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Consumers searching for relatively low-risk investments often turn to certificates of deposit (CDs). A CD is a special type of deposit account with a bank or thrift institution that typically offers a higher rate of interest than a regular savings account. Like all bank deposit products, CDs feature federal deposit insurance up to $250,000, per insured bank, for each account ownership category.
Here’s How CDs Work: When you purchase a CD, you commit to deposit a fixed sum of money for a fixed period of time – six months, one year, five years, or more – and, in exchange, the issuing bank pays you interest, typically at regular intervals. When you cash in or redeem your CD at maturity, you receive the money you originally invested plus any accrued interest. But if you redeem your CD before it matures, you may have to pay an “early withdrawal” penalty or forfeit a portion of the interest you earned. If the issuing bank fails during the term of the CD, the principal balance of the CD, together with interest accrued at the time of the bank’s closure, is insured by the FDIC up to the applicable deposit insurance limit.
Types of CDs Vary: At one time, all CDs paid a fixed interest rate until they reached maturity. Fixed-rate CDs, often referred to as “traditional” CDs, are still the most common. However, more and more banks are offering a greater variety of CD products with a broad range of non-traditional features. For instance, consumers can now find a growing number of banks offering CDs with little or no penalty for early withdrawals, with special redemption features in the event the depositor dies or with provisions giving the bank the right to “call,” or accelerate the CD maturity. In addition, many banks are offering CDs with variable interest rates based on either a pre-set schedule or tied to the performance of a specified market index (such as the S&P 500 or the Dow Jones Industrial Average). These latter CDs are often referred to as index-linked, market-linked, equity-linked, or structured CDs.
CD Accounts Established at an Insured Bank: The most common way to acquire a CD is by opening an account at an FDIC-insured bank. In such cases, the consumer, as the primary depositor named on the CD, can communicate directly with the bank about the account, review and confirm the terms of the account agreement, and obtain assurances that the CD is fully protected by FDIC deposit insurance.
Brokered or Agency CDs: Consumers also purchase CDs through brokerage firms or by using an agent. Common situations involve the use of traditional stock brokerage firms and those firms specializing in the sale of CDs, known as “deposit brokers.” Although brokered CDs can be placed directly in the name of an individual depositor, it is more common for brokers to establish co-mingled deposit accounts representing the funds of multiple customers.
A consumer with significant funds to deposit may use a broker to make deposits at multiple banks, thereby maximizing the consumer’s FDIC insurance coverage. In addition, consumers may be attracted to CDs sold by a broker who has made significant deposits in a bank on behalf of multiple depositors and, therefore, is able to negotiate higher CD interest rates than the individual consumer. Be aware, however, that CDs sold by brokers sometimes can be complex and carry more risks than traditional CDs sold directly by banks. An incompetent or unscrupulous broker could mislead or defraud its customers, resulting in loss or theft of the consumers’ funds. Since FDIC insurance coverage only applies if the broker in fact properly establishes and maintains the CD account on your behalf with your funds, it is very important to verify that you are dealing with a reputable broker when purchasing a CD. If the broker mishandles or misappropriates your deposit, your only recourse is against the broker.