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Are Certificates of Deposit Obsolete?

A certificate of deposit (CD) is a deposit account that pays you a fixed interest rate over a set period. You can close a CD early and pay a penalty but the bank cannot close it (call it) early, unless it’s a very rare callable CD [3]. CDs are nice because they often represent the highest safe return you can get since those deposits are protected by FDIC insurance [4].

However, when the difference between a 12-month CD and an online savings account [5] is microscopic, you start to wonder if it’s worth the effort. I took a look at one a major online bank (I won’t say which because I don’t want to update these rates when they change, but they are a “friendly” bank and they have very good rates) and their high yield 12-month CD had a yield of 1.29% APY. Their online savings account offered a yield of 1.09% APY. While a 0.20% APY difference is large in relative terms, it’s tiny in real terms.

0.20% APY on $100 is 20 cents. By locking your savings into a 12 month agreement, you earn an extra 20 cents per $100. I’ll be the first to say that every little bit helps, but 20 cents isn’t going to cut it (this is before you carve out a few cents for taxes!).

It makes me wonder, in this era of high yield savings accounts with rates that rival certificates of deposit, have CDs been made obsolete?