Why Do People Invest In Certificates of Deposit (CD) Accounts?

A certificate of deposit or CD is a time deposit, a financial product commonly offered to consumers by banks, thrift institutions, and credit unions.

CDs are similar to savings accounts in that they are insured and thus virtually risk-free; they are "money in the bank" (CDs are insured by the FDIC for banks or by the NCUA for credit unions). They are different from savings accounts in that the CD has a specific, fixed term (often three months, six months, or one to five years), and, usually, a fixed interest rate. It is intended that the CD be held until maturity, at which time the money may be withdrawn together with the accrued interest.

In exchange for keeping the money on deposit for the agreed-on term, institutions usually grant higher interest rates than they do on accounts from which money may be withdrawn on demand, although this may not be the case in an inverted yield curve situation. Fixed rates are common, but some institutions offer CDs with various forms of variable rates. For example, in mid-2004, with interest rates expected to rise, many banks and credit unions began to offer CDs with a "bump-up" feature. These allow for a single readjustment of the interest rate, at a time of the consumer's choosing, during the term of the CD. Sometimes, CDs that are indexed to the stock market, the bond market, or other indices are introduced.

A few general guidelines for interest rates are:

A larger principal should receive a higher interest rate, but may not. A longer term will usually receive a higher interest rate, except in the case of an inverted yield curve (i.e. preceding a recession) Smaller institutions tend to offer higher interest rates than larger ones. Personal CD accounts generally receive higher interest rates than business CD accounts. Banks and credit unions that are not insured by the FDIC or NCUA generally offer higher interest rates.

Buying a CD

CDs typically require a minimum deposit, and may offer higher rates for larger deposits. In the US, the best rates are generally offered on "Jumbo CDs" with minimum deposits of $100,000. However there are also institutions that do the opposite and offer lower rates for their "Jumbo CDs".

The consumer who opens a CD may receive a passbook or paper certificate, but it now is common for a CD to consist simply of a book entry and an item shown in the consumer's periodic bank statements; that is, there is usually no "certificate" as such.

Interest Payout

At most institutions, the CD purchaser can arrange to have the interest periodically mailed as a check or transferred into a checking or savings account. This reduces total yield because there is no compounding. Some institutions allow the customer to select this option only at the time the CD is opened.

Closing a CD

Withdrawals before maturity are usually subject to a substantial penalty. For a five-year CD, this is often the loss of six months' interest. These penalties ensure that it is generally not in a holder's best interest to withdraw the money before maturity—unless the holder has another investment with significantly higher return or has a serious need for the money.

Commonly, institutions mail a notice to the CD holder shortly before the CD matures requesting directions. The notice usually offers the choice of withdrawing the principal and accumulated interest or "rolling it over" (depositing it into a new CD). Generally, a "window" is allowed after maturity where the CD holder can cash in the CD without penalty. In the absence of such directions, it is common for the institution to roll over the CD automatically, once again tying up the money for a period of time (though the CD holder may be able to specify at the time the CD is opened not to roll over the CD).

CD refinance

In the U.S. insured CDs are required by the Truth in Savings Regulation DD to state at the time of account opening the penalty for early withdrawal. These penalties cannot be revised by the depository prior to maturity. The penalty for early withdrawal is the deterrent to allowing depositors to take advantage of subsequent enhanced investment opportunities during the term of the CD. In rising interest rate environments the penalty may be insufficient to discourage depositors from redeeming their deposit and reinvesting the proceeds after paying the applicable early withdrawal penalty.The added interest from the new higher yielding CD may more than offset the cost of the early withdrawal penalty.

Ladders

While longer investment terms yield higher interest rates, longer terms also may result in a loss of opportunity to lock in higher interest rates in a rising-rate economy. A common mitigation strategy for this opportunity cost is the "CD ladder" strategy. In the ladder strategies, the investor distributes the deposits over a period of several years with the goal of having all one's money deposited at the longest term (and therefore the higher rate), but in a way that part of it matures annually. In this way, the depositor reaps the benefits of the longest-term rates while retaining the option to re-invest or withdraw the money in shorter-term intervals.

For example, an investor beginning a three-year ladder strategy would start by depositing equal amounts of money each into a 3-year CD, 2-year CD, and 1-year CD. From this point on, a CD will reach maturity every year, at which time the investor would re-invest at a 3-year term. After two years of this cycle, the investor would have all money deposited at a three-year rate, yet have one-third of the deposits mature every year (which can then be reinvested, augmented, or withdrawn).

The responsibility for maintaining the ladder falls on the depositor, not the financial institution. Because the ladder does not depend on the financial institution, depositors are free to distribute a ladder strategy across more than one bank, which can be advantageous as smaller banks may not offer the longer terms found at some larger banks. Although laddering is most common with CDs, this strategy may be employed on any time deposit account with similar terms.