If you're looking to invest, but want to steer clear of the stock market's ups and downs, you may want to consider a bond or a Certificate of Deposit (CD) as a low-risk investment alternative.  Understanding the key differences between bonds vs. CDs will help you determine which one aligns with your financial goals and needs.

Bonds and CDs each have unique features and benefits, catering to different investment strategies and risk tolerance levels. This guide explains how each option works, along with their potential benefits and limitations, so you can make an informed decision.

Key Differences Between Bonds Vs. CDs

  • Interest Rates and Returns: Bonds often have higher interest rates than CDs.
  • Liquidity and Access to Funds: CDs typically incur penalties for early withdrawals, while bonds can be sold before maturity without penalty; however, you may incur a loss if the price of the bond is below the purchase price.
  • Income Stream: Bond interest is typically paid quarterly or monthly. Depending on the financial institution, interest paid on CDs may only be accessible at maturity.
  • Risk of Loss: CDs are insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC)  up to the maximum limit[1], while bonds carry the risk of issuer default.
  • Diversification: Bonds offer a wider range of options (government, municipal, corporate), allowing for more diversification than CDs.

What Is A CD?

A CD is an investment vehicle offered by banks and credit unions. CDs offer higher interest rates than a standard savings account, however, they typically require you to deposit a sum of money for a fixed term, which can range from a few days to up to 10 years. 

Generally, CDs with longer terms offer higher interest rates. When you invest in a CD, you agree not to access the funds until the end of the term, known as the maturity date. At maturity, you can either withdraw your initial deposit, along with the accrued interest or roll the funds over into a new CD.  

Reasons To Consider A CD

CDs are considered one of the safest investment vehicles available. They are backed by the FDIC, meaning that in the event of a bank failure, your investment is secure up to this limit.

Since the interest rates on CDs are typically higher than savings accounts, they can be attractive to those looking to earn a stable return with little to no volatility. The fixed interest rate makes it easy to calculate the amount you will earn over the CD’s term. Since CDs offer a variety of term lengths, you can have the flexibility to choose a duration that best fits your financial timeline and goals. 

Potential Drawbacks   

Despite their safety and reliability, CDs have some limitations. Consider these important risks before investing in a CD. 

Inflation Risk

If you choose a CD and inflation rises significantly during the holding period, the purchasing power of your investment could diminish. This is particularly a concern when interest rates are low, as the returns may not keep up with the rising cost of living.

For example, if you invest $1,000 in a CD with a five-year term, by the time it matures, inflation could have significantly increased the cost of goods and services, reducing what that $1,000 can buy. While your balance grows due to the interest earned, your investment could decrease in terms of real-world buying power.

Liquidity Risk

CDs limit the accessibility of your funds. Withdrawing your money before the maturity date typically results in penalties, which could include losing a portion of interest earned or even some of the principal amount. You can help protect yourself from this risk by ensuring you have a liquid emergency fund before investing additional funds in a CD.

The Bottom Line

A CD can be an attractive option if you have funds you do not need to access immediately and want to earn interest while also ensuring your investment is safe. However, since CDs may not keep up with inflation, they may be more suitable for short-term financial goals rather than long-term growth.

What Is A Bond?

A bond, or fixed-income security,  is a type of investment vehicle that functions similarly to a loan. When you purchase a bond, you are essentially lending money to an entity, such as a government or corporation. In exchange, the entity agrees to pay you back the full amount on a predetermined future date, known as the maturity date. Along the way, they also pay you interest, typically at regular intervals. 

Bonds are available through banks, brokerage firms, and sometimes directly from the issuer. They come in various forms, with terms ranging from short to long durations, often spanning several years. The interest rate on a bond can be set in different ways. It can remain fixed throughout the term, change with market rates, or even vary based on specific conditions. 

Reasons To Consider A Bond

Bonds often offer higher interest rates than CDs, which may be appealing to those looking for a higher profit potential. Unlike CDs, where interest may accumulate and only be paid at maturity, bonds often provide ongoing interest payments, usually at monthly or quarterly intervals. This consistent income can be an advantage for individuals, such as retirees, who rely on investments for regular cash flow.

There are different types of bonds, from government-issued bonds, which are typically considered the safest, to corporate bonds, which pay higher interest rates to offset additional risk. This range of options allows you to choose a bond that aligns with your financial goals and risk tolerance, adding a layer of diversification to your investments that CDs may not offer. Some bonds, such as municipal bonds, may also offer tax-free interest payments. 

Unlike CDs, which often incur penalties if you access your funds before maturity, bonds offer more flexibility. You have the option to sell bonds at any time before they mature, without facing penalties. This sale takes place in the secondary market, where you can sell your bonds to other investors, allowing you to access your funds whenever you need them.

Potential Drawbacks

While bonds are generally considered a safe investment compared to other options, such as stocks and mutual funds, there are several potential drawbacks you need to consider before making a purchase. 

Interest Rate Sensitivity

Bonds are subject to interest rate sensitivity. When market interest rates rise, new bonds may be offered at higher rates, making older bonds less attractive and decreasing their value.  

If you sell a bond before its maturity date in a rising interest rate environment, you may have to sell it at a lower price than what you paid, potentially incurring a loss. However, if you hold the bond until maturity, you'll receive all agreed-upon interest payments as well as the full principal amount, regardless of any interest rate changes that have occurred during the holding period. 

Default Risk

There’s a risk that the bond issuer, such as a corporation or government, could fail to make scheduled interest payments or repay the principal at maturity. This is known as default risk. While government bonds typically have low default risk, corporate bonds can vary significantly based on the company’s financial stability. Bond ratings, provided by agencies like Moody's and Standard & Poor's, help investors assess the stability and creditworthiness of the bond before investing. Bonds with higher ratings have lower default risk. 

Inflation Risk

Inflation can impact bond investors in the same way it impacts those investing in CDs. Over time, as costs increase, the fixed interest payments from bonds might not keep up with inflation, leading to a decrease in purchasing power. This is particularly a concern for long-term bonds, where inflation can significantly impact the real value of the returns.

The Bottom Line

Bonds may be appropriate if you’re looking for an investment with a higher earning potential compared to CDs and the added flexibility of being able to sell your investment prior to maturity. However, it’s important to understand and carefully consider the potential risks. Generally, bonds are suitable for medium to long-term investment goals, offering a balance between stability and growth in a diversified portfolio.

Explore Your Investment Choices With PNC 

When considering bonds vs. CDs, it's important to evaluate how they align with your financial needs, risk tolerances, and goals. With fixed returns and the safety of FDIC insurance, CDs can be an excellent choice the short term. Bonds provide higher yields and offer more flexibility, making them suitable for investors with medium to long-term time horizons.

Now that you have a clear understanding of the differences between bonds and CDs, we encourage you to explore the range of investment options available at PNC. Our team is committed to helping you find the right balance in your investment portfolio, so your financial strategy aligns with your goals. Whether you’re leaning toward a bond, a CD, or looking to create a diversified portfolio, we’re here to help. Contact us today to learn more.