CD vs. Savings Account: Which Should I Choose?

Savings accounts give you more flexibility to make withdrawals, but CDs often offer a higher interest rate.

Margarette BurnetteAugust 13, 2018
CD vs. Savings Account: Which Should I Choose?

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Which is the better place to park your money, a certificate of deposit or savings account? Savings accounts give you more flexibility to make withdrawals, but CDs often offer a higher interest rate if you’re willing to leave your money alone for a set amount of time. The best place to deposit your cash generally depends on how long you’re willing to leave it in your account.

» Skip ahead to see some top picks for savings accounts and CDs

Savings accounts

What is a savings account? A savings account is a bank account that typically earns interest while letting you withdraw money — to a point. Federal law limits certain types of withdrawals on savings accounts to six per month.

A savings account is an especially good place to keep your emergency fund, because it offers fast access to your cash.

Choose a savings account if: You might need access to the money in the near future. Savings accounts are especially good for emergency funds because they offer fast access to cash if you incur an unexpected expense. CDs often charge a penalty to make early withdrawals.

Keep in mind: To get the most out of your funds, place them in a high-yield savings account — often offered by online banks and credit unions — which provide an above-average interest rate. (Read more about NerdWallet's favorite high-yield savings accounts.) If you deposit $5,000 into a high-yield savings account that has an annual percentage yield of 2% and don’t touch it for a year, the balance would grow by about $100. It won’t make you rich, but the extra money can help.

A savings account doesn't guarantee to offer the same rate forever. Use NerdWallet’s interest rate calculator to explore how much your money could earn with different rates.

If you're Ready to open a savings account, here are a few with great rates and low fees:

Certificates of deposit

What is a CD? A CD is a type of deposit account that often pays a higher interest rate than a standard savings account in exchange for restricting access to your funds during the CD term — often between three months and five years. Take money out before maturity, and you’ll often pay a penalty. You also might have to forfeit a portion of the interest you earned, depending on the bank’s policy.

Many CDs offer rates that are higher than the best savings accounts.

Choose a CD if: You’re certain you won’t need to access your cash for several months or years, depending on the goal you have for that money. If you want to know more about choosing a term and type of CD, see this guide to opening a CD account.

Many CDs with terms of at least 12 months offer rates that are higher than the best savings accounts. (Explore the best one-year CD rates here.)

Keep in mind: Put $5,000 in a CD that earns 2.6% APY for a one-year term, and your balance would increase by more than $130.

CDs allow you to lock in a rate for the length of the term, which is great if rates fall. But if rates rise, you might end up earning less than if you had chosen to put your funds in a high-yield savings account.

You can lower this risk by creating a CD ladder. It involves opening several CDs with varying term lengths instead of putting all your money in a single account. As each shorter-term CD matures, you’d move the balance into new CDs with longer terms and higher rates.  This would allow you to take advantage of higher rates while regularly having access to maturing CDs. To learn more about this approach, read our explainer on CD ladders.

If you're ready to open a CD, here are a few with great interest rates:

How to open a savings account or CD

You can typically open a savings account or CD the way you would any other bank account: visit a branch or follow the prompts on the bank's website. You'll likely need to provide ID and some additional information, such as your address, Social Security number or birthdate.

The minimum opening balance for a CD is often more than the minimum required to open a savings account, but some banks and credit unions let you open CDs for as little as $1. Use NerdWallet’s CD tool to find the best CD rates, minimum balances and term lengths in your area from credit unions, online banks and traditional banking institutions. If a savings account is better for your needs, you can browse NerdWallet’s high-yield savings accounts tool to find accounts with the best rates.

Once you open the best account for your situation, you’ll be able to take the most enjoyable step: Sit back and watch your money grow.

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