When should I break a CD early for a better rate?
If there’s a golden rule to certificates of deposit, it’s this: Don’t withdraw before a CD term ends; otherwise, you pay a penalty.
But sometimes breaking this rule pays off.
"If a person opens a CD when interest rates are low and [then] interest rates rise significantly, it can make sense to break a CD early," Andrea Brashears-Lusk — a certified financial planner and president and founder of Wise Financial Counsel in Fort Washington, Maryland — said in an email.
If you want to break your CD, it’s best to check the math to see what you lose on an existing CD and what you gain on a new CD or other investment. Online calculators may help with this.
Three steps to see if changing CDs is worth it
Let’s assume that a CD is generally working for you. You put an upfront amount of money into a CD and won’t need to withdraw until the term ends months or years from now. You have a guaranteed rate of return since a CD usually has a fixed rate.
But in a rising-rate environment, a CD’s fixed rate has a downside: You miss out on newer CDs that have increasingly higher rates.
For example, a recent national average rate for a one-year CD is 0.90%, compared with what it was in January 2022, 0.13%, according to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.
Let’s see if you should withdraw from your CD early and get a new one.
1. Calculate what you would lose from breaking your current CD
There are typically two costs to a CD’s early withdrawal: a bank’s penalty and the amount of remaining interest you would’ve earned had you kept that CD until maturity. Use this early withdrawal penalty calculator to get both costs and add them up.
You put $10,000 into a CD with a five-year term and a 1% annual percentage yield. If you hold the CD until maturity, the total amount you can earn is $510 in interest. But instead, you withdraw when there’s one year left. Your bank charges a penalty that’s equal to, say, one year of simple interest.
The penalty would be about $100 and the total future interest forfeited (the last year’s worth) is about $100, when slightly rounded. Combined, you lose $200.
Your total balance upon withdrawal, including your initial deposit, is $10,310 (compared with the $10,510 you would’ve earned for a full term).
2. Calculate the future earnings from a new CD
Find a CD with a higher rate and see what interest you would gain, assuming you hold the CD for the full term. Use a CD calculator to help.
Building off of the same scenario as before, place your withdrawn balance of $10,310 into a new five-year CD that has a rate of 4%. The total interest you’d gain in five years, after minor rounding, is $2,230. Your future balance would end up being roughly $12,540.
3. Take the difference between future CD gains and the first CD’s losses
Subtract the total interest you would earn from the new CD and the total cost you would pay from the old CD. The cost you would pay from the old CD includes both the early withdrawal penalty and the future interest lost:
New CD interest - Old CD losses (which includes the Penalty + Future interest lost)
If the result is positive, you would benefit from breaking the first CD early. You would recoup the loss and earn more money from the second CD.
If the result is negative, hold onto the first CD until maturity to avoid losing more money than you’d gain.
Correction: A previous version of this NerdWallet column posted on Dec. 16 contained errors in calculations of examples for cashing in CDs early. The examples in this version are accurate.