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CDs are a solid investment

A CD is a time-deposit account where you stash a sum of money for a set term — generally ranging from 30 days to five years — and the bank agrees to pay a fixed interest rate, which is typically higher than what you would earn from a basic savings account.

Offered by most banks and credit unions, CDs are a hot commodity right now because of how they respond to general economic conditions.

There are a number of variables that affect the direction of CD rates, including the Federal Reserve’s baseline, bank profits, changes in treasury yields and economic conditions. This year, inflation and a potential recession are pushing CD rates up.

According to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), the average annual percentage yield (APY) on one-year CDs was 1.49% as of March 20, 2023. Meanwhile, the average return on a five-year CD was 1.35%.

It is possible to find CD rates that are well above the average. As of March 31, Capital One was offering a 4.15% yield for a 1-year term, while Alliant and Synchrony were offering 5% yields over 1-year and 14-month terms, respectively.

The ability to lock in and guarantee a return on your investment is an attractive idea. For instance, if you put your money into a five-year CD, you’ll get the same rate through those five years, even if the Fed cuts interest rates during that period.

More: Are CDs worth it?

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CDs are a safe place to store your money

CDs are generally seen as a safe place to keep cash — a top priority for Americans after the collapse of both Silicon Valley Bank and Signature Bank.

When announcing the latest interest rate hike in March, the Fed said the “U.S. banking system is sound and resilient” but that recent developments — the bank collapses — are likely “to weigh on economic activity, hiring and inflation.”

Central banks are also making every effort to bolster confidence in the U.S. banking system, but many Americans have been left questioning whether their money is safe.

CDs are one of the lowest risk investment tools you can use.

You can put up to $250,000 in CDs and won’t lose that money as long as your account is with a bank insured by Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) or a credit union insured by the National Credit Union Administration (NCUA).

The only way you’ll lose money is if you try to withdraw your money before the end of your CD term. If you do that, you’ll have to pay a penalty which is usually around three to six months of interest.

You should only use CDs if you’re comfortable locking away a sum of money for a set period of time. Most people use them for short-term goals, like saving for college or for a deposit on a house.

It’s important to stay on top of your CD term. Your bank will likely tell you when it’s about to expire and will give you the option of cashing out or negotiating a new CD.

If you do nothing, your money could automatically roll over into a new CD with the same term, but potentially a different rate than your previous one. This could work in your favor if you don’t need your money immediately, or it could leave you cash strapped and in line for a penalty if you need to withdraw your money early.

While CDs are a secure haven for your savings, they don’t always offer the most attractive returns. Here’s two other low-risk ways to meet your saving goals and build your wealth.

More: Will CD rates continue to rise in 2023?

Alternatives to investing in CDs

Buy series I savings bonds

Series I savings bonds are safe investments issued by the U.S. Treasury, which are designed to protect the value of your hard-earned cash from inflation.

Interest rates on I bonds are adjusted every six months to keep pace with rising prices. The next change is due on May 1.

The current interest rate on I bonds is 6.89% — down from the 9.62% rate in the six months to October 2022, but still a very attractive yield when compared to the average CD rates of 1-2%.

I bonds are a good compound saving tool. Twice a year, the interest you earned in the past six months will be added to your total bond value and you’ll start earning interest (at a new rate) on that higher value.

You can get I bonds in a few different ways. You can buy up to $10,000 worth of electronic I bonds through the government’s TreasuryDirect website and you can also buy up to $5,000 in paper I bonds with your IRS tax refund. The maximum amount you can buy each year is $15,000.

I bonds last for 30 years, but you don’t need to wait three decades to cash in.

Be aware that your money is locked in for one year. After that, if you cash in your bond in less than five years, you’ll have to forfeit three months of interest. There are no further penalties for withdrawal after five years.

As a U.S. Treasury security, I bonds have very low risk of default. They also offer attractive tax benefits as they’re exempt from state and municipal income taxes.

You do have to pay federal income tax, but there are some exemptions. For instance, if you use the money for qualified higher education expenses, you may not have to pay tax on the earnings.

Make the most of your IRA

While CDs are typically used for short-term savings goals, an individual retirement account (IRA) can help you to save and build your wealth over decades — but you will have to put your money to work.

A traditional IRA is a pre-tax investment account.

You make contributions from your income before taxes are taken out, and the money grows tax-free until you withdraw it in retirement — when you’ll likely find yourself in a much lower tax bracket than in your working years.

In contrast, a Roth IRA is funded with money that’s already been taxed, which means your withdrawals in later life will be tax free.

Unlike CDs, I bonds, and the traditional IRA — which either have maturity dates or mandatory withdrawals — you can leave your money untouched in a Roth IRA for as long as you’d like, making it one of the most flexible options out there for retirement savers.

You can hold many types of investments inside an IRA, including stocks, bonds, ETFs and mutual funds — some of which are more risky than others.

If you lack the know-how to buy individual stocks, you can use a robo-advisor that will manage your IRA portfolio and ensure it is designed to meet your needs.

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About the Author

Bethan Moorcraft

Bethan Moorcraft

Reporter

Bethan Moorcraft is a reporter for Moneywise with experience in news editing and business reporting across international markets.

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The content provided on Moneywise is information to help users become financially literate. It is neither tax nor legal advice, is not intended to be relied upon as a forecast, research or investment advice, and is not a recommendation, offer or solicitation to buy or sell any securities or to adopt any investment strategy. Tax, investment and all other decisions should be made, as appropriate, only with guidance from a qualified professional. We make no representation or warranty of any kind, either express or implied, with respect to the data provided, the timeliness thereof, the results to be obtained by the use thereof or any other matter.