Watch out for insurance agents touting CDs

Ben Franklin's face on $100 bill

The incredible CD rates in those newspaper ads jump off the page.

They're higher than anything you've seen in months.

But the companies offering those great returns don't call themselves banks. And they're not.

They're insurance agents using eye-catching CD rates as a marketing gimmick to sell annuities.

To obtain those above-market rates, you must go to the agent's office and listen to a sales pitch.

Buy an annuity, which is almost always a bad idea, and you can buy one of the lucrative CDs.

Customers write a check to an FDIC-insured bank, which the insurance agent uses to buy a CD. So the principal is guaranteed, just as the ad promised.

Of course, that CD also is paying far less than the ad promised.

The insurance agent makes up the difference from the substantial fees he's paid for selling the annuity. That's what the fine print means when it says: "Promotional incentive may be included to obtain yield."

While the agents usually say you don't have to buy an annuity to buy a CD, the ads usually contain another clause that says something like: "Yield and deposit amount subject to availability."

So don't be surprised if the great CD rate that got you in the door turns out to be unavailable if you don't buy some sort of insurance.

The fine print also limits how much you can invest at the advertised CD rate to $10,000 or $20,000.

Our extensive database of CD rates is a better way to find legitimate, better-than-average deals.