How Does A Term Deposit Work?

Find out how a term deposit works and compare the different interest rates available in Australia with Savvy.

Last updated on June 24th, 2022 at 10:42 am by Cate Cook

Compare term deposits

You may have heard of a term deposit before now, but do you really know how they work?  Find out exactly how they work, how the interest is calculated and how comparing offers with Savvy can help you ensure your savings work harder for you.  Start comparing different term deposits from around Australia with Savvy today.

site-logos Citi Term Deposit
  Maximum Rate Interest Rate Minimum Deposit Government Guarantee  
site-logos 2.25%
1 Year
1.00% $10,000 Yes
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$0 Set up and no ongoing account-keeping fees. Interest rate depends on balance amount. Optional 3,6,9 or 12 month terms. Balances from $10,000.

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More about how term deposits work

What are term deposits and how do they work?

A term deposit is an agreement to lock away a fixed sum of money for a set period in return for generous interest.  They’re offered by many banks and financial institutions and are suitable for people who want a zero-risk passive investment and don’t mind locking up their money for an extended period.

Term deposits are commonly offered for between one month and five years, although these terms vary between the various financial institutions. Some offer terms in days (such as 90 or 180 days) whilst others talk in terms of months and years (such as three months, six months and two years).  The minimum deposit requirements also vary between $1,000 right up to $10,000 or more depending on the institution.

In return for agreeing to stash your savings away where you can’t access them for a set period, you’ll be offered an attractive interest rate.  In general, you’ll be able to secure a higher interest rate for a longer term deposit. For instance, in June 2022, the best short-term deposit interest rates for deposits of six months range from 0.4% p.a. up to 2.10% p.a. (the latter of which is offered by AMP Bank).  For longer-term deposits of two years, interest rates can vary from around 0.6% p.a. right up to 3.6% p.a.

Savvy can help you compare term deposits and interest rates, offering clear and easy-to-understand comparison information free of charge across a range of offers.  Start comparing interest rates with Savvy today to see how much your nest-egg could earn you.

How can I maximise the interest earned on my term deposit?

There are several ways you can find the best interest rates offered on term deposits, including:

  • looking at online banks, building societies and credit unions, as smaller financial institutions can often offer some of the best deals available
  • choosing the longest period you can possibly manage without your savings, because the longer term you choose, the higher the interest rate you’ll be offered
  • investing as much as you can possibly afford. A term deposit of $10,000 will earn twice as much interest as one of $5,000, with larger deposits also often garnering a higher rate
  • choosing to have your interest paid back into your term deposit account, rather than having it paid into a separate bank account, so you can benefit from the effects of compounding interest and earn ‘interest on your interest’
  • comparing interest rates and features with Savvy before making any financial decisions, as by shopping around, you can maximise your chances of finding the best high-interest fixed-term deposits available in Australia

How is interest calculated on term deposits?

Interest is calculated on term deposits according to simple interest principles.  The formula for simple interest is:

Interest = principal sum x interest rate (as a decimal) x time period divided by 100

So, for example, if you’re offered a 2% interest rate on a one-year term deposit of $5,000, the interest calculation would look like:

$5,000 x 0.02 x 1 year = $100

To make things simpler, though, you can use Savvy’s term deposit calculator to work out how much interest you’ll earn and compare the various rates you can receive on the best short-term deposits.

When can I receive the interest on my term deposit?

You can choose to receive your interest either monthly, quarterly, annually, or at maturity, which means at the end of your term deposit.  If you opt to receive your interest either annually or at maturity, you may be offered a slightly higher interest rate to compensate for the lack of compounding.

However, earning a slightly higher interest rate may not compensate you fully for receiving your interest less often.  The following example of a $10,000 term deposit invested for two years shows that:

  • if the interest rate is 3.65% p.a., and interest is paid monthly, you’ll earn $756.11 in interest in total, with the interest being paid back into the deposit account and compounded
  • if you were to opt for a slightly higher interest rate of 3.7% p.a., but only have the interest paid annually, the total interest you’d earn (plus the compounding effect in the second year) would earn you a total of $753.69.

These results show that you’d be $2.42 worse off with interest paid annually than if you receive a slightly lower rate of interest but have it compounded monthly.  Although this is only a very minor difference, it could be larger if the sum you have to invest is much higher or the interest disparity is greater.  For this reason, it’s important to compare term deposits regularly to make sure you’re still getting the best interest rate possible, which you can do with Savvy.

Pros and cons of term deposits

PROS

Budgeting certainty

You’ll know exactly how much interest your investment will earn you and you can budget and count on receiving this money.

Forced discipline to leave savings alone

A term deposit forces you to leave your savings in place and resist the urge to splurge on those tempting sales.

Higher rate of interest

The interest rates offered on term deposits are frequently much higher than those offered on savings accounts, so your savings will work harder for you.

CONS

No flexibility to increase savings

You have to agree to take out a term deposit for a set sum of money, so there’s little flexibility to add to your savings.

Locks your funds up in a rising interest environment

If you tie up your funds for a term spanning several years, you could miss out on greater potential interest if rates rise across the length of the term.

Penalties for early withdrawal

If you change your mind or experience an emergency and have to access your funds early, you’ll not only lose interest but could be charged a penalty fee also.

More of your questions about how term deposits work

How do I compare term deposits?

You can compare interest rates and terms with Savvy to find a product that perfectly suits your needs.  Additionally, you should consider how often interest compounds, minimum and maximum deposit sizes and the notice period required to access your funds.

Why are term deposits considered zero-risk?

This is because your savings are locked away, meaning there’s no temptation to raid them or go on a cash splash, and the fixed interest rate guarantees your return at the end of the investment period.  In addition, the Australian Government guarantees deposits up to $250,000 per person per ADI (authorised deposit-taking institution), which includes most banks, building societies and credit unions in Australia. This means in the incredibly unlikely event of a bank going bankrupt, you’ll still get your savings back.

What is the maximum length I can choose for a term deposit?

Most banks and financial institutions offer terms up to five years.  If you want to stash your cash for longer than this, such as an investment of up to ten years, you’ll need to look at other investment opportunities which have a longer-term focus.

Are there special term deposits for businesses?

Yes – there are special term deposits for businesses, as well as for self-managed super funds (SMSFs).  These financial products are specifically designed to comply with the legal and tax requirements of companies, trusts and SMSFs.  Because these types of term deposits tend to be for higher amounts, the interest rates offered tend to be slightly lower than they are for retail term deposits.