Here’s What the Fed’s Halt on Interest Rates Means for Your Wallet

The Federal Reserve indicated on Wednesday that it was done raising interest rates for the foreseeable future, after a run of incremental increases that began to affect the typical consumer’s wallet.

The decision will hold the central bank’s benchmark for short-term rates to a target between 2.25 and 2.5 percent, the level it reached in December after steadily climbing since the end of 2015.

That is the target for the federal funds rate, the interest rate that banks and depository institutions charge one another for overnight loans. It influences how banks and other lenders price certain loans and savings vehicles.

Whether you will cheer or chafe at the halt depends, broadly, on whether you’re a saver or a spender. For savers and retirees, who were only just starting to find accounts that paid more than 2 percent, the end of rate increases means that’s as good as it will get. But people trying to whittle down a pile of credit card debt, thinking about tapping their home equity line of credit or buying a car should welcome the fact that the cost of those loans won’t keep rising.

Here’s where interest rates on loans and savings accounts stand right now:

When the Fed raises rates, some banks may pay more interest on savings accounts, particularly when they want to lure consumers to park their money. But the big banks haven’t been too generous lately, and you shouldn’t expect much to change any time soon. Today, the average savings and money market deposit accounts pay a paltry 0.23 percent, according to BankRate.com. That’s up from 0.10 percent in 2015, when the Fed starting raising rates.

You also shouldn’t rush to tie up your money in certificates of deposit, which tend to move in step with similarly dated Treasury securities. Two-year C.D.s are paying just more than 1 percent on average, but you can find some paying 3 percent if you take the time to comparison shop, according to BankRate.com.

You’ll probably do better with an online savings account; many are already paying more than 2.25 percent and may rise further.

“For the first time in more than a decade, you can earn more than the rate of inflation on your savings account, but only if you shop around,” said Greg McBride, chief financial analyst at BankRate.com.

The inflation rate, which measures how much prices have risen from a year ago, is now roughly 2 percent. If your money isn’t earning at least that much, you’re losing purchasing power.

Citizens Access is offering 2.35 percent and CIBC Bank USA 2.39 percent, according to BankRate.com, while at least two other online banks are offering 2.4 percent.

Bond investors often get nervous when interest rates rise, because bond prices tend to fall in response. Why? When rates increase, the price of existing (and lower-yielding) bonds drops because investors can buy new bonds that offer higher interest rates.

Now that interest rates have stabilized, at least for now, bond fund investors might be less distracted by rate-related volatility — but that doesn’t mean bonds won’t continue to react to broader economic conditions and news. It’s best to focus on why bonds are in your portfolio to begin with — to act as a buffer against stocks — and to avoid fretting about short-term moves.

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Certain adjustable-rate mortgages are linked to the Federal Reserve’s short-term rates.CreditMatt Rourke/Associated Press

Many people think mortgage rates are tied to the Fed’s short-term rate, but there isn’t a direct link. Most 30-year fixed-rate mortgages are priced off the 10-year Treasury bond, which is influenced by a variety of factors, including the outlook for inflation and long-term economic growth here and abroad.

But some home loans are more directly connected to the Fed’s short-term rate, including home equity lines of credit and adjustable-rate mortgages, or A.R.M.s.

A typical home-equity borrower has already seen rates rise to about 6.7 percent, according to BankRate.com, from roughly 4.5 percent three years ago.

The combination of the recent increases and changes in the tax code that restricted the interest deduction “is a bit of a double pinch for some,” said Keith Gumbinger of HSH.com, which tracks the mortgage market.

The good news related to adjustable-rate mortgages, which typically have a fixed rate for a number of years and then adjust annually, is that few people have them, Mr. Gumbinger said. But even though the Fed is done raising rates, borrowers who are already out of their fixed-rate period can expect to pay more when rates reset, if they haven’t already.

Variable rates on credit cards are averaging around 17.7 percent, up from about 15.7 percent at the end of 2015, and the cumulative effect of past rate increases had begun to squeeze car buyers.

Since the Fed started raising rates, the annual percentage rate on a car loan has increased more than a percentage point, to 6.2 percent in January from 4.6 percent three years earlier, according to Edmunds. And incentives like zero-percent financing have all but dried up, Edmunds’s experts said.

Those paying off federal student loans won’t be affected, because those loans carry a fixed rate. The rate for the next round of new loans will be set in July, based on the 10-year Treasury bond. But fixed and variable rates for private student loans are generally based on the Libor index, which tends to track the Fed funds rate pretty closely. So students in that market can take some relief in the halt.

This article is from NYT – go to source

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