Buyers’ wallets will feel Fed’s rate hike
WASHINGTON – Jan. 9, 2018 – Monthly payments on credit cards, adjustable-rate mortgages and home equity lines are expected to increase after the Federal Reserve lifted its benchmark short-term interest rate for the third time in 2017.
All of those revolving loans have variable rates that go up or down based on the Fed’s key rate, which is rising by a quarter percentage point.
While the impact of a single rate increase is limited, “The cumulative effect of the Fed’s interest rate hikes is mounting,” says Greg McBride, chief economist of Bankrate.com. “It’s putting a financial squeeze on household budgets at a time when income growth remains elusive.” The central bank has raised rates five times since late 2015.
For consumers with 30-year mortgages and other longer-term loans, the effect of the Fed’s move on their pocketbooks will be far more gradual. Car buyers may be affected, too, though they’re now benefiting from a highly competitive market for auto loans that’s keeping borrowing costs low.
The Fed lifted its federal funds rate – which is what banks charge each other for overnight loans – by a quarter percentage point to a range of 1.25 percent to 1.5 percent after similar hikes in March and June. Fed officials have penciled in three more rate increases next year.
How it could affect consumers
• Credit cards, home equity lines of credit, adjustable-rate mortgages
These loans will become more expensive since their rates are directly linked to the prime rate, which in turn is affected by the Fed’s key rate, says Steve Rick, chief economist of CUNA Mutual Group.
Average credit-card rates are 16.75 percent, according to Bankrate.com. For a $5,000 credit-card balance, a quarter-point hike is likely to add $199 in total interest for borrowers who make the minimum monthly payment, McBride says. Three increases this year could mean an additional $575 in total interest.
Now is “a good time for consumers carrying credit-card debt to prioritize paying it down, since that debt will soon become more expensive,” says Kim Palmer, a credit-card and banking analyst for NerdWallet.
Rates for home equity lines of credit are much lower at 5.3 percent. A quarter-point increase on a $30,000 credit line raises the minimum monthly payment by just $6 a month, McBride says. The three hikes this year would mean an $18 rise in the monthly bill. Borrowers could feel these effects within weeks.
By contrast, rates on adjustable-rate mortgages are modified annually. So the impact may be delayed, but it could still pinch. Three quarter-point hikes in 2017 likely will have boosted the monthly payment on a $200,000 mortgage by $84.
The Fed’s key short-term rate affects 30-year mortgages and other long-term rates only indirectly.
“Home buyers and refinancing homeowners seeking fixed-rate mortgages shouldn’t be nervous,” says Tim Manni, a mortgage analyst for NerdWallet.
That said, the three rate increases in 2017 theoretically could have increased mortgage rates by about a quarter percentage point, according to Doug Duncan, chief economist of Fannie Mae. That would boost the monthly payment on a $200,000 mortgage by about $30. Other forces pushed rates down even further.
The Fed also announced in September that it’s shrinking the bond portfolio it amassed after the financial crisis to lower long-term rates. Together, the rate hikes and the unwinding of the Fed’s portfolio could increase mortgage rates by a half-percentage point a year, says Lynn Fisher, vice president of research and finance for the Mortgage Bankers Association. For that $200,000 mortgage borrower, it could mean shelling out an additional $180 a month by the end of 2019.
• Auto loans
Three rate hikes this year theoretically would increase the monthly payment for a new $25,000 car by a total of $9.
• Bank savings rates
Since banks will be able to charge a bit more for loans, they’ll have more leeway to pay higher interest rates on customer deposits. Yet don’t expect a fast or an equivalent rise in your savings accounts or CD rates, many of which pay interest of 1 percent or less. Those rates have barely budged the past year despite the hikes.
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