Interest Rates and Your Financial Future
Thomas M. Geier, CPA, CFP®, PFS
You may have heard recently that interest rates are headed up. In fact, the Federal Reserve is in the process of raising interest rates and just raised the federal funds rate again by .25% on March 21.
The Purpose of Interest
Although borrowing money can help you accomplish a variety of financial goals, the cost of that borrowing is interest. When you take out a loan, you receive a lump sum of money up front and are obligated to pay it back over time, generally with interest. Due to the interest charges, you end up owing more than you actually borrowed. The trade-off, however, is that you receive the funds you need to achieve your goal, such as buying a house, obtaining a college education, or starting a business. Given the extra cost of interest, which can add up significantly over time, be sure that any debt you assume is affordable and worth the expense over the long term.
To a lender, interest represents compensation for the service and risk of lending money. In addition to giving up the opportunity to spend the money right away, a lender assumes certain risks. One obvious risk is that the borrower will not pay back the loan in a timely manner, if ever. Inflation creates another risk. Typically, prices tend to rise over time; therefore, goods and services will likely cost more by the time a lender is paid back. In effect, the future spending power of the money borrowed is reduced by inflation because more dollars are needed to purchase the same amount of goods and services. Interest paid on a loan helps to cushion the effects of inflation for the lender.
The Federal Reserve
As a part of the U.S. government’s monetary policy, the Federal Reserve Board (the Fed) manipulates interest rates in an effort to control money and credit conditions in the economy. Consequently, lenders and borrowers can look to the Fed for an indication of how interest rates may change in the future.
In order to influence the economy, the Fed buys or sells previously issued government securities, which affects the Federal funds rate. This is the interest rate that institutions charge each other for very short-term loans, as well as the interest rate banks use for commercial lending. For example, when the Fed sells securities, money from banks is used for these transactions; this lowers the amount available for lending, which raises interest rates. By contrast, when the Fed buys government securities, banks are left with more money than is needed for lending; this increase in the supply of credit, in turn, lowers interest rates.
Lower interest rates tend to make it easier for individuals to borrow. Since less money is spent on interest, more funds may be available to spend on other goods and services. Higher interest rates are often an incentive for individuals to save and invest, in order to take advantage of the greater amount of interest to be earned.
As a lender or borrower, it is important to understand how changing interest rates may affect your saving or borrowing habits. This knowledge can help with your decision-making as you pursue your financial objectives. Please feel free to call us at Geier Asset Management at (410) 824-1853 with any questions on how interest rates may impact your financial future.
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Sources: Liberty Media Publishing and Financial Media Exchange.
© Geier Asset Management, Inc. March 2018. Thomas M. Geier is a Vice President of Geier Asset Management, Inc., a Registered Investment Advisor. The above blog reflects the opinions of Mr. Geier and not necessarily the firm. Any advice given is general in nature and investors must consider their own individual circumstances. Past performance is no indicator of future performance.