Money Market Accounts or CDs: Which Investment Is Better? (2024)

Money market accounts (MMAs) and certificates of deposit (CDs) may seem interchangeable. They are both bank products offering low yields with maximum peace of mind. However, choosing between them ultimately depends on the specific objective you have for the cash and your need for liquidity. Understanding the differences between the two is the key to determining which is the most appropriate vehicle for your needs.

Generally, there are a number of reasons to keep a portion of your assets in cash or these types of cash equivalents. A well-conceived financial plan dictates that you maintain an emergency fund worth three to six months of your living expenses. You can use MMAs and CDs to diversify your investment portfolio or fund a short-term goal.

Key Takeaways

  • A money market account (MMA) is a better vehicle to use when you may face an immediate need for cash.
  • A certificate of deposit (CD) usually offers a higher yield than an MMA, but there are penalties if you take out your money early.
  • CD laddering helps protect your yield, especially in a rising-interest-rate environment.

Money Market Accounts or CDs: Which Investment Is Better? (1)

How Money Market Accounts (MMAs) Work

An MMA is a type of mutual fund that invests in very short-term, interest-bearing instruments to generate a variable yield while preserving principal. It tends to deliver interest rates that are higher than savings accounts, but it often requires a higher minimum deposit. Some accounts also require a minimum balance to receive the highest rate.

The interest rates on MMAs are variable, which means that they rise and fall with the interest rate market. Most MMAs come with limited check-writing and balance-transfer privileges. What’s more, federal regulations limit the number of transactions in MMAs to six per month.

There are important differences between money market accounts offered by banks and money market funds offered by brokers or mutual funds. Money market funds are similar to MMAs, except that they aren't insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. (FDIC). Money market funds are typically offered as an option in 401(k) plans. Since 2016, these funds have had to be invested in U.S. Treasury or government bonds rather than corporate or municipal bonds. The change came courtesy of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to enhance liquidity and quality requirements.

How Certificates of Deposit (CDs) Work

CDs are best described as timed deposits that credit a fixed interest rate tied to a maturity date. A lengthier deposit period results in a higher rate of interest. CDs are issued with maturities that range in length from one month up to 10 years.

With traditional CDs, banks charge a penalty for withdrawing money prior to the maturity date. Some banks now offer no-penalty CDs that allow you to withdraw your money without that penalty, but you are likely to receive a much lower interest rate for that privilege. Other types of CDs allow you to withdraw only interest without penalty.


The amount up to which the FDIC insures MMAs and CDs per account per person, per insured bank, for each ownership category.

When an MMA Is Better than a CD

Generally, an MMA is better when you have or may have an immediate need for cash. If your car engine blows up, you wouldn't want to pay a penalty for prematurely withdrawing money from a one-year CD. If you have a near-term purchase planned, such as a new car or major appliance, an MMA provides greater flexibility from a liquidity standpoint.

MMAs may also be a better choice in a rising-interest-rate environment. Banks periodically adjust the yield on MMAs, offering the opportunity to earn more on your money as interest rates rise. However, you can achieve the same effect with higher yields by investing in short-term CDs and rolling them into higher-yielding CDs as they mature.

In a low-interest-rate environment, short-term CDs might be your best bet, as a longer-term CD or an MMA won’t yield much in terms of interest.

When a CD Is Better than an MMA

CDs usually offer a higher yield than MMAs. A longer maturity date means that you receive a higher interest rate. If you absolutely don’t have a need for the money, you could lock in a higher rate for a period of time. CDs are often used to fund goals within a 10-year time frame, when you may not want to risk the price fluctuation of market-based options, such as a stock mutual fund.

Although investing in longer-term CDs can secure a higher fixed interest rate, it would be a disadvantage during a period of rising interest rates. If you think that interest rates will rise for a period of time, you would be better off investing in shorter-term CDs. Some banks offer variable-rate CDs with rates that will increase as interest rates rise, but their initial yields tend to be lower than those of traditional CDs.

You could also employ a CD ladder strategy to balance your need for liquidity with obtaining higher yields. You could, for example, invest equal amounts in one-, two-, and three-year CDs. When the one-year CD matures, it rolls into a new three-year CD. After the two-year CD matures and has rolled into another three-year CD, you will then have a three-year CD maturing every year that follows.

