Here, we’ll discuss what an IRA CD is as well as answers to some of the more frequently asked questions (FAQs) around holding CDs in an IRA account.
To understand what an IRA CD is, we need to define both terms separately — and then put them together. So:
An IRA CD is simply an IRA whose assets have been invested into a CD. This is sometimes also known as an IRA Certificate of Deposit. So, an IRA CD is not anything unique, it’s just a phrase used to describe an IRA that is invested in CDs. An IRA CD makes for a low-risk — but also low upside — way to invest your retirement savings. That’s because even the best IRA CD rates tend to be significantly lower than what you’re able to earn when investing in stocks and bonds.
If you withdraw your funds before your CD matures, you typically incur a penalty and risk potential income tax consequences. However, opting for a liquid or no-penalty CD enables you to withdraw your funds early without incurring any penalties.
Note that since interest rates have risen over the past year, CDs have become more competitive for those unable to stomach constant stock market volatility.
IRA CD interest rates vary significantly based on which bank you choose but have risen substantially over the past 12 months from where they had been over the past decade. (these rates are measured in APY – more on that below). General rule of thumb: The longer you lock up your money in the CD, the higher the interest rate will be — to a point. There will be a point (usually around 18 months) where interest rates will begin to fall again.
APY stands for Annual Percentage Yield, and it represents the total rate of return you’ll achieve in one year (hence annual), including any compounding effect. Compounding is when the interest you’ve already earned is added to the principal, so you’ll earn interest on that, too.
The basic rules of an IRA CD are simple: you put the money away for a set period of time in exchange for a fixed or variable interest rate. Those set periods of time, also known as “term lengths,” vary; a CD term might be as short as three months or as long as 10 years. If you do take your money out of a CD early, you’ll face an early withdrawal penalty.
Again, these vary depending on the bank itself, but you may face a fee from the bank (which tends to be larger for longer CD terms), as well as the lost interest you won’t earn for the remainder of the CD term. Keep in mind that, since this is an IRA CD, you’ll also face the 10% IRS tax penalty for withdrawing money from a retirement account early if you’re not yet age 59 ½.
That’s on top of whatever penalties the bank that offers the CD will charge. Given how low even the best IRA CD rates are, those costs will significantly reduce any of your investment gains. Finally, an IRA CD is still subject to the same contribution limits as a normal IRA: in 2023, you can contribute only $6,500 (or $7,500 if you’re 50 or older). And that’s across any and all IRA accounts you may have in your name, no matter how their assets are invested.
Like any other financial product, IRA CDs have both drawbacks and benefits. Let’s take a step back to consider these.
Given the relatively modest return of IRA CD rates, IRA CDs aren’t the best choice for every long-term investor. An IRA CD might be right for you if:
An IRA CD is likely not a good fit if:
If you do decide it’s right for you, here are some of the IRA CDs with the highest rates available on the market — but remember, these options have longer terms to get higher rates.
Most banks and credit unions offer an IRA CD and there are two main options to consider:
Explore various financial institutions, shop around for the best rates and then deposit your funds in a new account. Make sure you comply with all IRS contribution limits when you fund your new account.
Invest your funds into the IRA CD with money from your existing IRA by completing an IRA-to-IRA rollover (sometimes called a trustee transfer or a direct transfer).
An IRA CD is only one of many ways to save for retirement — and there may be a better one for your needs. For instance, you can stash your traditional IRA assets into other, potentially more gainful investments, such as a basket of stocks in an ETF.
You’ll still be subject to the same contribution limits and other rules, but you’ll have an opportunity to see a greater return on your investment. Of course, no investment is completely risk-free — and when you invest in stocks, you aren’t guaranteed any kind of return in the way you are with CDs.
But generally speaking, those who leave their investments in the market tend to see positive outcomes over time. Case in point: The average annual return of the stock market, as measured by the S&P 500, has been almost 12% since 1990, and closer to 15% since 2010.
That’s a long shot from the best IRA CD rates of around 4%! Furthermore, even with more aggressive investment options, you can adjust your IRA investment profile based on how much risk you’re willing to take. Some robo-advisors offer a risk tolerance questionnaire to help you find the right balance between growth potential and risk mitigation.
Investing isn’t risk-free, but it’s one of the most efficient ways to save for your future. And if you have further questions or concerns, you can always turn to a trusted financial advisor to help you make a plan.