What IS a Share Certificate?
A share certificate is much like the familiar certificate of deposit (CD) offered by banks. It acts like a traditional savings account in that you deposit money to collect dividends over time. It differs from a traditional savings account, though, because you cannot withdraw or deposit money at will.
Instead, you agree to place your money on deposit for a preset period of time, called the “term length,” during which you may not make withdrawals without a penalty. Because you trust your money with the credit union for a longer period of time, longer term CDs are likely to have much better rates than a savings account.
You can deposit your money for as few as several months or as long as several years, but the longer you keep it on deposit, the better your rate will be (in most instances). For example, the average rate on a three-year deposit is, at the moment, 0.49%. Also, this rate is usually locked in, meaning it is not subject to change based upon how well the economy is doing at any given moment. In general, share savings certificates offer a much higher return than savings deposits, if you’re willing to wait the time it takes to get your money back.
What are the risks involved?
First, if you decide to withdraw your money earlier than the term you’ve chosen, a penalty typically applies. On average, these will cost you between three and six months of earned dividends. Depending on when you decide to withdraw, this can cost you more than you’ve made in dividends if you deposit in a certificate and then immediately withdraw it.
There’s also the risk of inflation. Should you choose to keep the money in the account for years at a time, you could actually end up losing money when taking inflation into account. Unfortunately, the only way to avoid that is to withdraw your money and take that penalty. Of course, inflation applies to all savings strategies, even the “tin can buried in the yard” approach. Other than inflation and penalties, your money is safe.
What insurance do I have against loss?
At for-profit banks, all certificates of deposits are backed by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC). The FDIC insures them for up to $250,000. At a credit union, the National Credit Union Administration (NCUA) or a private insurance corporation (sometimes both) will insure your share certificate for the same amount. The insurance works the same way, for the same amount, regardless of who provides it. This insurance for your money happens automatically and requires no action on your part.
If you’re unsure, look for stickers near the teller windows with the letters FDIC or NCUA. If you see these letters, your deposit is secured. If you don’t, be sure to ask the representative assisting you with your account about insurance for your deposit. They’ll be able to tell you the name of the institution that provides it. The FDIC and the NCUA will automatically back you and keep you covered through the worst of economic disasters.
What are some different options of certificates I can have?
- A high-yield certificate is more or less an advertising gimmick for one institution competing with another one for higher rates. Sometimes, they do have the higher rates promised, but they usually come with loopholes or very high minimum deposit requirements to secure the higher rates. Rates also change frequently, so be sure to ask your representative what the current rates are.
- A bump-up certificate allows your rate to rise. This means that, if the institution offers a higher rate after you’ve purchased your certificate of deposit, you can request to change your rate to the higher one. The downside is that they may offer lower initial rates.
- A certificate sold through a brokerage is called (as one might guess) a brokerage certificate of deposit. These are less like traditional CDs or certificates and are more like stocks. These notes can be bought and sold on a secondary market.
- A liquid certificate allows you to withdraw money at any time without penalty. Unfortunately, the rates are often much lower than the rate on a traditional certificate of the same value would be.
- One to watch out for is the callable certificate. In this, the institution can “call” your deposit back. Typically these have much higher interest rates, which is a positive. On the flip side, your institution retains the ability to shorten the term and give you your money back without the interest you would’ve earned.
Is a share certificate right for me?