When you hear the term "Penalty" as in Early Withdrawal Penalty, do you automatically recoil thinking that if you have to pay a penalty that you have done something wrong, something bad? I am here to tell you that one alternative to keeping your cash in a low-yielding money market account or short-term CD is to get a long-term, 5-year CD now. Then "pay the penalty" if you need to withdraw the money, or find a better interest rate later.
I recently opened a 5-year Ally Bank High Yield CD that yields 2.94% APY. Some people may think that it is not a good idea to lock in such a mediocre interest rate for 5 years since only a couple years ago, these interest rates were in the range of 4-5% or higher. However, the rate currently being offered by Ally is much better than any short-term CD or money market available.
The second part of the equation is that Ally Bank charges an early withdrawal penalty of 60-days simple interest if you close your account prematurely. I did some research and found that this is one of the lowest early withdrawal penalties available.
If CD or money market rates go back up to the 4-5% range, I intend to close my CD account, pay the penalty, and establish a new account at the higher rate. I already did some back-of-the-envelope calculations that show I would be much better off doing that even after having to pay an early withdrawal penalty.
Let's take a quick example of a $10,000 CD and for simplicity, round off the interest rate to 3% instead of the 2.94% offered. Assume that you deposit the $10,000 in a 5-year CD, but have to withdraw your money after a year to handle an emergency. At 3% simple interest, you will earn $300 before the penalty. Sixty days of interest equals about $50. So your actual return for the year would be $250, or 2.5%. Even with the penalty, the 5-year CD beats out the typical rate on a 1-year CD (which currently yields about 1.5%) by a wide margin. Another point is that the $50 penalty is tax-deductible as an above the line deduction. (This is line item #30 "Penalty on early withdrawal of savings" on form 1040).
The main risk of a long-term CDs is the chance that interest rates will rise and you’re committed to the lower rate until the CD matures. But with a small early withdrawal penalty, if rates rise significantly, you can still consider withdrawing the money, paying the penalty, and putting the money back into another account with a higher interest rate.
Disclaimer: The example provided here is for illustrative purposes only. I am not providing tax or investment advice. I encourages readers to consult with a tax adviser if they have specific questions about how to deduct early withdrawal penalties on their taxes.