CDs vs. Bonds: Which is Better for You?

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Investing in CDs and bonds can provide modest returns with no risk for some categories and less risk than the stock market for others, depending on what types of these investments you buy.

You can invest in the stock market, but it’s not the only place. Certificates of deposit (CDs) and bonds are other ways your money can work for you, such as generating passive income. CDs are a risk-free way to earn interest. In their various forms, bonds function as an investment that is generally less risky than the stock market. In this article, Benzinga compares CDs vs. bonds to help you discover which is better for you. Read more to learn how these lower-risk investment options appeal to risk-averse individuals by offering a relatively low level of risk. 

CDs vs. Bonds: Overview

CDs and bonds vary in several aspects. The most important is how they differ in the risk to your principal, or the initial amount you invest. With a CD or Treasury bonds — unless the U.S. were to experience a catastrophic bank failure — you will surely get the amount of money back you paid to buy them. For corporate/municipal bonds and bond funds, you accept the risk of losing your principal in the event of bankruptcy or market fluctuations.

 What are CDs and bonds, and how can they boost your investment portfolio?

CDs

A CD is a secure, low-risk savings option that can be beneficial for several reasons. When you open a CD, you agree to leave your money deposited for a fixed period, ranging from a few months to several years. In exchange, the bank or credit union typically offers a higher interest rate than a regular savings account, allowing your money to grow at a guaranteed rate.

  • Higher interest rates than traditional savings accounts
  • Unlikely to lose your principal
  • Low-to-no risk investment backed by Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) insurance
  • Fixed interest rate provides predictable returns
  • Short-term and long-term options available
  • Allows you to lock in a rate for a specific time frame
  • Encourages disciplined saving as there are penalties for early withdrawal
  • Limited liquidity and access to funds before maturity
  • Early withdrawal penalties
  • Lower returns compared to other investments like stocks or bonds
  • Interest rates may be lower than inflation, resulting in a loss of purchasing power
  • The opportunity cost of tying up funds for the CD’s term length
  • Rates are subject to change upon renewal of the CD

Bonds — Corporate/Municipal Bonds, Bond Funds and Treasuries

Bonds aren’t as straightforward as CDs. When you purchase a bond, you lend money to a government, municipality or corporation in exchange for regular interest payments over a set period. At the end of the bond’s term, assuming the entity issuing the bond doesn’t default or go bankrupt, you receive the principal investment back. People close to retirement or seeking a reliable source of passive income may like getting the predictable stream of income a corporate or municipal bond can provide.

The tricky thing about the general term bonds is that they encompass several types of bonds, including corporate, municipal, bond funds, and U.S. government Treasury bonds. Of these four types, you can lose your principal if you invest in corporate or municipal bonds or bond funds. 

  • Provide a steady stream of income through regular interest payments
  • Generally less volatile than stocks
  • Can help diversify an investment portfolio
  • Principal investment is returned at maturity (for individual bonds)
  • Some bonds are tax-exempt at the federal, state or local level
  • Risk of default (credit risk) if the bond issuer cannot make payments
  • Susceptible to interest rate risk (prices fall when rates rise)
  • May not keep pace with inflation over time
  • Callable bonds can be redeemed early by the issuer

  • Offer instant diversification across many different bonds
  • More liquid than individual bonds
  • Professionally managed
  • Can reinvest interest payments to compound returns
  • There is no guarantee that you’ll recover your principal if you sell at any given time, especially in a rising interest rate environment
  • Subject to management fees that can eat into returns
  • NAV (share price) fluctuates with the underlying bond prices
  • Tax inefficient because interest income is taxable annually

Pros of U.S. Treasury Bonds

  • Easy to buy at TreasuryDirect
  • Little risk of losing your principal except in the unlikely event of a U.S. government failure

Cons of U.S. Treasury Bonds

  • Generally pay lower rates than other types of savings

CDs vs. Bonds: Which is Right for You?

There is no definitive answer to whether CDs or bonds are right for you—your choice depends on your investment goals and risk tolerance level.

When to Consider CDs

CDs can be a good choice to generate passive income from money you won’t need in the near future. CDs can work if you:

  • Don’t need immediate access to and want to earn higher returns than a traditional savings account
  • Are looking for reliability and safety
  • Seek the safety of insurance Insured by the FDIC for up to $250,000 per depositor per institution
  • Want a predictable stream of income with fixed interest rates
  • Desire a low-risk way to grow your savings without the volatility of the stock market

When to Consider Bonds

The various types of bonds can be a good choice for your investment portfolio. Bonds can work if you:

  • Desire a more stable source of income and relatively low risk compared to stocks 
  • Hope to receive your principal investment back at the end of the investment period
  • Are nearing retirement or seeking a reliable source of passive income
  • Want less volatility than the stock market
  • Are aiming for a hedge against stock market downturns
  • Seek investment diversification 

Remember that individual bonds and bond funds present investment risk. The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) explains, “A common misconception among some investors is that bonds and bond funds have little or no risk. Like any investment, bond funds are subject to a number of investment risks including credit risk, interest rate risk and prepayment risk.”

CDs vs. Bonds: Compare at a Glance

This comparison table illustrates some of the differences among these investments.

  CDs Corporate and Municipal Bonds U.S. Treasury Bonds Bond Funds
Where to Buy Online or brick-and-mortar bank or credit union Brokerage TreasuryDirect.gov Brokerage
Issuer Banks and credit unions Public and private companies; state governments U.S. government Brokerage: investment company
Duration three months to five years one to 30 years one to 30 years Indefinite until you sell
Typical Rate of Return Varies, but up to 5% in 2024 Varies, but generally 4% to 5% in 2024 Varies, but generally 4% to 5% in 2024 Varies, but expected rate is 4% to 5%
Payout Interest is paid at the end of the term Paid periodically until maturity Interest is paid at the end of the term If any profit is generated, realized when you sell
Risk None unless banks and credit unions fail Risk of default None unless the U.S. government fails Market risk

Diversification is an Investor’s Best Friend — CDs and Bonds Are Worth Your Acquaintance

Five years ago, few investment professionals recommended CDs or U.S. Treasury bonds because interest rates were so low. In 2024, you can earn upward of 5% interest on these financial offerings with no risk. You lock up your money for a period of time, but you get a guaranteed safe return. Corporate and municipal bonds and bond funds are other ways to diversify your financial portfolio. As you solidify your financial goals and nail down your personal risk tolerance, you can figure out which is better for you.

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