9 best investments in 2021

By James Royal Bankrate.com Feb. 23, 2021

To enjoy a comfortable future, investing is absolutely essential for most people. As the coronavirus crisis has demonstrated, a seemingly stable economy can be quickly turned on its head, leaving those who haven’t prepared scrambling for income. But those who could hold on to their investments may have done quite well, as the market registered new all-time highs in the second half of last year.


If you’ve already received the recent $600 stimulus check payout — or expect a new $1,400 one in a proposed third round of relief — and don’t need this money for near-term expenses, investing it could make a lot of sense. Rather than having the money sit in a non-interest-bearing checking account, you could grow the money by investing it instead.


But with some stocks at what seems like astronomical valuations, what moves should investors consider taking in 2021? One idea is to have a mix of safer investments and riskier, higher-return ones.


Why invest?

Investing can provide you with another source of income, fund your retirement or even get you out of a financial jam. Above all, investing grows your wealth — helping you meet your financial goals and increasing your purchasing power over time. Or maybe you’ve recently sold your home or come into some money. It’s a wise decision to let that money work for you.


While investing can build wealth, you’ll also want to balance potential gains with the risk involved.


There are many ways to invest — from very safe choices such as CDs and money market accounts to medium-risk options such as corporate bonds, and even higher-risk picks such as stock index funds. That’s great news, because it means you can find investments that offer a variety of returns and fit your risk profile. It also means that you can combine investments to create a well-rounded and diversified — that is, safer — portfolio.


Here are the best investments in 2021:

  1. High-yield savings accounts

  2. Certificates of deposit

  3. Government bond funds

  4. Short-term corporate bond funds

  5. S&P 500 index funds

  6. Dividend stock funds

  7. Nasdaq-100 index funds

  8. Rental housing

  9. Municipal bond funds

Overview: Best investments in 2021


1. High-yield savings accounts


Just like a savings account earning pennies at your brick-and-mortar bank, high-yield online savings accounts are accessible vehicles for your cash. With fewer overhead costs, you can typically earn much higher interest rates at online banks. Plus, you can typically access the money by quickly transferring it to your primary bank or maybe even via an ATM.


A savings account is a good vehicle for those who need to access cash in the near future.


Risk: The banks that offer these accounts are FDIC-insured, so you don’t have to worry about losing your deposit. While high-yield savings accounts are considered safe investments, like CDs, you do run the risk of earning less upon reinvestment due to inflation.


Liquidity: Savings accounts are about as liquid as your money gets. You can add or remove the funds at any time, though your bank may legally limit you to as few as six withdrawals per statement period, if it decides to do so.


2. Certificates of deposit


Certificates of deposit, or CDs, are issued by banks and generally offer a higher interest rate than savings accounts.

These federally-insured time deposits have specific maturity dates that can range from several weeks to several years. Because these are “time deposits,” you cannot withdraw the money for a specified period of time without penalty.


With a CD, the financial institution pays you interest at regular intervals. Once it matures, you get your original principal back plus any accrued interest. It pays to shop around online for the best rates.


Because of their safety and higher payouts, CDs can be a good choice for retirees who don’t need immediate income and are able to lock up their money for a little bit. But there are many kinds of CDs to fit your needs, and so you can still take advantage of the higher rates on CDs.


Risk: CDs are considered safe investments. But they do carry reinvestment risk — the risk that when interest rates fall, investors will earn less when they reinvest principal and interest in new CDs with lower rates, as we saw in 2020. The opposite risk is that rates will rise and investors won’t be able to take advantage because they’ve already locked their money into a CD.


Consider laddering CDs — investing money in CDs of varying terms — so that all your money isn’t tied up in one instrument for a long time. It’s important to note that inflation and taxes could significantly erode the purchasing power of your investment.


Liquidity: CDs aren’t as liquid as savings accounts or money market accounts because you tie up your money until the CD reaches maturity — often for months or years. It’s possible to get at your money sooner, but you’ll often pay a penalty to do so.


3. Government bond funds

Government bond funds are mutual funds or ETFs that invest in debt securities issued by the U.S. government and its agencies.


The funds invest in debt instruments such as T-bills, T-notes, T-bonds and mortgage-backed securities issued by government-sponsored enterprises such as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. These government bond funds are well-suited for the low-risk investor.


These funds can also be a good choice for beginning investors and those looking for cash flow.


Risk: Funds that invest in government debt instruments are considered to be among the safest investments because the bonds are backed by the full faith and credit of the U.S. government.


However, like other mutual funds, the fund itself is not government-backed and is subject to risks like interest rate fluctuations and inflation. If inflation rises, purchasing power can decline. If interest rates rise, prices of existing bonds drop; and if interest rates decline, prices of existing bonds rise. Interest rate risk is greater for long-term bonds.


Liquidity: Bond fund shares are highly liquid, but their values fluctuate depending on the interest rate environment.


4. Short-term corporate bond funds


Corporations sometimes raise money by issuing bonds to investors, and these can be packaged into bond funds that own bonds issued by potentially hundreds of corporations. Short-term bonds have an average maturity of one to five years, which makes them less susceptible to interest rate fluctuations than intermediate- or long-term bonds.


Corporate bond funds can be an excellent choice for investors looking for cash flow, such as retirees, or those who want to reduce their overall portfolio risk but still earn a return.


Risk: As is the case with other bond funds, short-term corporate bond funds are not FDIC-insured. Investment-grade short-term bond funds often reward investors with higher returns than government and municipal bond funds.