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How the Federal Funds Rate Affects Your Finances

Last updated 05/15/2024 by

SuperMoney Team

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Summary:
The federal funds rate is set by the Federal Reserve to influence the overall level of interest rates. Changes in the federal funds rate can have significant impacts on consumer loans, mortgages, savings accounts, and stock market returns. The Federal Reserve adjusts this rate in response to changing economic conditions, such as inflation and unemployment, to maintain stable prices and promote economic growth.
The federal funds rate is a critical concept in finance that has a significant impact on the economy and personal finances. As a consumer, it’s essential to understand what it is, how it works, and how it affects your financial well-being.
In this article, we’ll take an in-depth look at the federal funds rate and explore its role in the economy. We’ll also explain how changes in this rate can affect various financial products and provide tips on how to manage your finances during fluctuating interest rates.

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What is the federal funds rate?

The federal funds rate is the interest rate at which banks and other depository institutions lend funds to each other overnight. The Federal Reserve sets the target for this rate, and it’s one of the most crucial tools the Fed uses to influence monetary policy.
The federal funds rate serves as a benchmark for other interest rates in the economy, including mortgage rates, credit card rates, and savings rates. Because of this, changes in the rate can have a ripple effect throughout the economy and can impact consumers’ borrowing and saving decisions.
The Fed controls the federal funds rate through open market operations, which involve buying or selling Treasury securities in the open market. If the Federal Reserve wants to increase the federal funds rate, it will sell Treasury securities, which decreases the money supply and increases interest rates. Conversely, if the Fed wants to lower this rate, it will buy Treasury securities, which increases the money supply and lowers interest rates.

Fun Fact

Historically, the federal funds rate has fluctuated widely. In the 1980s and early 1990s, the rate was in the double digits, while in the late 2000s, it was near zero due to the financial crisis. As of February 2023, the federal funds rate is set in a range of 0.75% to 1.00%.

Why is the federal funds rate important?

The federal funds rate is an essential tool for the Fed to influence monetary policy and control the economy’s inflation rate. Here are some of the reasons why the federal funds rate is crucial:
  1. Effects on the economy. The federal funds rate has a significant impact on the economy by affecting the cost of borrowing and the availability of credit. Changes in this rate can impact economic growth, employment rates, and inflation.
  2. Impact on personal finances. Changes in the federal funds rate can have a direct impact on consumers’ borrowing and saving decisions. When the rate increases, borrowing becomes more expensive, which can affect credit card rates, mortgage rates, and other loan rates. Similarly, when the rate decreases, savings accounts and other deposit accounts may earn less interest.
  3. Link between the federal funds rate and inflation. The Fed sets the federal funds rate with the goal of keeping inflation in check. When inflation is low, the Fed may lower the federal funds rate to encourage borrowing and economic growth. Conversely, when inflation is high, the Fed may increase the rate to slow down economic growth and prevent inflation from spiraling out of control.
Overall, the federal funds rate is critical for maintaining a stable economy and ensuring that consumers have access to affordable credit and savings options.

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How does the federal funds rate affect different financial products?

The federal funds rate has a direct impact on different financial products, including loans, savings accounts, and investment products. Here’s a closer look at how it affects these financial products:
  1. Loans and credit cards. Changes in the federal funds rate can impact the cost of borrowing for loans and credit cards. When the rate increases, borrowing becomes more expensive, which can lead to higher interest rates on credit cards, personal loans, and other types of loans. When the rate decreases, however, borrowing becomes cheaper, which can lead to lower interest rates on loans and credit cards.
  2. Savings accounts and certificates of deposit. The federal funds rate also affects the interest rates on savings accounts, money market accounts, and certificates of deposit (CDs). When the federal funds rate increases, these accounts typically earn higher interest rates, making them more attractive to consumers. Conversely, when the rate decreases, the interest rates on these accounts may be lowered, reducing their appeal to consumers.
  3. Stocks and bonds. Changes in the federal funds rate can also impact the stock and bond markets. As the rate increases and borrowing becomes more expensive, investors may see a decrease in corporate profits and stock prices. On the other hand, when the rate decreases, investors may experience an increase in corporate profits and stock prices.
Given that the Fed increased this rate through 2022 and is expected to continue throughout 2023, you may want to consider investing in a CD account before the rate decreases again. You can start your search using the tool below.

