Teenvestors searching for relatively low-risk investments that can easily be converted into cash often turn to certificates of deposit (CDs). A CD is a special type of deposit account with a bank or thrift institution that typically offers a higher rate of interest than a regular savings account. Unlike other investments, CDs feature federal deposit insurance (FDIC Insurance) up to $100,000. Please see the table at the bottom of this page for more information on FDIC Insurance.

Here’s how CDs work: When you purchase a CD, you invest a fixed sum of money for fixed period of time – six months, one year, five years, or more – and, in exchange, the issuing bank pays you interest, typically at regular intervals. Because you agree to leave your funds in the CD account for a specific period of time, the institution will generally pay you a higher rate of interest than it would for a savings, checking, or money market account.When you cash in or redeem your CD, you receive the money you originally invested plus any accrued interest. But if you try to cash-in your CD before it matures, you may have to pay an "early withdrawal" penalty or forfeit a portion of the interest you earned.

Although most investors have traditionally purchased CDs through local banks, many brokerage firms and independent salespeople now offer CDs. These individuals and entities – known as "deposit brokers" – can sometimes negotiate a higher rate of interest for a CD by promising to bring a certain amount of deposits to the institution. The deposit broker can then offer these "brokered CDs" to their customers.

At one time, most CDs paid a fixed interest rate until they reached maturity. But, like many other products in today’s markets, CDs have become more complicated. Investors may now choose among variable rate CDs, long-term CDs, and CDs with other special features. To get information on the current rates around the country for CDs, go the the Bankrate.com website, www.bankrate.com. You can also go to the websites of major traditional U.S. banks (as shown in the table below) for current rates on CDs.

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Some long-term, high-yield CDs have "call" features, meaning that the issuing bank may choose to terminate – or call – the CD after only one year or some other fixed period of time. Only the issuing bank may call a CD, not the investor. For example, a bank might decide to call its high-yield CDs if interest rates fall. But if you’ve invested in a long-term CD and interest rates subsequently rise, you’ll be locked in at the lower rate.

Confirm the Interest Rate You’ll Receive and How You’ll Be Paid – You should receive a disclosure document that tells you the interest rate on your CD and whether the rate is fixed or variable. Be sure to ask how often the bank pays interest – for example, monthly or semi-annually. And confirm how you’ll be paid – for example, by check or by an electronic transfer of funds.

Ask Whether the Interest Rate Ever Changes – If you’re considering investing in a variable-rate CD, make sure you understand when and how the rate can change. Some variable-rate CDs feature a "multi-step" or "bonus rate" structure in which interest rates increase or decrease over time according to a pre-set schedule. Other variable-rate CDs pay interest rates that track the performance of a specified market index, such as the S&P 500 or the Dow Jones Industrial Average.

The bottom-line question you should always ask yourself is: Does this investment make sense for me? A high-yield, long-term CD with a maturity date of 15 to 20 years may make sense for many younger investors who want to diversify their financial holdings. But it might not make sense for elderly investors.

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