Understanding Promotional Certificate of Deposit (CD) Rates

By Caroline Banton · January 31, 2023 · 8 minute read

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Understanding Promotional Certificate of Deposit (CD) Rates

There’s a good chance that you’re familiar with certificates of deposit, or CDs, a financial product that typically pays a fixed interest rate if you keep your funds on deposit for a specific period of time. Sometimes, though, you may encounter an offer for a promotional CD, or bonus CD. This is a type of savings account offered by a bank or credit union for a short time, usually with a higher interest rate, to entice new deposits.

As with standard certificates of deposit, interest is earned on the funds that the account holder agrees to invest. This interest accrues until the CD matures, or reaches its maturity date, which is usually in several months or a few years. Because CDs are insured up to $250,000, they can offer a secure way to grow one’s money.

Promotional CDs can sweeten the deal by offering a higher-than-normal interest rate. That said, they may also require a higher initial deposit or a longer term in order to snag that loftier return.

Is a promotional or bonus CD right for you? Read on to learn:

•   What is a promotional certificate of deposit?

•   What are the pros and cons of a promotional CD?

•   When do promotional CDs make sense?

•   Are bonus CDs worth it?

What Is a Promotional CD?

A promotional CD is a timed deposit account, similar to a regular CD, but offered with more advantageous terms, such a higher rate. However, there’s usually a requirement or condition to nab that rate, such as making a larger deposit, keeping the funds on deposit longer, or already being a client of the bank.

Banks and credit unions offer these accounts to attract new investors and build capital, which they can then invest at a higher rate elsewhere. Just like regular CDs, promotional CDs usually earn interest on the deposited amount at a set rate until maturity. Most CD accounts are insured by the FDIC or NCUA (Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation or the National Credit Union Administration), depending on whether the money is on deposit at a bank or credit union.

Because there are a wide variety of CDs — including jumbo CDs and brokered CDs, and more — it’s wise to explore the exact terms of the CD you’re interested in, including interest rates, fees, and other stipulations.

How Does a Promotional CD Rate Work?

As noted above, CD promotional rates can be used to attract new investors and to build capital that they can then invest elsewhere at a higher interest rate. Promotional CDs will probably have better rates than a regular savings or CD account, but they may also require a higher initial deposit (perhaps closer to that of a jumbo CD) or longer term.

Like any CD these are low-risk investments, so generally the returns will be lower than other investments, like stocks. While bonds are also generally lower-risk vehicles, and bonds can seem similar to CDs in that they pay a fixed rate, the typical rate on a CD is often lower than a bond.

At maturity, promotional CDs are often rolled over into another CD that pays a lower interest rate, or they can be cashed out. Some banks might offer a higher rollover rate to retain the investment. The financial institution will generally charge a fee if an account holder withdraws the funds before the maturity date (there are no-penalty CDs, but they tend to pay a lower interest rate).

Recommended: What Is a Variable Rate CD?

Example of a Promotional CD Rate

Let’s say an investor wants to set up a certificate of deposit investment plan. They invest $5,000 in a CD for five years. A bank that offers a five-year promotional CD with a competitive 4% annual percentage yield (APY) would provide earnings of around $1,083. A regular savings account with a lower rate of 3.5% would earn about $938 with the same $5,000 deposit, or almost $150 less.

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When to Consider Opening a Promotional CD?

A promotional CD makes sense when a bank or credit union is offering a better interest rate than a regular CD or savings account, you have the required amount to invest, and you don’t need the funds for the length of the CD term. While it’s impossible to say for sure which investments are the safest, if you’re worried about the higher risk associated with investing in assets like stocks or bonds, a promotional CD is a reasonably safe investment.

For example, CDs are sometimes used as college savings accounts or when parents are thinking about how to create an investment plan for a child.

How to Get a Promotional (Bonus) Rate CD

If you’re in the market for a promotional or bonus rate CD, follow these steps:

•   Do a bit of research to see what may be offered. Often, the best or only deal is what your bank may offer you.

•   Read the fine print. Make sure you qualify for the account and fully understand the term, the rate, and penalties for early withdrawal, among other features.

