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A term deposit is an investment of cash placed with a financial institution for a fixed period of time, known as the term, with a fixed interest rate for your return at the end of the term. Term deposits commonly referred to as a TD but are also known as a certificate of deposit or CD.
Fixed terms can range from 1 month to 5 years and the money can usually only be withdrawn at the end of the term. ‘Advance notice’ term deposits’ allow you to withdraw the money earlier if you pay a penalty fee and give advance notice of 31 days. You may receive a slightly higher interest rate for an advance notice term deposit than for a standard term deposit.
Term deposits are popular for use by investors who prefer receiving a set return instead of anxiously watching the daily fluctuations of the share market. Other investors use term deposits as just one part of their particular mix of investments.
According to the latest Westpac-Melbourne Institute Index of Consumer sentiment, 29.4% of consumers favour term deposits with a bank as the wisest place to increase their savings. Other customers preferred to invest in real estate (24.6%), followed by customers who used their savings for debt repayment (16.5%).
Applying for a term deposit is essentially the same as applying for a normal savings bank account, and most applications can be made online these days.
At the height of the GFC, the federal government introduced the Australian Government Deposit Guarantee Scheme to promote financial stability in Australia by ensuring that financial institutions had enough funds to run. The Financial Claims Scheme has thankfully remained in place post-GFC – a government guarantee or security on bank deposits (including term deposits) of up to $250,000 per customer per institution. (For more information, see APRA’s factsheet.)
In 2015, the Reserve Bank of Australia has lowered the official cash rate twice, bringing it to a record low of 2.00% in May, and it is currently expected to hold steady at that rate.
A low cash rate doesn’t necessarily mean a lower rate for term deposits, as it is not the only factor banks consider. However, we did see a drop in term deposit rates from January to July 2015. Rates decreased for $10,000 deposits from 3.02% to 2.50% for 3 months, and from 3.61% to 2.89% for 4 years.
Among the term deposit providers we researched in 2015, 69 out of 76 cut their interest rate by less than 50 basis points (0.01%) from January to July. 12 lowered their rates by more than 50 basis points, and 4 providers did not change their rates at all.
Financial institutions prefer to fund their activities by offering ‘home grown’ term deposits to individual customers, as this is cheaper than borrowing funds from the expensive wholesale banking market.
Finding the highest interest rate before locking in your term deposit is especially important when rates are this low. You can compare the interest rates for different term deposits on our website. You can also compare the interest rates for savings accounts.
With the official cash rate resting at a historic low of 2%, self-funded retirees might be wondering how much income they could really receive from a term deposit.
One of the main issues in choosing a term deposit is whether to invest for the short-term in the hopes that interest rates will rise, or for the long-term to lock in today’s rate in case it falls further. Unfortunately, none of us can see the future, and we don’t recommend using a crystal ball to decide which way to go.
One way to hedge your bets is to “ladder” (stagger) your investments. Laddering is a strategy where you place some of your money in a long term deposit, and the rest goes into several short term deposits that mature every month or quarter and automatically renew at the current rate. That way, you don’t “miss out” on higher rates that come up now and then, and eventually all of your money is invested in a long term deposit.
It’s a bit like singing a harmonic canon in rounds: someone is always starting the melody while another is finishing.
Please note that these are a general explanation of the meaning of terms used in relation to term deposits. Your bank or financial institution may use different terms, and you should read the product disclosure statement of your policy carefully to understand everything that may apply during your investment term. You cannot rely on these terms in relation to any term deposit policy you may purchase.
Advance notice term deposit: A term deposit where the institution allows you to withdraw the money earlier than the end of the term, if you pay a penalty fee and give advance notice of 31 days. Advance notice term deposits often have a slightly higher interest rate than standard term deposits.
Basis points: A unit of measurement used in financial situations to describe the percentage change in interest rates or the value of a financial product. One basis point is 0.01%.
Cooling-off period: Defines the number of days available for the investor to change the investment term or amount of money invested in the term deposit. The number of days will be specified in the PDS and the term deposit contract.
Coupon payment: A portion of a bond, entitling the holder to receive a payment of interest. For example, a 10% coupon paid semi-annually would yield two 5% interest payments.
Debenture: A medium- to long-term investment issued by a company when you lend money to that company. In return for your investment, you receive a regular and fixed amount of interest for the term of the investment. The invested funds (principal) are repaid at the end of the term (maturity).
Interest paid: The amount of simple interest paid on the principal amount (the initial amount of money placed in the term deposit). For example, a term deposit paying 6% interest per annum would pay 6% of the sum invested at the end of a 12-month term, or 3% at the end of a 6-month term.
Laddering: A method of investing in term deposits. The investor puts some of their money in a long-term deposit and the rest in several short-term deposits that renew regularly.
Maximum term: The maximum amount of time that you can receive a certain interest rate on a term deposit.
Maturity: The time at which the term deposit will expire and stop accumulating interest. Also known as the ‘end of term’.
Minimum term: The minimum amount of time that you can receive a certain interest rate on a term deposit.
TD: Term deposit.
Term: The length of time or duration a term deposit will run for.
Term deposits: An account with a financial institution where money is deposited for a set period of time. The interest rate is usually fixed for the term of the deposit and is generally higher than a transaction account, but not always higher than some other at-call high interest savings accounts. Also known as a fixed deposit.
Yield: The rate of return earned on an investment.
For more information on how CANSTAR rates term deposits, read our latest star ratings report.