CD Ladder: What It Is, Examples, and How to Build One

By Jamie Cattanach · January 21, 2024 · 8 minute read

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CD Ladder: What It Is, Examples, and How to Build One

When it comes to saving for your best financial future, you’ve got lots of options — including CD ladders.

A CD ladder, or certificate of deposit ladder, is a financial strategy that involves purchasing certificates of deposit with staggered maturity dates. It allows you to access the best aspects of CDs (namely, a relatively high yield at a relatively low risk rate) while avoiding the main downside of CDs (having your money locked away for a long period of time). It can help you access cash when and if needed without paying early withdrawal penalties.

Setting up a CD ladder up can require a bit of strategizing and shopping around to get the right arrangement for needs. Here, you’ll take a closer look at:

•   What is a CD ladder?

•   How does a CD ladder work?

•   How do you create a CD ladder?

•   What are alternatives to a CD ladder?

What Is a CD Ladder?

In order to fully understand CD ladders, first know that a certificate of deposit, or CD, is a kind of savings vehicle. You put down a lump sum — such as $500 or $5,000 — for a set amount of time (typically between six months and a few years) in exchange for a guaranteed growth rate (i.e., interest).

Generally speaking, the highest interest rates require large deposits put down for a long period of time. Your money gets locked up, and you’ll usually pay a penalty for early withdrawal.

That’s where a CD ladder comes in. It can help you feel secure that you can access your money when needed, without having to pay a penalty. You invest your money in a variety of CDs with different maturity dates. Generally, each rung, or individual CD, will mature one year later than the previous one.

Then, as each CD matures and you’re able to access your money (plus the interest you’ve earned), you can reinvest it in another CD with the longest of the terms you’ve chosen. This means you’ll continue to earn money on your investment for double the term of the longest-term CD you took out initially.

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Example of a CD Ladder

Let’s say you have $15,000 to invest. You decide to set up a CD ladder with five rungs.

Here’s what that might look like:

•   $3,000 to a one-year CD

•   $3,000 to a two-year CD

•   $3,000 to a three-year CD

•   $3,000 to a four-year CD

•   $3,000 to a five-year CD

Once the one-year CD comes to fruition, you’d reinvest that $3,000, plus whatever interest it earned, into a new five-year CD — and follow the pattern for each CD as it comes due. In this way, you can continue the ladder for a grand total of 10 years, reaping and reinvesting once annually.

Of course, if rates shift or your financial situation changes and you need cash, you have a built-in backup plan. By creating a ladder, you know at least once a year, you will have the opportunity to invest your money in a different vehicle or use it for, say, an emergency or a goal you’ve been saving towards.

Keep in mind, too, that you don’t have to equally distribute your full investment among the rungs. You could invest different amounts at each level if that better suited your needs.

And you don’t need to open all of your CDs at the same bank, either. You can shop around among banks and credit unions to find the best interest rates at different levels and thereby maximize your yield.

All in all, CD ladders offer investors additional flexibility in their approach while still creating a low-risk earning strategy. Win-win!

How to Build a CD Ladder

Building a CD ladder is pretty easy. Here are the key steps:

Gather Your Funds

Save up a chunk of money that you can afford to have locked up for at least a few months or a year. If you already have the money set aside, you’re ready to move onto the next step.

Choose the Length of Time That Will Suit You

As noted above, you might decide to buy CDs with different maturity terms, or you might prefer to buy a number of ones with the same term over time, as you accrue more savings.

Research Your Options

Shop around for the best rates and terms at financial institutions you feel comfortable with. Remember, you don’t have to stick with one bank. You could buy a six-month CD from one bank offering a great rate, and a one-year one from a different bank that has a terrific APY.

Buy Your CDs

You’re now ready to distribute your savings among a series of CD ladder “rungs,” starting with a short-term maturity date and ending with a long-term maturity rate. (Many investors use five rungs, but you could use more or less if you wanted to.)

Manage Your CD Ladder

As the CDs mature, you can determine whether to withdraw the funds or invest again.

Here’s an example of what a CD ladder might look like:



Interest Rate


$500 6 months 5.50% BMO Alto
$1,500 12 months 5.51% CIBC Bank USA
$2,000 18 months 5.65% Hyperion Bank
$3,000 24 months 5.39% Digital Federal Union

Recommended: Guide to Catching up on Late Payments

Benefits of CD Laddering

There are several benefits of CD ladders, including:

•   They allow you to make the most of your CD investment without locking away all the money for a long term.

•   They increase investor flexibility since you get to decide what amount you put in each CD and how long each term along the ladder is.

•   You may be able to take advantage of better interest rates since you’ll be reinvesting on a yearly basis, as opposed to having your money locked away at a certain rate for the long term.

•   Overall, CDs are a safe, FDIC-insured investment strategy, though their earning potential is also relatively low.

Recommended: Different Ways to Earn Extra Money with Interest

Drawbacks of CD Laddering

On the other hand, there are some downsides to CD laddering that are worth mentioning:

•   Even the best CDs have relatively low interest rates — so low that they may not even keep up with inflation.

•   You may be missing out on an opportunity to invest your money into the stock market, where it could stand to earn exponentially more than it would in a CD — though, of course, the stock market is a much riskier investment strategy.

•   If rates fall during the course of your CD ladder, you might wind up reinvesting your money into a CD with an even lower rate.

Alternatives to CD Ladders

Is CD laddering not sounding quite right for your needs? Here are some alternatives that might better suit your needs.

•   Putting your money into a high-yield savings account, which may offer a similar (though potentially slightly less lucrative) low-risk growth potential. The upside here: It doesn’t keep your money locked up for a long period of time.

•   Investing your money in the stock market, which is considerably riskier but may offer higher returns than CDs over the long run.

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The Takeaway

CD laddering is one useful strategy for investing your money over time, allowing you to take advantage of the best parts of CDs while avoiding some of their biggest downsides (like locking away your money for years). The laddering effect, which involves staggering the CDs’ maturity dates, can give you access to some of your money every year and allow you to possibly reap a higher interest rate if the market is rising.

That said, CD ladders aren’t for everyone. High-yield bank accounts are another option to consider.

Interested in opening an online bank account? When you sign up for a SoFi Checking and Savings account with direct deposit, you’ll get a competitive annual percentage yield (APY), pay zero account fees, and enjoy an array of rewards, such as access to the Allpoint Network of 55,000+ fee-free ATMs globally. Qualifying accounts can even access their paycheck up to two days early.

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Is laddering CDs worth it?

As with any financial decision, only you can decide if laddering CDs is the right approach for your needs. If you have a lower risk tolerance and a decent amount of money to invest, it may be a strategy worth considering to earn steady interest and have regularly scheduled access to your funds.

Can you lose money in a CD?

CDs are a very low-risk investment vehicle. The funds in them are FDIC-insured up to the standard $250,000 per depositor, per account ownership category, per insured institution, which means the FDIC will refund your money up to that amount should the bank you opened the CD with fail. That said, there are some kinds of CDs which are not FDIC-insured, so you’ll want to make sure to double-check before you sign any paperwork.

When would you use a CD ladder?

A CD ladder can be a good investment strategy when you have a nice sum of money available (say, $500 to a few thousand or more), have a low risk tolerance, and can afford to lock up your money for a period of time, from six months to several years. It is best used when rates are relatively high, especially since you can shop around for the best rate at each “rung” on your ladder.

Photo credit: iStock/Antonbr Anton

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