NEW YORK (BankingMyWay) -- As the old saying goes, even a broken clock is right twice a day. The same goes for experts who predict a rise in interest rates. They’ll have to be right eventually, because it’s just unthinkable bank rates will stay this low forever.
Many expected higher rates in 2011, if not earlier, but were wrong. Then they said it would happen in 2012, but we’re a month short of halfway through the year and rates are lower than ever.
That’s great if you’re a borrower, terrible if you want to stash away a "rainy day" fund for a down payment on a home or money you want kept safe as a retiree. For most bank customers, it’s probably best to go for the safety offered by federally insured bank savings rather than to hunt around for yields that, while above average, are still pretty stingy. It’s especially important in this environment to look past yield and study the fine print.
A BankingMyWay.com data tracker shows the average five-year certificate of deposit pays 1.1%, or nine times as much as the three-month CD, averaging 0.118%. A nine-fold increase in earnings would get any saver’s attention in normal times. But when you look at actual dollars, today’s low yields make this a “so what?” figure. Save $10,000 and the five-year CD will earn $110 a year, the three-month CD $11.80. The extra $98.20 is small enough to easily be offset by other considerations.
Clearly, one is that by tying your money up for five years you could miss out on higher earnings should yields move up in the meantime. With the three-month CD, it would be easier to switch to a better deal. Getting out of the five-year CD could cost you six months interest earnings.
The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., the federal agency that insures bank savings, notes that most fixed-rate CDs do allow for early redemption with a penalty. However, many market-linked CDs do not. These are CDs whose yields fluctuates according to an underlying index, such as the Standard & Poor’s 500 stock index. At the start, the market-rate CD might be more generous than the fixed-rate variety, but you really would be tying your money up for a number of years.
Because safety is more important that earnings, the FDIC says savers should make certain they are dealing with a federally insured institution, as some companies with bank-sounding names are not insured. If in doubt, try the Find an Institution feature at the FDIC site.
Also note that FDIC insurance does not pay off if you order your CD through a broker who fails to make the purchase, even if the CD product you wanted was FDIC-insured.
FDIC insurance covers a maximum of $250,000 held by one person at one insured bank, but there are some strategies for getting more coverage by spreading your money around. Use the FDIC’s Electronic Deposit Insurance Estimator to see how.
Beware of any CD that offers a yield well above the market average. It could be bait for a scam or, even if legitimate, involve risks that are not readily apparent.
Finally, the FDIC urges savers to find out up front what happens when their CD matures. Many are automatically reinvested if the account holder does not withdraw the money or take some other action. Find out if the reinvestment will be at the former rate or a new one. Keep in mind that even if the new rate is attractive, an automatic rollover will probably mean your money is tied up again.