How Will Rising Interest Rate Projections Affect Consumers?

finance blogAs anyone with a bank account and/or any kind of debt – a car loan, mortgage, credit card balances, etc. – can attest, the interest rates that affect us, the retail financial consumer, are driven by the Federal Reserve’s monetary policy decisions.

A Brief Finance Lesson

Most consumer interest rates are driven by the federal funds rate – the interest rate considered the central interest rate in the U.S. financial markets. This is the interest rate that major banks use when borrowing or lending funds through the central Federal Reserve banks. The fund rate is set by the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC), the policy-making arm of the Fed.

The St. Louis Federal Reserve, one of the 12 member banks of the Federal Reserve System, apportions the impact of the fed funds rate. This interest rate influences the prime rate – the rate offered to the bank’s customers with the highest credit ratings.

Since 2008, interest rates have remained historically low. For the consumer, this has been a double-edged sword – very attractive borrowing rates coupled with negligible investment rates (e.g. Savings and CD rates).

However, events of the last quarter of 2016 indicate there will be upward pressure on interest rates on the horizon, both short-term and long-term.

In the last quarter, the economy began showing signs of strength. With the election of Donald Trump, businesses seem optimistic over their growth opportunities. In addition, the stock market has soared to record highs and bond yields took their first big fall, the unemployment rate holds steady, and job growth continues as household spending slowly improves. These indicators, and stirring inflation, prompted the FOMC to hike the interest rate on December 14.

Is this the beginning of the end…of historically low interest rates, that is? Financial analysts seem to think so, and expect we will witness creeping interest rates over the coming year.

What Will this Mean for Consumer?

Low rates have been painful for retirees who seek a decent return on their emergency funds and cash investments. Consequently, an increase in the fed funds rate will improve the rate on these investments.  However, most analysts’ projections for these rates are cautious, indicating that consumers shouldn’t expect to get rich on savings account and CD rates in the near future.

The housing market has enjoyed the benefits of mortgage interest rates in the range of 3 to 5 percent since 2010. The forecast for these rates suggests that the rise in the fed funds rate, in addition to the yields on treasury bonds, will prompt higher borrowing costs for consumers. Mortgage rates have already pushed to their highest levels since July 2015.

Even an incremental increase on the interest rate of a large loan balance can cause a significant increase in monthly debt payments. Consequently, with increasing mortgage rates likely on the horizon, now may be a good time to refinance, especially if you have an adjustable rate loan, or buy, if you’re in the market. This suggestion applies to auto loans as well.

Financial analysts are also predicting that consumers will see higher interest rates on credit cards and variable rate loans, such as student loans. Typically, variable rate loans adjust once a year. But, credit card APRs can be increased any time. If you have a variable rate student loan, now may be the time to refinance into a fixed rate. There are many companies who offer fixed rate student loan refinancing and consolidation with terms ranging from 5 to 20 years. If you have credit card debt, you should set a plan in motion to pay down the balances as quickly as possible. If you have the opportunity to transfer to another card that has zero interest balance transfer for 12 months or longer, now would be a good time to accept that offer.

The investor can expect to see stocks and stock funds perform well if the interest rates are rising as a result of a growing economy. However, if inflation becomes a problem, it could have a negative effect on some stocks. Investors who own bonds can expect to see their value decrease as yields increase. But, this shouldn’t present a problem if the investor plans to hold the bond until maturity.

A Sound Strategy

 No one knows where interest rates will land in the future. But, current low rates are unlikely to continue. The FOMC expects that economic conditions will evolve in a manner warranting gradual increases in the federal funds rate.

With this said, savers will benefit from the Fed Funds rate increase and should look to maximize the returns on their cash by securing the best savings rates… as long as the institution is insured by the FDIC or NCUA. Borrowers should maintain strong credit profiles. If you have credit issues, take steps to improve your credit score now to receive the best borrowing rates in the future. And if you’re in the market for credit, act sooner than later.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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