Your Guide to Market-Linked CDsFind out if market-linked CDs, also called equity-linked CDs, are right for your portfolio.

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Some investors find market-linked CDs, a relative newcomer to the world of time-deposit accounts, to be highly appealing. One of the most enticing characteristics of this structured investment is its ability to allow investors to access some of the best CD rates available — without any risk to the principal, should markets decline.

Before you join the trend in buying these types of CDs, know that market-linked CDs are complicated. Review the following information to gain an understanding of market-linked CDs and be able to better determine if they’re right for your investment strategy.

Learn: How CD Laddering Works

What Is a Market-Linked CD?

The market-linked CD definition is: a certificate of deposit that’s linked to the performance of one or more securities or market indexes, such as bond indexes, the Dow Jones industrial average or Standard & Poor’s 500 index, also known as the S&P 500. Several other common terms refer to this type of investment, including:

  • Equity-linked CD
  • Market-indexed CD
  • Structured CD
  • Index CD

Read: 5 Insider Tips to Get the Highest CD Rates

How Market-Linked CDs Work

Market-linked CD rates and performance depend on the performance of the linked market or index. As the market goes up, so does the CD’s potential return. Market-linked CDs guarantee a base return, but if the market does well you’ll earn more. Of course, if the market underperforms, your indexed CD might earn nothing at all.

Important Market-Linked CD Terms

To help you understand market-linked CD — or MLCD — lingo better, review the following terms:

  • Participation Rate: The percentage at which a market-linked CD’s annual return will correspond to the performance of the index to which it is tied is called the participation rate. For example, an index sees a 15-percent gain, but the CD linked to it has a participation rate of 75 percent. This means the CD will produce a return of 11.25 percent, which is 75 percent of 15 percent. A CD’s participation rate can be more or less than 100 percent.
  • Interest Cap: To protect a financial institution from paying out an exorbitant amount of interest earned, a cap is often placed on how much interest an investor can earn. Consider again the previous example: If the market-linked CD had an interest cap of 10 percent, that’s the return it would earn, even though it technically should have earned 11.25 percent.
  • Call Risk: Some market-linked CDs have a call feature that allows the issuing institution to redeem the CD before it matures. The call price determines how much interest the investor earns, which might be less than if he held the CD longer or until maturity.

Calculating the Return on Market-Linked CDs

You can calculate the return on a market-linked CD by using one of the following two methods:

  • Point-to-Point: The starting point is the value of the index when the CD is issued. The ending point is the value of that same index just before maturity. The return on the market-linked CD is the difference, or a percentage of the difference, depending on the participation rate.
  • Average: Rather than calculating the return based on a starting and ending point, the values of the index along several observation points, or dates, are averaged.

Pros and Cons of Market-Linked CDs

As with any other investment, market-linked CDs offer advantages and disadvantages. Understand the pros and cons of this kind of CD investment so that you can determine if it’s right for you.


  • Potential Big Returns: If the market does well, you get the guaranteed return plus a bonus from the market.
  • Convenient: A market-linked CD is designed to help protect you against market risk losses if you keep it until it matures.
  • Return Diversification: You receive interest exposure to a variety of markets, such as commodities, currencies, and domestic and international equities.


  • No Early Withdrawal: Typically, you cannot access your market-linked CD money until it matures, so if you think you might need the money before then, this might not be the investment for you.
  • Zero Earnings: It’s possible you will earn zero interest during an economic downturn.
  • Tax Implications: As noted, this investment has special tax implications. For example, you might have to pay taxes on phantom income from the CD, which means you’ll be paying tax on the interest it earned but that you did not receive.

Market-Linked CD FAQ

Read below for common questions — and answers — associated with market-linked CDs.

When will my CD mature?
Index-linked CDs are intended for long-term commitments of up to 20 years. This differs from traditional CDs, which typically require a commitment from three months to five years.

Can my bank redeem my CD before it matures?
Some market-linked CDs have “call” features that give the bank the right to close the account early without paying a penalty. The bank would likely use the call option when interest rates fall.

When do I receive interest?
You might accrue interest only when your CD matures. That said, you might be required to include interest income in your taxable income each year that you receive a Form 1099-INT from the issuing bank, even if you weren’t paid interest during that year but will receive it when the CD matures. When you pay tax on interest that you’ve earned but not collected, it is known as “phantom income.”

Are there penalties for early withdrawals?
Most market-linked CDs do not allow for early withdrawal. However, some indexed CDs might enable a deceased depositor’s survivors to redeem the full value early without paying a penalty, and sometimes you can sell the CD to other investors on the secondary market.

Find Out: What Is the Minimum Deposit for a CD?

Since market volatility rules how market-linked CDs perform, make sure you’re ready for fluctuations and instability if you’re considering indexing your portfolio. Early withdrawal is basically not an option with a market-linked CD, but if you wait until it matures, you might get a big bonus from the market. On the other hand, if the market performs poorly, you might end up earning no interest at all on your CD. If you think market-linked investments might work for you, it’s best to shop around for the best combination of terms and conditions.