•   Apply for the CD when you are ready to invest, and set up funding to transfer money into your new CD account.

When a Promotional CD Does Not Make Sense

Now that you know how certificate of deposit promotions work, consider whether it’s really the right move for you. A promotional CD does not make sense if you may need the funds before the maturity date of the CD. The bank or credit union will likely charge a fee if you withdraw your funds early. In some cases, you might want to consider a no-penalty certificate of deposit.

Also, CDs do not keep up with inflation, so once taxes are paid on the interest earned, there may not be much of a return on the investment. If you want to explore other ways to earn interest, you might consider high-yield savings or fixed-income investment.

The Pros of Promotional CD Rates

The main advantages of promotional CDs are that they are safe and predictable.

•   Promotional CDs, like regular CDs, are likely a safe investment with a guaranteed rate of return.

•   Funds are typically insured by the FDIC up to $250,000.

•   The interest rate is usually fixed for the life of the CD, which helps to predict income.

The Cons of Promotional CD Rates

The main disadvantages of promotional CDs are that they do not offer high returns because they are low-risk.

•   The promotional rate is generally only offered for shorter maturity terms, and the rollover option is often to a standard CD at a lower rate (not the promotional rate).

•   Promotional CDs often require a larger initial deposit.

•   Promotional CDs may demand a longer term.

•   These financial products may only be available to current clients of a specific financial institution.

Promotional CD Rates vs Regular CD Rates

Promotional CD rates pay depositors a premium for parking their funds into a particular financial institution. The exact APY offered will depend on the bank, the length of the term, and the amount deposited. Most promotional CDs are shorter-term: e.g. about a year or less. Rates as of January 27, 2023 might be as high as 5.5% (the higher rates are likely to be offered by an online bank vs. a traditional bank or at a credit union).

Rates ranged from about 4.25% at CapitalOne, 0.02% at Chase, and 0.03% at Bank of America for CDs of a year or two in length with a deposit of less than $10,000.

Are Promotional CD Rates Worth It?

Do your research and think seriously about financial security as you consider a certificate of deposit promotion. A couple of points to recognize:

•   When interest rates are down, investing in the stock market using an IRA or 401(k) may make more sense than a CD in terms of helping your money grow, though investing carries risk.

•   Promotional CDs are often offered by banks with low interest rates overall, and what one bank considers a competitive rate might be much lower than other banks’ standard rates. In other words, if a financial institution is offering an additional 0.05% for opening a new CD, but their base APY is very low, it’s likely not the best deal for you.

The Takeaway

For risk-averse investors who want to invest a sum of money safely and know exactly what return they can expect, a promotional CD can be a good option. It’s a way to take advantage of temporary favorable interest rates offered by a bank or credit union that can yield a higher return than a simple savings account.

That said, there are also some savings accounts that offer higher rates and could be the right place to stash your cash. When you open an online bank account with SoFi, you can qualify for a competitive APY when you set up direct deposit. In addition, these innovative, all-in-one accounts offer all the convenience of spending and saving in one place with no minimum balance requirement or account fees.

Better banking is here with SoFi, NerdWallet’s 2024 winner for Best Checking Account Overall.* Enjoy up to 4.60% APY on SoFi Checking and Savings.


Can a certificate of deposit be discounted?

CDs are not sold at a discount, unlike other short-term money market instruments. CDs pay interest on the money deposited usually on an annual basis. For CDs with a maturity of less than one year, interest is paid at maturity, and taxes are due on the earnings each year. However, for investors who don’t need to receive interest payments each year, a zero-coupon CD provides a return by being sold for their face value at maturity, which is higher than the initial investment.

What is the typical interest rate for a certificate of deposit?

A typical interest rate for a CD could range from 0.03% to 5+% for CDs with a one-to-five-year term and deposit of less than $10,000. It depends on the bank and the terms. CD rate promotions typically add to these rates.

What is the typical minimum balance for a certificate of deposit?

A typical minimum balance for a CD ranges from $500 to $5,000 or more, depending on the CD and the bank. Jumbo CDs typically require a $50,000 or higher deposit. Some banks offer CDs with no minimum balance requirement.

Photo credit: iStock/Ridofranz

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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