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Factors that influence the federal funds rate

Several factors can influence the federal funds rate, and the Fed carefully considers these factors when setting the target rate.
  1. Inflation. Inflation is one of the most critical factors that influence the federal funds rate. The Fed aims to keep inflation in check, and if inflation is higher than the target rate, it may increase the federal funds rate to slow down economic growth and prevent prices from spiraling out of control.
  2. Economic growth. When the economy does well, the Fed may increase the rate to prevent the economy from overheating and keep inflation in check. Conversely, when the economy is weak, the Fed may decrease the federal funds rate to encourage borrowing and stimulate economic growth.
  3. Federal Reserve policy. The Fed’s monetary policy decisions can also influence the federal funds rate. For example, the Fed can use open market operations to buy or sell Treasury securities to increase or decrease the money supply and influence interest rates, including the federal funds rate.
  4. Global economic conditions. If the global economy is weak, the Fed may lower the federal funds rate to stimulate the U.S. economy and encourage borrowing. On the other hand, if the global economy is strong, the Fed may increase this rate to prevent inflation from rising and keep the economy in check.

Strategies for managing finances during changing interest rates

Managing your finances during periods of changing interest rates can be challenging, but there are strategies you can use to stay on top of your finances.

Refinance loans

If interest rates are falling, consider refinancing any loans you have, such as mortgages or auto loans. Refinancing can help you lower your monthly payments and save money on interest over the life of the loan.
Start by comparing the mortgage refinance lenders below to see if refinancing makes sense for you.

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Pay down debt

If interest rates are rising, focus on paying down any high-interest debt you have, such as credit card balances. Paying down debt can help you reduce your overall interest costs and improve your financial health.

Adjust your investment portfolio

Changes in interest rates can also affect investment returns, so it’s essential to adjust your investment portfolio accordingly. If interest rates are rising, consider investing in fixed-income securities, such as bonds or certificates of deposit, to take advantage of higher interest rates. Alternatively, if interest rates are falling, consider investing in equities, such as stocks, to take advantage of potential capital gains.
For a better idea of what you should invest in, consult an investment advisor.

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Shop around for savings accounts and CDs

If interest rates are rising, you may be able to earn higher interest rates on savings accounts or certificates of deposit. Shop around for the best rates and consider switching to a financial institution that offers better rates using the tool below.

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Maintain an emergency fund

It’s crucial to maintain an emergency fund to cover unexpected expenses, regardless of the interest rate environment. Aim to save at least six months’ worth of living expenses in an emergency fund to prepare for any financial emergencies.
Managing your finances during periods of changing interest rates requires careful planning and attention to your financial goals. By following these strategies, you can stay on top of your finances and take advantage of opportunities to save and invest wisely.

FAQs

What is the difference between the federal funds rate vs. an interest rate?

The federal funds rate is a specific type of interest rate that applies to overnight loans between banks and other depository institutions. Other interest rates, such as mortgage rates, credit card rates, and auto loan rates, are influenced by the federal funds rate.

Why is it called the federal funds rate?

It’s called the federal funds rate because it refers to the interest rate at which banks and other depository institutions lend and borrow funds from each other to meet their reserve requirements set by the Federal Reserve, which is the central bank of the United States.

Key Takeaways

  • The federal funds rate is a critical interest rate set by the Federal Reserve to influence the overall level of interest rates.
  • Changes in the federal funds rate can have significant impacts on consumer loans, mortgages, savings accounts, and stock market returns.
  • The Fed adjusts this rate in response to changing economic conditions to maintain stable prices and promote economic growth.
  • Strategies for managing finances during changing interest rates include refinancing loans, paying down high-interest debt, and maintaining an emergency fund.

SuperMoney may receive compensation from some or all of the companies featured, and the order of results are influenced by advertising bids, with exception for mortgage and home lending related products. Learn more

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