Longer-term laddering might use five-year CDs, which can boost your average yield even higher. The net effect of the strategy is the ability to capture higher interest rates as the CDs maturewhile always staying invested and maintaining a degree of liquidity with CDs thatmatureeach year.

What’s the Difference Between a Money Market Account (MMA) and a Certificate of Deposit (CD)?

Money market accounts (MMAs) are invested differently than certificates of deposit (CDs). Rather than long-term investments, MMAs are high-yield savings accounts that can only have withdrawals six times per year. CDs typically yield more interest over time, but you have to wait until the CD matures to access your deposit without incurring a penalty.

Could I Lose Money in an MMA?

MMAs are insured by the FDIC up to $250,000 per individual, per account at each insured institution, so it is possible to lose money on your investments if you have more than that amount invested and the bank were to fail.

Are MMAs a Good Investment?

MMAs can be a good investment if safety and liquidity are paramount, but they typically pay lower interest than CDs. Sometimes banks will even adjust the yield on MMAs depending on the movement of the prime rate, so you can potentially earn more in a rising-rate environment. Unlike CDs, MMAs don’t involve a fixed maturity and don’t carry early withdrawal penalties, but they do limit the number of withdrawals to six per year.

The Bottom Line

Whether a CD or an MMA is better for a given investor depends on their time horizon and risk tolerance. CDs will generally pay higher interest than MMAs, especially for longer maturities. Both types of accounts are very safe, as they carry FDIC insurance up to $250,000 per account, but MMAs are much more liquid and don’t involve early withdrawal penalties.

As a financial expert with in-depth knowledge of money market accounts (MMAs) and certificates of deposit (CDs), I can confidently provide valuable insights into the concepts discussed in the article.

First and foremost, it's crucial to understand that MMAs and CDs are both financial instruments designed to offer a balance between returns and safety. Let's delve into the key concepts mentioned in the article:

Money Market Accounts (MMAs):

  1. Investment Approach:

    • MMAs operate as a type of mutual fund investing in short-term, interest-bearing instruments to generate variable yields while preserving principal.
  2. Interest Rates and Terms:

    • MMAs often deliver interest rates higher than traditional savings accounts but may require a higher minimum deposit.
    • Interest rates on MMAs are variable, fluctuating with the market.
  3. Regulations and Differences:

    • MMAs from banks and money market funds from brokers or mutual funds have important distinctions.
    • MMAs are insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. (FDIC), ensuring safety, while money market funds aren't FDIC-insured.
  4. Transaction Limits:

    • Federal regulations limit the number of transactions in MMAs to six per month.
    • Some MMAs may have check-writing and balance-transfer privileges.

Certificates of Deposit (CDs):

  1. Timed Deposits:

    • CDs are described as timed deposits with fixed interest rates tied to a maturity date.
    • Longer deposit periods typically result in higher interest rates.
  2. Withdrawal Penalties:

    • Traditional CDs often have penalties for early withdrawal.
    • Some banks offer no-penalty CDs, allowing withdrawals without penalties but at lower interest rates.
  3. CD Laddering Strategy:

    • CD laddering involves investing in CDs with different maturity dates to balance liquidity and obtain higher yields.
  4. Interest Rate Considerations:

    • CDs generally offer higher yields than MMAs, especially for longer maturities.
    • In a rising-interest-rate environment, shorter-term CDs might be preferred.

Key Takeaways and Considerations:

  1. Immediate Cash Needs:

    • MMAs are preferable when there's an immediate need for cash due to their liquidity and flexibility.
  2. Yield Considerations:

    • CDs usually offer higher yields, making them suitable for longer-term financial goals.
  3. Interest Rate Environments:

    • MMAs may be beneficial in rising-interest-rate environments, allowing for adjustments in yield.
    • CDs, especially shorter-term ones, might be favored in low-interest-rate environments.
  4. FDIC Insurance:

    • Both MMAs and CDs are generally safe, with FDIC insurance covering amounts up to $250,000 per account.

In conclusion, the choice between MMAs and CDs depends on individual financial goals, time horizons, and risk tolerance. MMAs provide liquidity, while CDs offer higher yields with the trade-off of fixed terms and potential penalties for early withdrawal. Understanding these differences is essential for making informed decisions in crafting a well-conceived financial plan.

Money Market Accounts or CDs: Which Investment Is Better? (2024)
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