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Playing it safe: Is it worth sealing away your money in a CD? Inflation is tipping the balance as 2023 gets off to a rocky start

Looking for a nearly risk-free place to invest your savings?

On Wednesday, The Fed announced its first rate hike this year — after seven consecutive increases in 2022.

Some economists have voiced concerns that taking the key rate to over 5% could trigger a recession this year.

The latest 0.25% raise puts the federal funds rate in the range of 4.5 to 4.75%.

You could open a garden-variety savings account, but your interest will be practically microscopic. A high-yield savings account will offer more, but a certificate of deposit could be an even stronger option.

While you'd be happy to find a savings account paying 1% APY right now, some CDs are paying 3%, 4% or more.

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But to earn superior interest, you better believe that you're going to have to give the bank something in return.

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How do CDs work?

So, here's the not-so-fine print with CDs: You'll have to agree to let the bank hold on to your money for months or years. That's called the CD's term.

You might choose to stash your money away in six-month, two-year or five-year CDs. Normally, the longer the term, the higher the interest rate.

For example, TIAA Bank currently offers 3% APY on its six-month CDs, compared to 4.30% APY on its one-year CDs.

The payout from a long-term CD can be enticing, but you may have to lock your money away for a long time.

If some financial emergency comes along and you need to get at your money, tapping your CDs could be costly.

The pros of investing with CDs

Certificates of deposit have been paying very low rates for years, but that started to change in 2022.

CD rates have historically increased when the Federal Reserve raises its key policy rate — something officials have already done multiple times this year.

So instead of just being a more lucrative alternative to savings accounts, CDs may start to look more attractive when compared to other kinds of investments, too.

And as we said at the beginning, CDs are nearly risk-free. You can put up to $250,000 in CDs and will never lose that money as long as your account is with a bank insured by FDIC or a credit union insured by NCUA.

Read more: Bill Burr complained to Joe Rogan that his bank was taking $28 out of his account every month ‘for no reason’ — here are 3 'sneaky' banking fees and how to avoid them

The cons of investing with CDs

While certificates of deposit are becoming more profitable this year, that still doesn't make them a potent tool for growing your money.

Locking your money in a CD with a 2% interest rate won't really make you wealthier when the inflation rate was 6.5% in December and the Fed has warned that more rate hikes are ahead.

You can also lose money if you go back on your bargain with the bank and withdraw your money early. The rules vary, but generally you'll have to pay a penalty equal to a chunk of your interest.

For example, if you close out a one-year CD too soon, you could say goodbye to six months' worth of interest. If you've had the CD for only two months, the penalty would eat into your original deposit amount. The early withdrawal penalty for a five-year CD might be a full year of interest.

Another risk is that interest rates keep rising while you've got your money locked up, and your savings will miss out on the opportunity to earn better returns elsewhere. That said, there are ways to mitigate that risk.

Types of CDs and CD laddering

All of that describes the workings of a traditional, fixed-rate CD. There are other varieties:

  • "Liquid" CDs allow you to make withdrawals more easily and without financial penalty.

  • Variable CDs have interest rates that rise or fall according to some benchmark, like the Consumer Price Index, the prime rate or the performance of the S&P 500.

  • "Bump-up" CDs allow you to take advantage of rising rates with a limited number of boosts to your interest during the term.

To get that flexibility, you may have to accept a lower interest rate when you open these kinds of accounts.

But there is a strategy that can allow you to grab onto rising rates using plain-vanilla, regular CDs. It's called "laddering."

You simply divide your investment across multiple, staggered CDs so that every year you have CDs that are maturing.

This way, you can enjoy the higher initial interest rates from longer-term CDs and also have regular opportunities to invest in new CDs at even better rates.

Where to get CDs

While certificates of deposit have their downsides, they can still earn a place in the portfolios of risk-averse investors who want to keep their money safe while maintaining more of its purchasing power.

Opening a CD can be as simple as visiting your nearest bank or credit union. Smaller, local banks or credit unions will often give you better rates than the big national institutions, and online-only banks can offer great deals because of their lower expenses.

When comparing CDs online, look for a minimum deposit that you can manage, although some banks have CDs with no minimum opening requirements.

You'll want to look for the best rates and find CDs at your sweet spot, with a good yield and a term that's doable. Think about your current savings goal: How long can you afford to lock away your money?

Putting cash out of reach for years will be a non-starter for some people — but if you've got money languishing in a low-rate savings account that you never touch, CDs might be an easy switch.

What about your other investments?

With the economy in such a volatile state amid high inflation and stock market uncertainty, you may also be worrying about how your retirement funds are faring these days.

You could try to adjust your retirement accounts for better protection, but there’s a lesser-known alternative that could pay off big.

A Gold IRA is a type of individual retirement account that allows you to invest in gold and other precious metals in physical forms, like coins, instead of stocks, mutual funds and other traditional investments.

It’s a great alternative because unlike the U.S. dollar, which has lost 98% of its purchasing power since 1971, gold’s purchasing power remains more stable over time.

Opting for a Gold IRA gives you the opportunity to both diversify your portfolio and stabilize your finances — and gold tends to yield less risk than other alternative investments.

If you want to open a Gold IRA, there are reputable services that’ll let you roll over your current 401(k) or IRA into this new account. To qualify, you need to be over 59 years old and have at least $70,000 to transfer.

This article provides information only and should not be construed as advice. It is provided without warranty of any kind.