Monday, October 5, 2009

Can An Established CD Interest Rate Be Reduced?

Can a bank reduce the interest rate of an established certificate of deposit (CD) account? I learned the hard way that the answer is YES. Let me be clear that I am not talking about a bank changing the interest rate at the CD maturity date, but actually lowering the rate during the original term of the CD. This happened to me, and it turns out to be all perfectly legal and approved by the FDIC.

Readers of my blog may remember that I wrote about receiving a free HDTV for opening a CD account at Irwin Union Bank. I deposited $20,000 into an 11-month CD with an interest rate of 1.96% in July. Then on September 18th, Irwin Union Bank was closed by the FDIC with its accounts and assets transferred to First Financial Bank. Subsequent to the Irwin Union Bank closing, the acquiring bank (First Financial) sent me a letter saying that my interest rate had been reduced to 1.5% for the remainder of my CD's term.

Does that seem right to you? On the FDIC webpage about the failed bank (Irwin Union Bank), there is a long-winded document called a Purchase and Assumption Agreement. Reading through the FDIC gobbledygook, I came upon this paragraph explaining how the assuming bank (First Financial) may change the interest rate on its CD acquired from Irwin Union Bank:

2.2 Interest on Deposit Liabilities. The Assuming Bank agrees that, from and after Bank Closing, it will accrue and pay interest on Deposit liabilities assumed pursuant to Section 2.1 at a rate(s) it shall determine; provided, that for non-transaction Deposit liabilities such rate(s) shall not be less than the lowest rate offered by the Assuming Bank to its depositors for non-transaction deposit accounts. The Assuming Bank shall permit each depositor to withdraw, without penalty for early withdrawal, all or any portion of such depositor's Deposit, whether or not the Assuming Bank elects to pay interest in accordance with any deposit agreement formerly existing between the Failed Bank and such depositor; and further provided, that if such Deposit has been pledged to secure an obligation of the depositor or other party, any withdrawal thereof shall be subject to the terms of the agreement governing such pledge. The Assuming Bank shall give notice to such depositors as provided in Section 5.3 of the rate(s) of interest which it has determined to pay and of such withdrawal rights.

I was following along up until the phrase "and further provided"... In any case, the net result of all this is that although I have not lost any principal or interest accrued before the failure of Irwin Union, the future interest rate has been reduced. The FDIC has also provided that a depositor could withdraw their funds without a penalty for early withdrawal. From my previous post, I mentioned that for the free TV offer, "The penalty for early withdrawal is substantial -- $500 plus 91 days of interest. That works out to about $600 if you need get your money out early."

I called my new bank, First Financial, to quiz them on this issue. They confirmed that my CD interest rate has been reduced, and that there would be no further reduction of the interest rate for the remainder of the term. And, I could withdraw my money anytime before maturity with no penalty. When I asked about the HDTV set, they said that there would be no penalty to keep that either.

So, what should I do? I could withdraw my money and keep the HDTV without penalty. That would work out to a pretty good equivalent interest rate. Or, I could keep my money in the CD account since 1.5% is still better than most money market or rates for a similar term CD nowadays.

What would you do in this situation?


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