The Federal Reserve has the power to change rates. Some Americans don’t realize they have the authority to do this too — at least for themselves.
Even as most savings deposit accounts and CD rates have declined this year, people are still leaving money on the table after nine rate increases and only two rate decreases since 2015.
Nearly one-in-four Americans weren’t earning any interest on their short-term savings, according to a Bankrate survey in May. Another 20 percent of respondents said they were earning less than 1 percent.
Great opportunity for savers with CDs
A portion of Americans are missing out on an opportunity to easily increase their interest 20-fold, says Greg McBride, CFA, Bankrate chief financial analyst. This is because the national average savings account yields 0.1 percent APY.
“The story is not whether savings rates are going to fall from 2.5 percent to 2.25,” McBride says. “The story is, why do so many people have their money sitting in savings accounts earning 0.1 percent?”
A one-year CD can help you weather rate decreases in the forecast, if you have money you’re not using in the next year. “The one-year right now is kind of the sweet spot,” says Kaleb Paddock, a certified financial planner at Ten Talents Financial Planning.
You can generally expect a CD to have a higher APY than a savings account.
However, “just because it’s a CD, it doesn’t mean it’s going to be higher than the liquid savings,” Paddock says.
In today’s rate environment, a six-month CD may have a lower yield than a savings account, Paddock says. Though that could change. Some of Paddock’s clients might pair six months of savings in a liquid account with a six-month CD or a one-year CD.
Adjusting to a changing rate climate
During the last decade, rates only went in one direction – up. However, the Fed’s recent actions to lower rates forces savers to start thinking differently.
There are few guarantees in investing. But CDs offer a fixed APY and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. (FDIC) backs your CD if it’s at an FDIC-insured bank and within insurance guidelines. A CD is worth considering if you’re looking to get a higher, fixed yield on your savings.
“A lot of decisions are ultimately governed by your need for the money, your time horizon and your investment goals,” McBride says.
So take the time to determine if this makes sense for your money before locking in a CD. It’s a good idea to research CD penalties to be aware of the worst-case scenario, if you were to break the CD early. A four or five-year CD may have a penalty of as much as 540 days of interest in some cases.
“I would tend towards the shorter terms, so maybe like the one-year – just to get that higher yield in the near term,” Paddock says. “But I think it comes down to the purpose.”
A no-penalty CD can be a happy medium if you’re not sure when you’ll need these funds. A no-penalty CD offers you a fixed APY without the risk of a penalty. But the APY is usually lower than a traditional CD. Often, a no-penalty CD will not allow for withdrawals to be made during the first few days (while the ones that do may charge a penalty).
CD ladders and declining rates
A CD ladder is a strategy where you might buy multiple CDs and stagger their maturity dates. This way you’re both diversifying your future rates and liquidity.
For example, let’s say that a five-year CD doesn’t appear to be the right option for you, because you’ll likely need some of those funds before the five years are up and want to avoid a penalty for early withdrawal. But if you had a ladder with a one-year CD, a three-year CD and a five-year CD instead, one of your CDs would be much closer to maturity if a need arose where you had to take some money out.
You’ll be glad you have some longer-term CDs in your ladder, if rates continue to decrease. Meanwhile, shorter-term CDs can be put into higher-yield CDs upon maturity if rates increase. You can use Bankrate’s CD Ladder Calculator to help build a ladder.
Fixed-rate CDs vs. variable-interest savings accounts
A high savings or money market account APY is great. But in most cases, the APY is variable and not guaranteed. A high yield on a savings deposit account could end at any time, since these APYs are usually variable.
Banks know rate decreases can cause some to switch banks. They can also earn a bad reputation by having high yields for a short time and then lowering them. But decreases on savings deposit accounts have happened nearly across the board.
That’s why CDs are good when rates are falling, since they earn a fixed APY during their term.