5 Best Low-Risk Investments

Earning higher returns from traditionally safe investments is possible.
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Written by Chris Davis
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Nerdy takeaways
  • All investments carry some risk, but some also offer insurance, making them virtually risk-free.

  • Money market accounts, certificates of deposit, cash management accounts and high-yield savings accounts all carry FDIC insurance.

  • Treasury bills, notes and bonds are backed by the U.S. government, making them another low-risk investment option.

MORE LIKE THISInvesting

When the markets or geopolitical events turn volatile, safe, historically low-risk investments often get a moment in the sun. Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC)-insured accounts and other safer investments can help cautious investors combat inflation while securing their savings.

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Are there safe investments with high returns?

While low risk generally does mean sacrificing high returns, safer investment options like online savings accounts and certificates of deposit are paying significantly more than they have in recent history.

Still, the below accounts and investments often make the most sense when investing for the short term — meaning you may need to withdraw the money sometime soon, or you just can't stomach the stock market's wild ride.

🤓Nerdy Tip

If your goal is five or more years away, low-cost equity investments might be an option — long timelines allow you to ride out stock market volatility. Learn more about long-term investing.

Safe, FDIC-insured and government-backed options

The investments below all come with insurance, which make their risks practically nonexistent. Traditionally, they are considered very safe investments. However, their yields are also lower than what you might get by investing in the stock market for the long term.

1. Money market accounts

What are they? These are savings accounts that allow you to spend directly from the account. Savings accounts, by comparison, limit the number of transactions per month.

Current returns: Up to 5% or more. See our best money market accounts page for up-to-date rates.

What's safe about them? These FDIC-backed accounts guarantee deposits of up to $250,000 per institution per investor.

Where can I get one? Most banks offer money market accounts, but the national average APY per the FDIC is currently just 0.70%. (This rate is variable and may change). However, many online banks offer substantially higher rates.

2. Online high-yield savings accounts

What are they? These are fundamentally similar to typical savings accounts, but by operating strictly online, these banks don’t have to spend money on brick-and-mortar operations. In turn, they pass these savings on to you in the form of higher APYs.

Current returns: Up to 5% or more. See NerdWallet’s list of high-yield online savings accounts for up-to-date rates.

What's safe about them? Though they don’t come from a traditional brick-and-mortar bank, these accounts are still FDIC-insured.

Where can I get one? Everything is done online, from choosing a bank to enrolling and transferring money into it.

🤓Nerdy Tip

Savings account interest rates are higher than they've been in some time. You can take advantage with one of our picks for the best high-yield savings accounts.

3. Cash management accounts

What are they? The nature of these accounts varies slightly between providers today, but most of these products behave similarly to an online savings account. These have become more popular among online brokerages and robo-advisors lately because they make it easy for customers to move money seamlessly to and from an investing account.

Current returns: Around 5% or more among banks reviewed by NerdWallet. See NerdWallet’s best cash management accounts for current APYs.

What's safe about them? Cash management accounts are offered by non-bank financial institutions, yet the FDIC still backs them through partnerships with banks..

Where can I get one? At an online brokerage or robo-advisor.

4. Certificates of deposit (CDs)

What are they? Banks offer CDs because it gives them a set amount of cash upfront for a set period, which they can use to lend to other customers or invest. They often offer higher rates than savings accounts to incentivize you to start a CD. The downside? If you need to access the cash in your CD, you may be hit with an early withdrawal penalty, often consisting of a few months’ interest.

Current returns: Around 5% on the high end, depending on the term. See NerdWallet’s list of the Best CD rates.

What's safe about them? With these, you put your money into an FDIC-insured account for a specified period, during which you’ll receive a guaranteed interest rate.

Where can I get one? Most banks offer CDs. Most banks offer CDs. However, for the same reasons noted above, yields tend to be much higher through online banks.

5. Treasury notes, bills and bonds

What are they? When you purchase Treasurys, you’re essentially giving a loan to the government, and it’s paying you interest on that loan at regular intervals. If you hold it for the entire period, you’ll also get back the bond’s face value.

The most significant differences between Treasury bills, notes, and bonds are the length of time the government holds your money and your interest rate.

  • Bills pay back in under a year.

  • Notes pay out in 2, 3, 5, 7 or 10 years.

  • Bonds mature in 20 or 30 years.

Current returns: Treasury yields are at recent highs. See the latest rates on Treasury.gov.

What's safe about them? Treasury securities (bills, notes and bonds) are backed by the “full faith and credit of the U.S. Government.” When purchasing them from the Treasury, you’ll get any regular interest payments promised to you so long as you own the bond, plus the face value of the bond if you hold it until maturity.

Alternatively, you can sell your bond if you wish, though you’ll lose out on the interest payments you would have had until it matured.

Where can I get one? From TreasuryDirect.gov or through an online broker.

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