Which Is Better: An IRA or a CD?

Certificates of deposit are accounts that pay interest at a fixed rate for a set period of time. Individual Retirement Arrangements are investments that are intended to provide you with income for your retirement years. You can buy a number of different types of investments with your IRA money, including certificates of deposits.

There are pros and cons to investing in an IRA, an IRA CD, or a traditional IRA CD. It's a good idea to have an IRA CD comparison before you invest in either.

Taxes: IRA vs. CD

When you buy a regular CD from a bank, you have to report the interest that accrues on the account as taxable income. If you buy a CD with IRA money, the taxes are deferred, which means the interest compounds and the CD grows in value more quickly. You pay taxes only when you eventually withdraw money from the IRA, hopefully not until retirement age.

However, if you need to access your IRA money before you reach age ​59 1/2,​ you must pay a ​10 percenttax penalty and income tax on the amount withdrawn. As you can see, an IRA is a type of tax-advantaged account that can help you prepare for your future.

Protection From Bankruptcy

CDs are among the standard products offered by banks and credit unions that are federally insured. If your bank goes bankrupt, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation provides you with ​$250,000​ of insurance coverage on your deposit accounts. The National Credit Union Administration insures accounts at credit unions in the same manner. Funds held in an IRA aren't federally insured unless you use those funds to buy standard bank products such as CDs or savings accounts.

Returns on Your Money

When you buy a CD you earn a fixed rate of return on your money. However, if rates are low, inflation may outpace the earnings on your CD. If you invest IRA money in a product other than a CD, you can potentially outpace inflation. Many investors buy mutual funds or stocks with IRA funds as these securities have unlimited growth potential. However, these securities can also lose value, so there are no guaranteed returns, unlike a CD.

Considerations Before Investing

IRAs and CDs have different uses and appeal to different people. Conservative investors near retiring often benefit from holding money in CDs or CD IRAs because they don't want to risk principal. Young investors often enjoy significant returns when they invest IRA funds in stocks and mutual funds, but many young investors also set up IRAs only to realize they need their cash back and end up paying tax penalties.

Where IRAs have a limit set by the government on how much you can contribute each tax year, CDs do not. You can put as much money in a CD as you want. Just remember that when that CD matures, you will have to pay taxes on the accrued interest as part of your income on your tax return.

IRAs are really great if you have unexpected money coming in and want to be smart about retirement. CDs are a short term investment that might be better suited for individuals who are younger and will need their money for big purchases. Therefore, review your own financial situation before deciding whether CDs or IRAs are best for you.