Guide to Short- vs Long-Term Certificates of Deposit (CDs)

By Dan Miller · June 12, 2024 · 6 minute read

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Guide to Short- vs Long-Term Certificates of Deposit (CDs)

A certificate of deposit (CD) is a type of savings account that holds your funds for a set period of time, or term. In exchange, the bank pays you a fixed annual percentage yield (APY), which tends to be higher than what you could earn in a traditional savings account.

When you open a CD, you can typically choose between a short-term CD (one year or less), mid-term CD (two to three years), or long-term CD (four years or longer). Generally, the longer the term of the CD, the higher the interest rate will be. However, these days, that’s not always the case. Nonetheless, APY is one of several factors to consider when deciding which type of CD is right for you.

How Do CDs Work?

A certificate of deposit is a type of deposit account offered by a variety of financial institutions, including brick-and-mortar banks, online banks, and credit unions. When you open a CD, you make a lump sum deposit then agree to leave the money untouched until the end of the CD’s term.

Unlike a regular savings account, you typically can’t add money to a CD after your initial deposit. And if you withdraw money before the end of the CD’s term, you will likely get hit with an early withdrawal penalty.

There are some no-penalty CDs on the market that don’t charge a fee for pulling your money out early, but be sure you understand the terms and potential tradeoffs with regard to lower rates or fees.

Are CDs Insured?

Yes, CDs are typically insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) for up to $250,000, which makes them a relatively safe investment. Any money you deposit, up to $250,000, would be covered in the event of fraud or a bank collapse.

If the CD is issued by a credit union, it would be insured for the same amount, by the National Credit Union Administration (NCUA).

What Is a Short-Term CD?

Short-term CDs are CDs with terms of one year or less. Different banks offer CDs with different terms, but 3-month, 6-month, and one-year CDs are common.

A short-term CD gives you greater flexibility than a longer-term CD, since you’ll have access to your money sooner. But a short-term CD will also typically offer a lower annual percentage yield (APY) than a CD with a longer maturity date.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Short-Term CDs

Short-term CDs come with both pros and cons. Here are some to consider.

Advantages of Short-Term CDs

•   They typically pay a higher interest rate than traditional savings accounts.

•   They offer a safe place to park savings for a big purchase, while earning a steady rate.

•   If rates change or your needs shift, you won’t have to wait long to access your money.

Disadvantages of Short-Term CDs

•   They may offer lower interest rates than long-term CDs.

•   You may be able to find higher rates with other financial products, such as a high-yield savings account.

•   If you need the money before the CD matures, you’ll have to pay an early withdrawal penalty.

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What Is a Long-Term CD?

Generally speaking, a long-term certificate of deposit is a CD that has a term of four years or more. Long-term CDs typically offer the highest rates of any type of CD, but the returns you’ll earn even with a long-term CD tend to be lower than historical stock market averages. That said, the beauty of CDs is that they offer a predictable rate of return, in a vehicle that’s relatively low risk.

The tradeoff to the higher interest rates that come with long-term CDs is that you won’t have access to your money for several years without paying a penalty.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Long-Term CDs

As with short-term CDs, long-term CDs come with both benefits and drawbacks. Here are some to keep in mind.

Advantages of Long-Term CDs

•   They typically offer the highest interest rates of any type of CD.

•   The predictable rate of return can help balance more volatile investments in your portfolio.

•   Knowing that you’ll incur penalties for early withdrawal can deter you from dipping into your savings prematurely.

Disadvantages of Long-Term CDs

•   If you end up needing to take money out before the term is over, you will likely get hit with early withdrawal penalty fees.

•   Some long-term CDs require a minimum opening deposit of $1,000 or more.

•   There’s a risk that inflation or interest rates will go up while your money is tied up in the CD.

Main Differences Between Short-Term and Long-Term CDs

Here’s a look at how short- and long-term CDs compare side-by-side.

Short-Term CDLong-Term CD
Term length3 months to 1 year4 years or more
Early withdrawal penalty?YesYes
SafetyFDIC or NCUA InsuredFDIC or NCUA Insured
APYTypically lowerTypically higher
Found at:Traditional banks, online banks, and credit unions.Traditional banks, online banks, and credit unions.

When Should I Consider a Short-Term or Long-Term CD Over the Other?

Whether you should go with a short-term or long-term CD will depend on your financial goals, the amount of money you can afford to lock away, and your need for flexibility.

Consider a short-term CD if:

•   You may need access to your funds in the near future.

•   You want to take advantage of potentially higher interest rates compared to traditional savings accounts.

•   You are uncertain about future interest rate changes and want to reassess your options sooner.

Consider a long-term CD if:

•   You have money you want to set aside for a specific purpose that won’t happen for several years.

•   You want to maximize your earnings with potentially higher long-term CD interest rates.

•   You are confident you won’t need access to the funds before the CD matures.

It’s also important to consider your overall financial situation, including emergency savings, other investments, and financial goals, before deciding between short-term or long-term CDs.

The Takeaway

Opening a CD can be a smart way to earn a higher interest rate than you’d get from a traditional savings account. The tradeoff is that most CDs will charge an early withdrawal penalty if you remove your money before the end of the CD’s term, so you have to be willing to lock up your funds for the specific term of the CD you choose.

