How to Build a CD Ladder

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Investing in the stock market could be a bumpy ride. If you’re looking for something a little more predictable and generate a steady interest income, investing in Certificates of Deposit might be a good option for you. This is especially true if you cannot afford to lose what you currently have, or if you are looking at a shorter investing time frame.

What are Certificates of Deposit (CDs)?

Certificates of Deposit, or CDs, are similar to your typical savings accounts. You can purchase CDs at the same bank you have your savings account, and CDs accrue interest over time just like a savings account.  The major difference is that you are committed to holding a CD for a specific amount of time, e.g., 3 months, 6 months, a year, 5 years, etc.  In return, the bank guarantees the interest rate for the length of the term.

As such, CDs have some unique characteristics

  • Fixed-Rate — If you buy a high-interest CD that yields 2.0%, it will yield 2.0% for the duration of the CD.  If the rate interest goes up or down, your CD remains unaffected.
  • Lack of Liquidity — Since the term is fixed, you can’t cash out your CD early without incurring a penalty. This is why CDs usually pay higher yields than savings accounts and money market funds.

How to Build a CD Ladder Investment

In general, CDs tend to pay a higher interest rate on longer-term CDs.  For example, a 5-year CD pays more than a 4-year CD, etc.  However, it would be a bad move to plunk on your money on the longest term CD because of the illiquidity.  This is where a CD Ladder comes in.

A CD ladder is a strategy that makes CD investing more liquid and acts as a hedge against interest rate volatility.  For example, let’s assume that you have $10,000 to invest.  Instead of buying $10,000 in a 5-year CD at 2.5% interest, you could do the following:

  • $2,000 in 1-year CD @ 2.0%
  • $2,000 in 2-year CD @ 2.1%
  • $2,000 in 3-year CD @ 2.25%
  • $2,000 in 4-year CD @ 2.4%
  • $2,000 in 5-year CD @ 2.5%

Once your 1-year CD matures, you could invest the money in a 5-year CD (to mature in year 6) to take advantage of the higher rate.  And likewise, once your 2-year CD matures in the second year, you could invest the money in another 5-year CD (to mature in year 7).  This means that at any given time, you are at most one year away from accessing 20% of your money.  Here’s an illustration of what I just said:

cd ladder example

Moreover, we can even make the ladder more liquid by incorporating high yield savings account into your CD ladder investment strategy.

A Caveat to Consider

Not all bank offers the perfect yearly interval terms. Some offer an odd mix of term lengths, and the interest rate also doesn’t increase uniformly. For example, many banks offer a promotional rate to attract customers, and it is possible to see a shorter-term CD offers a higher interest rate.

You will have to figure out exactly what to do depending on what your bank offers

A CD Ladder as a Hedge Against Interest Rate Fluctuation

Besides liquidity, another key advantage of investing in a CD ladder is its ability to hedge against interest rate changes.  Using the above ladder as an example, if the interest rate is low today, your shortest-term CD will expire in 1 year, allowing you to take advantage of the rising interest rate.  However, if the interest rate is high today, you have 4 CDs that are locking in the higher interest rate for 2, 3, 4, and 5 years, respectively.

Here are a few more articles about CD Ladder

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15 years ago

That’s a very good explanation of the CD ladder process. Thanks for sharing!

15 years ago

Got to be honest I’ve never heard of a Certificates of Deposit before, but it makes sense, especially given the ability to hedge against interest rate fluctuations

15 years ago

Finally, a comprehensive explanation of CDs and CD ladders! You have no idea how grateful I am. Financial dictionaries use way too many technical words in a very short sentence and it doesn’t do justice to what the CD actually is. Thanks again!

Glen Craig
15 years ago

We started off slow with our CD ladder but in time it’s built up to a nice amount which makes a better interest than our standard savings! Depending on current rates we may only buy 6 or 9 month ladders (if the rates are real low) but we always continue to buy and we try to add more to each new CD when the previous one matures.

Great explanation!

Jesse W.
Jesse W.
15 years ago

A great job of explaining CDs. I know many people do not understand the ins and outs, but this post pretty much sums it up!

15 years ago

Thanks for the nice illustration. I had understood the concept, but this helps clarify everything for me!

15 years ago

It is a good idea to keep an amount in a high-yield savings account for some liquidity. That way you do not have any penalties on the CD if you must access it because of an emergency.

15 years ago

Seems like a good plan, but only if you have plan to use that money in a short amount of time. If you’re saving for a house or something you don’t plan to acquire for quite a long time then putting it in the high interest fund seems much better to me. I have an emergency fund in high yield savings for the same rate a lower CD would cost me right now – So no need for this type of scheme. CDs keep you from taking your savings, because it kills you to pay that penalty. Nobody like paying… Read more »

Credit Girl
13 years ago

If you’re interested in investing in a cd ladder, you might want to consider liquid cds. Here’s a great guide for investing in them 🙂
Hope you enjoy it!

11 years ago

I was just thinking, If you created one of these CD ladders before the start of the credit crunch then you may have received the best fixed rate returns you’ll ever get for the next 10-15 years. Thanks for the infographic, I learn better through pictures.

How to Build a CD Ladder

by Pinyo Bhulipongsanon time to read: 3 min
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