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On savings accounts, the big banks are simply unwilling to compete with the best rates available.

The same can generally be said of guaranteed investment certificates, but there are exceptions that crop up from time to time. Now is one of those moments. If you want to park some money safely in GICs, check out the special rates your bank has on offer before making a final decision.

Let’s be clear – there is all but zero chance of a big bank matching the top rates from alternative banks, trust companies and credit unions, which range from 4.8 per cent for a one-year term to 5.18 per cent for five years. But the special rates offered periodically by big banks are close enough to make you wonder: Is it worth giving up some yield for the convenience of buying GICs from the institution where you do most of your financial transactions?

The top rule for dealing with banks for GICs is to waste no time looking at regular rates. What you want are the special rates that are highlighted online. Try a google search along the lines of “CIBC GIC rates special.”

When I did this search earlier in the week, the deals available from Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce included a promotional 4.5-per-cent rate on a one-year CIBC Bonus Rate GIC, which compared with a posted rate of 4 per cent. Also, a five-year Bonus Rate special of 4.75 per cent, compared with a posted rate of 4.25 per cent.

As ever with banks, a close reading of the offer is required. CIBC noted that bonus rates of interest apply on GIC investments of $1,000 to $4,999. Additional amounts appear to receive the posted rate of interest. Also, CIBC’s website suggested the specials were available for unregistered accounts, as well as registered retirement savings plans and tax-free savings accounts. The rates shown for registered retirement income funds were lower.

One further note – CIBC said the bonus rate may in some circumstances be reduced a bit for GICs that pay monthly or semi-annually.

Royal Bank of Canada had special rates earlier this week for terms of one year (cashable and non-cashable), two years and five years. The five-year rate of 4.5 per cent, compared with a posted rate of 3.5 per cent, was presented with minimal conditions in the fine print.

Offers like these can be summarized as quite competitive, but not at the top of the market. For some GIC investors, that’s a fair trade-off when dealing with a big bank as opposed to the online-only alternatives.

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