Guide to Liquid Certificates of Deposit (CDs)

By Paulina Likos · January 26, 2024 · 9 minute read

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Guide to Liquid Certificates of Deposit (CDs)

If you’re in search of a low-risk way to grow your money, a liquid certificate of deposit (CD) might be worth a closer look. A liquid CD gives you a fixed, guaranteed rate of interest for a specific term, but unlike standard CDs, you don’t pay a penalty if you withdraw the funds before the maturity date.

Granted, the returns you earn on a liquid CD may not compete with stock market investments, but knowing that your money is earning interest and likely won’t incur any losses can be powerful benefits.
Here, you’ll learn more about liquid CDs, including:

•   What a liquid CD is

•   How to withdraw money from a liquid CD

•   The pros and cons of liquid CDs

•   Alternatives to liquid CDs.

What Is a Liquid Certificate of Deposit?

Before you think about investing in a CD, here’s a look at definitions:

•   A certificate of deposit, or CD, is a savings vehicle that usually gives you a bit of interest with virtually no risk, provided you keep the money in place for a certain term. If, however, you withdraw funds before the CD matures (or reaches the end of its term), you are usually penalized. You will likely lose some or all of the interest earned and perhaps even a bit of the principal. In other words, are certificates of deposit liquid? Usually not.

•   A liquid certificate of deposit, on the other hand, gives you flexibility. It allows the account holder to withdraw money from their account prior to the maturity date without incurring penalties. This means you can access funds in the CD should you need them without penalty. However, the rates for liquid CDs tend to be lower than other kinds of CDs.


💡 Quick Tip: Typically, checking accounts don’t earn interest. However, some accounts do, and online banks are more likely than brick-and-mortar banks to offer you the best rates.

Understanding a Liquid CD

You may be wondering, “What are liquid assets?” In the realm of finance, the concept of “liquid” means that an asset can quickly be converted to cash. A liquid CD is a time-bound deposit account where you can earn interest for a specific period of time. Compared to traditional CD’s however, liquid CDs will not charge you early withdrawal penalties. This means you can easily liquidate (turn into cash) your CD without taking a hit in terms of its value.

As noted above, there’s a “but” to this proposition, which you may hear referred to as no-penalty CDs: Liquid CDs typically pay less than traditional CDs. Depending on which financial institution you go to, these products can offer various terms, either as little as a few months or up to several years or longer. Your fixed interest rate will vary according to the length of the term you’ve chosen. Typically, the longer you hold your money in the liquid CD, the higher the rate of return.

What can be a big plus about CD rates is that they are locked in during the full term. This means even if interest rates decrease, your rate would not change. Some financial institutions may require a minimum deposit for these CDs, and they can be significantly higher than traditional CDs; some are at the $10,000 and up level. What’s more, the minimum deposit may go up if you are seeking a higher interest rate, while others don’t have a minimum deposit requirement at all.

How Do You Withdraw Money From a Liquid CD?

If you have decided that you need to withdraw from your liquid CD, here’s what usually happens:

•   Check with your bank about how long it will take to process a withdrawal and whether you need to withdraw a certain percentage at a time. (Some banks may require you to close the account entirely.)

•   When ready, notify your bank of your withdrawal.

•   You will likely have to wait about a week after opening the liquid CD before you can start withdrawing.

•   Wait for your funds. Withdrawal is likely not as quick as withdrawing funds from a checking or savings account; your financial institution might require anywhere from a week to a month to process the transaction.

Recommended: What Happens If a Direct Deposit Goes to a Closed Account?

Liquid CD: Real World Example

Once you have decided a no-penalty CD is right for you, you will need to go to a bank or credit union that offers this account. Once you’ve opened an account, you have to fund it.

How it grows will depend on the principal, your APY (annual percentage yield), and how often the CD compounds the interest, which could be, say, daily or monthly.

•   If you invested $10,000 in a liquid CD with a three-year at a rate of 5.30%, at the end of the three-year period with interest compounded monthly, you will have a total balance of about $11,719.28.

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Pros of a Liquid CD

When evaluating liquid CDs, it’s worthwhile to review the benefits of these accounts. Some of the key upsides are:

•   Liquidity. You can access and withdraw your funds prior to the term’s end. Perhaps you’re having an emergency that requires cash, or you decide to move around your money to better meet your financial goals. It’s possible!

•   No penalties. If you dip into the account before it matures, you won’t be assessed a fee.

