A bank certificate of deposit, known as a CD, can be a tempting target if you need cash in a hurry. But should you break your commitment to the bank and yourself to keep a big chunk of change in a CD for a specified period of time?
One reason to ditch a CD before the end of the term might be the paltry interest rate.
CD rates are on the rise, but they’re still struggling to beat inflation. At most, a 3-year CD purchased today may yield around 2 percent APY, for example. By the time your CD matures, you would only end up earning about $62 on a $1,000 deposit if interest compounds on a daily basis.
Still, there are risks and penalties for CD early withdrawal, so it’s smart to consider the pros and cons before you metaphorically smash your CD piggy bank.
Should you consider withdrawing from a CD early?
Closing a CD early makes sense if:
- You can find an investment that offers a higher return.
- The penalty is just a few months’ interest.
- You need the money for a major purpose, like a house down payment.
Leave your CD alone if:
- You can’t stomach a more volatile investment.
- The penalty eats into your principal.
- You plan to make an unnecessary purchase.
Dump CD for better investment?
Since CD rates remain low, early withdrawal can make sense to invest in a different way that might offer a higher return.
Whether you choose a different CD or another option altogether, you should have a plan before you make any investment, says Kent Grealish, an hourly rate investment planner with Grealish Investment Counseling in San Bruno, California.
The question to ask yourself is: “Does 100 percent of this money absolutely, positively have to be safe or does 75 percent of it have to be absolutely, positively safe, and I can take 25 percent and a little bit of principal risk and a little bit of liquidity risk to get a higher rate?” Grealish says. “You have a CD bucket and an I-can-take-a-little-risk bucket.”
Taking on risk
If you opt for risk, proceed with caution. A CD will stabilize your source of investment income, but other investments can be more volatile, says Frank Boucher, owner of Boucher Financial Planning Services in Reston, Virginia.
“If you’re looking at breaking a CD to chase down a stock that might pay a higher dividend, that might not be a good strategy,” he says.
A CD can be useful to lock up money you’re saving for a major purchase, even one with uncertain timing such as a down payment for a house.
“If you’ve found a home you want to live in or feel you want to use for an investment, with interest rates being as low as they are on CDs, I wouldn’t let the interest penalty deter me at all as far as breaking the CD and using that money,” Boucher says.
On the other hand, a CD isn’t a good place to find funds to pay for living expenses or splurge on unnecessary and unplanned purchases.
“Your CD’s an investment and you want to treat it as such,” Boucher says. “That’s one reason why you have the CD. You think twice before you do something like that.”
Is it an emergency?
True emergencies are unpredictable, but you should still plan to have cash at the ready and not locked up in a CD when unexpected expenses prove necessary.
If you’ve already put your savings into a CD and now you need the cash early, compare the cost of CD early withdrawal with other options such as a brokerage margin account or home equity line of credit, Grealish says.
“If you absolutely, positively need the money, then you have to pay the price, and if you don’t have other short-term alternatives available to you because it’s not a short-term situation or you can’t get the money, there’s not much latitude,” he says.
A broken CD beats a big credit card bill, too.
“If you’re making a purchase that you don’t have ready cash for,” Boucher says, “cashing in that CD as opposed to putting that onto a credit card makes all the sense in the world because the interest rate would be much higher.”
How costly are the penalties?
Banks almost always charge penalties when customers remove money from a CD before it’s time.
The lost interest might not be significant since CD rates are so low these days. But some CDs involve more painful or truly onerous penalties for early withdrawals.
Two ways to minimize the risk of early withdrawal penalties are to buy smaller CDs or CDs with different maturity dates, a strategy known as laddering.
“Rather than buying one $10,000 CD, why not buy 10 $1,000 CDs?” Boucher asks. “Then, if you have to break one, you just break one and the other nine are still intact.”
Evaluate your reason carefully
CDs offer a secure, stable source of income, albeit at a low rate of return.
If that safety is your primary objective, and there’s any chance you might need the money early, you’ll likely want to avoid CDs that offer a slightly higher rate but have severe early withdrawal penalties.
An even worse strategy than a higher-risk investment is to raid your CD early to make frivolous or unnecessary purchases.
“I wouldn’t break a CD to buy a big-screen television,” Boucher says.
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