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Financial Security Index: CDs vs. stocks

Financial Security Index Charts » Financial Security Index: CDs Vs. Stocks

The stock market may be one of the hottest investment opportunities for those looking to grow their money long term. But many Americans prefer to keep their money parked at the bank, even if that means earning little to no interest.

About 1 in 4 Americans say the best investment option for money they don't need in the next 10 years is a savings account or a certificate of deposit, according to a national poll accompanying Bankrate's monthly Financial Security Index.

Real estate came in second as the primary investment choice for about 23 percent of the respondents in the survey. About 19 percent said they would invest in the stock market. Fourteen percent of the respondents picked gold and 5 percent said they would invest in bonds.

That's a slightly improved view of the stock market compared with last year's survey, when only 14 percent of respondents said they would invest in stocks. And the increase remains within the survey's margin of error.

The survey shows Americans continue to be wary of the stock market even when the long-term returns are much more promising than cash investments or real estate.

"Individual investors are still very risk averse," says Greg McBride, CFA, Bankrate's chief financial analyst. "The wounds of 2008 remain very fresh for a lot of Americans."

Investors ignore stocks' high yields

The Standard & Poor's 500 index has jumped more than 20 percent in the past year. The Dow Jones industrial average increased more than 10 percent over the same period.

That's easily 10 to 20 times more than what investors would make with a one-year CD.

"Anybody who says they want to put their money away for the next 10 years in a CD is either ultraconservative or ill-informed," says Keith Singer, CFP and president of Singer Wealth Management in Boca Raton, Florida. "Because with interest rates so low, 10 years from now, the value of your money in terms of buying power will be worth substantially less than it is today."

The fear factor

But the volatility of the stock market isn't a risk that most Americans seem willing to take. That's especially true for the lower-income respondents in the survey.

"These are families where the majority of their take-home pay is still going towards general support, and being able to fund a savings account can be difficult," says Susan Schmidt, managing director and portfolio manager at Mesirow Financial in Chicago.

And when lower-income workers manage to build a certain level of savings, they are nervous about investing their money. They prefer to keep their nest egg at the bank, earning low interest with a savings account or CD, so they know they will have access to the money in case they need it, financial analysts say.

Younger Americans, in particular, seem to favor safer investments. The survey shows that adults age 18 to 29 had the highest preference for cash investments compared with all other age brackets.

"This is very concerning considering this age group has the biggest retirement savings burden," McBride says. "They won't get there without being willing to assume a little short-term risk.”

More money, more willingness to take risks

Those with higher income levels are much more likely to take a chance at the stock market, the survey shows.

That's partially because they have more disposable income to invest, but also because they tend to have more experience in the investing arena, some analysts say.

"A big chunk of people don't have any experience with investing in stocks," Singer says.

Are you missing out?

Regardless of how much money you want to invest, the stock market is a great opportunity to grow your money long term, but only if you truly will not need to use the money in the next 10 years, Schmidt says.

"You are only missing an opportunity, providing your risk tolerance allows you to ride it out," she says of investing in stocks. "The more sensitive you are to a loss, the more likely you'll be to pull the money out of the market at the bottom and not ride it out. When you take your money out of the bottom, you never have the chance for it to come back in value."

Real estate: Hot and somewhat safer

For those who fear the volatility of the stock market and those who have a low risk tolerance, real estate investing can be a great long-term investment option, analysts say. It's generally safer than stocks, and the returns are significantly higher than what you would get with a savings account or CD.

The median price of homes listed in May 2014 was $214,900, about 8 percent higher than the median list price in May 2013, according to Realtor.com.

Just remember it's a long-term investment, McBride says.

"Real estate is far more appropriate for a time horizon over 10 years than cash," he says. "Buying a home, in particular, has a lot of transaction costs, is very cash intensive and the benefits begin to accrue the longer you own it."

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