CD or munis: Compare the options


Conservative investors are often drawn to certificates of deposit (CDs) because of their stability. But investing too conservatively can expose your assets to the steady erosion of inflation and taxes.

Use the tool below to see if an investment in tax-free municipal bonds makes sense for you.

This hypothetical example does not reflect the performance of any particular investment. Sources: Yields are from the Federal Reserve H.15 Statistical Release and Barclays, as of 12/31/13 The average rate on 6-month negotiable certificates of deposit (secondary market) was 0.27%, quoted on an investment basis; the Barclays Municipal Bond Index yield-to-worst was 3.15%. Tax information is from the Tax Foundation. State tax rates are as of 7/1/13; federal tax rates are as of 1/2/14.

Safe, but slow

Risk-averse investors who choose guaranteed certificates of deposit (CDs) often find comfort in the fact that their assets are not exposed to the ups and downs of the financial markets. But by investing too conservatively, you may be exposing your assets to the steady erosion of inflation and taxes.

Unlike bonds, which incur more risk, certificates of deposit (CDs) offer a fixed rate of return, and the interest and principal on CDs generally are insured by the FDIC up to $250,000.

A better alternative

By redeploying assets that are in fully taxable vehicles, such as CDs, into a combination of one or more municipal bond funds, you may be able to generate an equivalent amount of income that is not subject to income taxes. And because municipal bonds historically have generated higher returns than CDs, you may not have to invest as much to generate that income, leaving additional assets to invest in a conservatively managed stock fund with the goal of outpacing inflation.

For some investors, investment income may be subject to the federal alternative minimum tax and capital gains taxes. Income from federally tax-exempt funds may be subject to state and local taxes. Unlike CDs, municipal bonds are free from federal and, in some cases, state and local taxes.