•   Security. Liquid CDs are safe investments. These accounts are federally insured up to $250,000 per depositor, per account ownership category, per insured institution. You’ll know your money is protected when you open a liquid CD with a bank or credit union. Even in the very rare situation of a bank failure, you’re covered as noted.

•   Guaranteed returns. When you start a liquid CD account, you usually know the interest rate upfront. It may not be stratospheric, but it’s a sure thing.

Cons of a Liquid CD

Now that we’ve explored the good things about a liquid CD, we need to give equal time to the potential downsides:

•   Lower rate of return. The interest rates are significantly lower compared to certificate of deposit rates.

•   Withdrawal rules. Yes, these accounts are more accessible, but after your deposit has been in place for a week, your withdrawal guidelines may be quite specific. For instance, you may have to remove all your funds if you want to make a withdrawal, or the amount might be limited to a certain percentage that doesn’t suit your needs. Check before starting a liquid CD investment.

•   Tax implications. Earnings on your liquid CD will be taxed at your federal rate, which is something to keep in mind as that will take your return down a notch.

Recommended: How to Automate Your Personal Finances

Alternatives to a Liquid CD

If the idea of a liquid CD doesn’t sound like an appealing low-risk investment option, there are alternatives to also consider.

Traditional CDs

Traditional certificates of deposit require you to stow your money away for a certain period of time. In exchange, you receive a return at the end of that period. The catch is, you are not able to withdraw your funds during this holding period. If you have a financial emergency, for example, and need the money from your CD, you will receive penalties for withdrawing your cash before the period of maturity.

However, this might be a gamble you are willing to take, especially if you have a nice, healthy emergency fund set aside. You’ll earn a better rate of return than with a liquid CD.

Laddering

CD laddering usually involves opening CDs of different term lengths. This strategy allows you to invest long-term CDs which provide higher rates of return, while having the ability to access your funds through a shorter-term CD maturing.

Money Market Account

Another CD alternative is a money market account, which is similar to a savings account with some added benefits. Money market accounts typically require minimum balances and offer rates comparable to savings accounts, which can change over time. While the rates may be lower than a CD, money market accounts typically allow you to withdraw and transfer your money six times per month or more.

Emergency Fund

An emergency fund, or a rainy-day fund, is a savings account that should only be used in times of financial emergencies or unexpected expenses. Depending on your financial position, you can have an emergency fund in a regular savings account, money market account, CD, or liquid CD. It depends on how much you plan to access your emergency fund and how much interest you want to earn in the account.

High-Yield Savings Account

A high-yield savings account can offer a competitive rate of interest, depending on the financial institution offering it (online banks tend to pay more than traditional ones). And you’ll have more liquidity than a CD because you can deposit and withdraw from the account more frequently, though the specifics may vary with each bank. If you want easy access to your funds plus interest, a high-yield bank account may be a good option.

The Takeaway

Liquid CDs are a financial product that offers the safety and guaranteed return of a traditional CD with the bonus of not being penalized if you make an early withdrawal. For those who are comfortable locking their money into a CD but worry an emergency or other need might pop up, this accessibility can be very attractive. Worth noting: Expect lower interest rates from a liquid CD than a standard one. Alternatives to a liquid CD can include a high-yield savings account.

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FAQ

Are CDs liquid investments?

Traditional CDs are not liquid investments. Funds held in a CD cannot be accessed until the account term is reached. If you need to withdraw money from your CD prior to its maturity date, you will have to pay a penalty. A liquid CD, however, offers flexibility to withdraw money from your account prior to its term date without the usual fees.

What is a non-penalty CD?

A non-penalty CD, also known as a liquid CD, is a time deposit that offers interest on your money. However, the rate is usually somewhat lower than the rate for a typical CD (the kind with penalties). The longer the term you choose for your liquid CD, the more you usually can earn.

How much is the penalty for early withdrawal from a CD?

Each financial institution has its own way of calculating this, but it usually involves losing some of all of the interest you have accrued. If you have a two-year traditional CD and withdraw funds early, the fee could vary considerably; a recent search found anywhere from two months’ to a year’s’ worth of interest. If you have a liquid or no-penalty CD, you will of course avoid these fees.


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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.


Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.

Tax Information: This article provides general background information only and is not intended to serve as legal or tax advice or as a substitute for legal counsel. You should consult your own attorney and/or tax advisor if you have a question requiring legal or tax advice.

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