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What to know about interest rates

An interest rate is either the cost of borrowing money or the reward for saving it. It is calculated as a percentage of the amount borrowed or saved. You borrow money from banks when you take out a home mortgage. Other loans can be used for buying a car, an appliance, or paying for education.

Banks borrow money from you in the form of deposits, and interest is what they pay you for the use of the money deposited. They use the money from deposits to fund loans. Banks charge borrowers a slightly higher interest rate than they pay depositors. The difference is their profit. Since banks compete with each other for both depositors and borrowers, interest rates remain within a narrow range of each other.

How Interest Rates Work

The bank applies the interest rate to the total unpaid portion of your loan or credit card balance, and you must pay at least the interest in each compounding period. If not, your outstanding debt will increase even though you are making payments.

Impact of High Versus Low-Interest Rates

High interest rates make loans more expensive. When interest rates are high, fewer people and businesses can afford to borrow. That lowers the amount of credit available to fund purchases, slowing consumer demand. At the same time, it encourages more people to save because they receive more on their savings rate. High interest rates also reduce the capital available to expand businesses, strangling supply. This reduction in liquidity slows the economy.

Low interest rates have the opposite effect on the economy. Low mortgage rates have the same effect as lower housing prices, stimulating demand for real estate. Savings rates fall. When savers find they get less interest on their deposits, they might decide to spend more. They might also put their money into slightly riskier but more profitable investments, which drives up stock prices.

The bottom line

  • Interest rates affect how you spend money. When interest rates are high, bank loans cost more. People and businesses borrow less and save more. Demand falls and companies sell less. The economy shrinks. If it goes too far, it could turn into a recession.
  • When interest rates fall, the opposite happens. People and companies borrow more, save less, and boost economic growth. But as good as this sounds, low interest rates can create inflation. Too much money chases too few goods.
  • The Federal Reserve manages inflation and recession by controlling interest rates. So pay attention to the Fed’s announcements on falling or rising interest rates. You can reduce your risks when making financial decisions such as taking out a loan, choosing credit cards, and investing in stocks or bonds.
  • Interest rates affect your cost of borrowing money. Always compare interest and APR when considering a loan product.

 

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