Generally, CDs with longer terms offer higher interest rates than shorter-term CDs, but this isn’t always the case so it’s a good idea to shop around and compare rates before opening a CD. You may also be able to find competitive rates with other types of accounts, like high-yield savings accounts.

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FAQ

Is a long-term or short-term CD better?

It depends on your financial goals and circumstances. If you have funds you can comfortably lock away for a longer period and want to earn a potentially higher interest rate, a long-term certificate of deposit (CD) might be better. If you need more flexibility or anticipate needing the funds in the near future, a short-term CD might be a better fit.

How are rates different between short-term and long-term CDs?

Certificate of deposit (CD) rates can vary widely, but generally the longer the CD term, the higher the interest rate. Short-term CDs (usually up to one year) tend to offer lower interest rates compared to long-term CDs (four years or more).


Photo credit: iStock/AndreyPopov

SoFi members with direct deposit activity can earn 4.60% annual percentage yield (APY) on savings balances (including Vaults) and 0.50% APY on checking balances. Direct Deposit means a recurring deposit of regular income to an account holder’s SoFi Checking or Savings account, including payroll, pension, or government benefit payments (e.g., Social Security), made by the account holder’s employer, payroll or benefits provider or government agency (“Direct Deposit”) via the Automated Clearing House (“ACH”) Network during a 30-day Evaluation Period (as defined below). Deposits that are not from an employer or government agency, including but not limited to check deposits, peer-to-peer transfers (e.g., transfers from PayPal, Venmo, etc.), merchant transactions (e.g., transactions from PayPal, Stripe, Square, etc.), and bank ACH funds transfers and wire transfers from external accounts, or are non-recurring in nature (e.g., IRS tax refunds), do not constitute Direct Deposit activity. There is no minimum Direct Deposit amount required to qualify for the stated interest rate.

As an alternative to direct deposit, SoFi members with Qualifying Deposits can earn 4.60% APY on savings balances (including Vaults) and 0.50% APY on checking balances. Qualifying Deposits means one or more deposits that, in the aggregate, are equal to or greater than $5,000 to an account holder’s SoFi Checking and Savings account (“Qualifying Deposits”) during a 30-day Evaluation Period (as defined below). Qualifying Deposits only include those deposits from the following eligible sources: (i) ACH transfers, (ii) inbound wire transfers, (iii) peer-to-peer transfers (i.e., external transfers from PayPal, Venmo, etc. and internal peer-to-peer transfers from a SoFi account belonging to another account holder), (iv) check deposits, (v) instant funding to your SoFi Bank Debit Card, (vi) push payments to your SoFi Bank Debit Card, and (vii) cash deposits. Qualifying Deposits do not include: (i) transfers between an account holder’s Checking account, Savings account, and/or Vaults; (ii) interest payments; (iii) bonuses issued by SoFi Bank or its affiliates; or (iv) credits, reversals, and refunds from SoFi Bank, N.A. (“SoFi Bank”) or from a merchant.

SoFi Bank shall, in its sole discretion, assess each account holder’s Direct Deposit activity and Qualifying Deposits throughout each 30-Day Evaluation Period to determine the applicability of rates and may request additional documentation for verification of eligibility. The 30-Day Evaluation Period refers to the “Start Date” and “End Date” set forth on the APY Details page of your account, which comprises a period of 30 calendar days (the “30-Day Evaluation Period”). You can access the APY Details page at any time by logging into your SoFi account on the SoFi mobile app or SoFi website and selecting either (i) Banking > Savings > Current APY or (ii) Banking > Checking > Current APY. Upon receiving a Direct Deposit or $5,000 in Qualifying Deposits to your account, you will begin earning 4.60% APY on savings balances (including Vaults) and 0.50% on checking balances on or before the following calendar day. You will continue to earn these APYs for (i) the remainder of the current 30-Day Evaluation Period and through the end of the subsequent 30-Day Evaluation Period and (ii) any following 30-day Evaluation Periods during which SoFi Bank determines you to have Direct Deposit activity or $5,000 in Qualifying Deposits without interruption.

SoFi Bank reserves the right to grant a grace period to account holders following a change in Direct Deposit activity or Qualifying Deposits activity before adjusting rates. If SoFi Bank grants you a grace period, the dates for such grace period will be reflected on the APY Details page of your account. If SoFi Bank determines that you did not have Direct Deposit activity or $5,000 in Qualifying Deposits during the current 30-day Evaluation Period and, if applicable, the grace period, then you will begin earning the rates earned by account holders without either Direct Deposit or Qualifying Deposits until you have Direct Deposit activity or $5,000 in Qualifying Deposits in a subsequent 30-Day Evaluation Period. For the avoidance of doubt, an account holder with both Direct Deposit activity and Qualifying Deposits will earn the rates earned by account holders with Direct Deposit.

Members without either Direct Deposit activity or Qualifying Deposits, as determined by SoFi Bank, during a 30-Day Evaluation Period and, if applicable, the grace period, will earn 1.20% APY on savings balances (including Vaults) and 0.50% APY on checking balances.

Interest rates are variable and subject to change at any time. These rates are current as of 10/24/2023. There is no minimum balance requirement. Additional information can be found at https://www.sofi.com/legal/banking-rate-sheet.


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