Subject: CDs - Basics

Last-Revised: 15 Mar 2003
Contributed-By: Chris Lott (contact me)

A CD in the world of personal finance is not a compact disc but a certificate of deposit. You buy a CD from a bank or savings & loan for some amount of money, and the bank promises to pay you a fixed interest rate on that money for a fixed term. For example, you might buy a 30-month CD paying 3% in the amount of $5,000. A bank may have a minimum amount for issuing CDs like $1,000, but there is usually no requirement to buy a CD with an even amount. Interest earned by a CD may be paid monthly, quarterly, annually, or when the CD matures. Interest paid during the CD's term is paid by check or deposited to another account; it is never added to the amount of the CD (like in a savings account), because the CD amount is fixed.

After you have purchased a CD, you can always redeem it before the stated maturity date. However, if you cash out early, the bank will impose a penalty in the amount of 3 or 6-months of interest payments, depending on the term. This "penalty for early withdrawal" is due whether any interest was paid or not.

As the name implies, a CD is usually a piece of paper (the certificate) that states the interest rate and term (actually the maturity date). Because CDs are issued by banks, a CD for less than $100,000 is insured by the government (probably the FDIC program), so the investment is essentially risk-free.

Some CDs can be bought and sold much like a stock or bond. If you buy a CD through a brokerage house, you may be able to re-sell the CD through them to avoid paying an early withdrawal penalty. These CDs usually have significant minimum investment amounts (like $5,000) and require round numbers (like multiples of 1,000).

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