest Rates: CD rates are typically higher than regular savings account rates. CD rates are also predictable and this can enable you to plan ahead.
  • Rate Increase: If you buy a CD with a rate-increase option, you can usually switch to a better rate when it becomes available. The number of times you can exercise this option varies among financial institutions, and it typically depends on your CD’s term.
  • No-Penalty Option: If you choose a no-penalty CD, you can withdraw all your funds — including the interest you’ve earned — without any early withdrawal penalty.
  • Compounding: Annual percentage yields can end up being higher than the certificate of deposit interest rates if you reinvest your interest payments, making your total CD return rates higher.

Learn More: Things to Know About High-Yield CDs

Weigh the Risk vs. Return Potential Before Investing in CDs

Although CDs are safe investments, they do carry some risk. You can usually earn higher interest rates from a CD than a savings account as a result. They are not entirely liquid, however, so if you think you might need access to your funds before the maturity date of your CD, you might be better off in a savings account so you can avoid early withdrawal penalties.

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Speak with a financial advisor and have him walk you through all the details and compare CD rates before you commit to a CD investment. Then you can decide for yourself what level of risk you’re comfortable carrying in exchange for your CD interest rates.

Up Next: Advantages and Disadvantages of Treasury Bonds 

Barri Segal contributed to the reporting for this article. 

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About the Author

John Csiszar

After earning a B.A. in English with a Specialization in Business from UCLA, John Csiszar worked in the financial services industry as a registered representative for 18 years. Along the way, Csiszar earned both Certified Financial Planner and Registered Investment Adviser designations, in addition to being licensed as a life agent, while working for both a major Wall Street wirehouse and for his own investment advisory firm. During his time as an advisor, Csiszar managed over $100 million in client assets while providing individualized investment plans for hundreds of clients.

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