Astoria Federal Savings is offering a 2.50% APY 30-month CD. Minimum deposit is $500, and it's also available in an IRA. The 9-month CD rate is also competitive at 1.50% APY (Yes, unfortunately that's competitive). These CD rates are listed at the bank's rates page as of 1/29/2010.
I just called Astoria at 1-800-278-6742 for additional details. According to the CSR, you can open CDs by phone. They'll take your information and mail you a welcome package. They'll hold the rate for 10 days so you have time to send them the money. You can either mail a check or do a wire transfer ($15 incoming fee). Rates are subject to change at any time, but Tuesdays are typically the day of the week when rates are changed. Hopefully, the above rates will last for a while.
If you don't live near a branch, closing a CD is a little more complicated. According to the CSR, if you want to close your CD, they require that you send in a letter of instructions with the CD passbook. They will then mail you the check. Wire out transfer is not an option. Only the CD is available nationwide. The savings and checking accounts are not, so you won't be able to use a liquid account to avoid having them mail you the check. Most banks will allow you to transfer funds from a matured CD into your liquid account at the bank. Then it's easy to pull the funds using an online bank's ACH transfer service.
Opening the CD at a branch is the easiest option. Astoria has many branches located in Brooklyn, Queens, Nassau, Suffolk and Westchester, New York.
Astoria's ratings for safety and soundness are a little mixed: 4 stars (excellent) at BauerFinancial and 2 stars (below peer group) at Bankrate.com. Both ratings are based on 9/30/09 data. The bank has been FDIC insured since 1937 (FDIC Certificate # 29805).