How to Use CD Laddering to Increase Returns on Your Savings

By Chika


Last Updated: May 6, 2022


When it comes to preparing for a secure financial future, there are a plethora of options you can take advantage of such as stocks, mutual funds, bonds, and fixed savings.

Perhaps one overlooked option which is not as popular as the aforementioned is a certificate of deposit. CDs are a secure way to earn high interest on your savings. 

One way you can optimize income returns from CDs is through laddering. This is done by creating several different CD accounts with varying maturity dates.

This allows you to take advantage of the higher annual percentage yields (APYs) available on longer-term CDs from many institutions without tying up all of your money for an extended length of time.

Albeit, just accumulating CDs does not guarantee profit. You could be losing money due to transaction costs. Setting up a CD ladder requires planning and searching to find the best setup for your requirements. 

In this article, we would look at what a CD is, how CD laddering works, and if it is a good investment option for you.



What is a Certificate of Deposit?

A certificate of deposit (CD) is a type of investment instrument offered by consumer financial institutions that pays a higher interest rate in exchange for the customer agreeing to keep a lump-sum deposit undisturbed for a certain length of time.

It is a kind of savings vehicle in which you put down a lump sum — let's say $500, $1,000, or even $5,000 — for a set amount of time, ranging from a few months to a whole decade, in exchange for a guaranteed growth rate (i.e., interest).

The issuer pays interest at regular intervals until the account holder receives her original investment plus all interest. Compared to regular savings accounts, CDs have a higher yield. Though returns are lower than other assets like stocks, they are relatively safer because you do not need to know about investments. 

You could get a fair return investing in short-term maturities, but longer-termed CDs are usually considered to be better because of higher returns. While some banks allow for a variable rate of interest, others may index the CD to the stock market or other indices. Interest rates are almost always tracked to inflation.



What is CD Laddering?

A CD ladder is an investment strategy that allows you to take advantage of the best parts of CDs (relatively high yield at a relatively low-risk rate) while circumventing the worst parts of CDs (having your money locked away for a long period).

It allows you to create a series of CDs with staggered maturity dates, so you can access cash when and if you need it.

A CD ladder is a savings strategy to spread cash equally across multiple certificates of deposit to take advantage of higher rates — usually in long-term CDs — while freeing up portions of that money at short-term intervals.

Generally speaking, the highest interest rates require large deposits put down for a long period. Locking a large sum of money away for five years or longer can be a weighty decision. It could also keep you from potentially enjoying higher interest rates, which will continue to fluctuate while your money’s on hold.

Through CD laddering, you spread your investment out over several CD “rungs.” This includes some shorter-term CDs so at any point you'd be liquidated even though you have money invested.

This is done by investing in a variety of CDs with different maturity dates. Generally, each rung, or individual CD, will mature a year (or two) after the previous one.

As each CD matures, you’re able to access your money (plus the interest you’ve earned). You can then reinvest it in another CD with the longest of the terms you’ve chosen. This means you’ll continue to earn money on your investment for double the term of the longest-term CD you took out initially.



What is an Example of a Certificate of Deposit (CD) Ladder?

Let’s clarify with an example.

Let’s say you have $10,000 to invest. You can set up a CD ladder with four rungs. i.e you invest equal amounts of $2500 over a four-year period. 

Here’s what that might look like:

  •   $2,500 to a one-year CD
  •   $2,500 to a two-year CD
  •   $2,500 to a three-year CD
  •   $2,500 to a four-year CD

Once the one-year CD matures, you’d reinvest that $2,500, plus whatever interest is earned, into a new four-year CD. You'd follow the pattern for each CD as it comes due. This way, you can continue the ladder for a total of 10 years, reaping and reinvesting once annually.

If your financial situation changes and you need cash, or maybe rates have changed and are no longer available, you would be able to receive a yearly installment payment of your capital.

This is far different from dumping the entire $10,000 into a 10-year CD which you have to wait till maturity. 


You have more options to reinvest each year.

By creating a ladder, you know at least once a year, you will have the opportunity to invest your money in a different vehicle. You could also use it for a goal you’ve been saving towards, such as opening a new business or down-payment for a new home

Though the example above uses equal amounts, you can invest in whatever proportion you have in mind. The amounts do not have to be equally distributed among the rungs. The goal is to ensure you have some amount from your capital each year. 

You also don’t need to open all of your CDs at the same bank. The yearly payments allow you the flexibility to shop around for the best interest rates at different levels.  This will thereby maximize your yield.

All in all, CD ladders offer investors additional flexibility in their approach while still creating a low-risk earning strategy. Win-win!



Benefits of CD Laddering

There are several benefits of CD ladders, including:

  •   They enable you to get the most out of your CD investment without locking it up for an extended period.
  •   They give you more  flexibility in terms of the amount and length of each term  
  •   Enables you to take advantage of the best interest rates available since you’ll be reinvesting yearly, as opposed to having your money locked away at a fixed rate for the long term.
  •   Overall, CDs are an FDIC-insured investment, which means they are relatively safer than other assets such as stocks.


Drawbacks of CD Laddering

  • CD rates are historically low and aren’t likely to keep up with inflation.
  • You could be missing out on higher returns from more aggressive investments, such as stocks or bonds.
  • If interest rates are declining, you might be reinvesting the money from a matured CD into lower rates.

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Are CD Ladders a Good Investment?

A CD ladder can assist you in establishing a consistent investment return. It also allows you to access a portion of your savings each time a CD matures. This allows you to earn greater returns than you would with a single short-term CD.

The trade-off is that you may lose money over time because of inflation. Furthermore, you may miss out on superior returns from alternative investment vehicles with higher growth potential.

Before you start a CD ladder, think about why you want to do it. It could be a good fit for your short-term savings objectives. But it might need a boost from other investment vehicles for long-term savings.

Photo by Liana Mikah on Unsplash


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