Wondering how the interest thing works?


guy looking out window wondering
Recent years have shown all kinds of economic challenges. From the Wall Street debacle and the mortgage meltdown to ongoing zealous greed across the spectrum, consumers have paid the price in more ways than one – and unfortunately may continue to do so for a long time.

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) isn’t offering a warm and fuzzy economic outlook for 2014. Consumer spending was up in the last quarter of 2013 yet we’re all at the mercy of inflation and the declining value of the US dollar against other world currencies. Our national debt stands at $17 trillion as reported recently in USA Today. Imported goods are becoming more and more expensive; food and energy prices keep going up; medical and education costs keep rising; the national unemployment continues to hover around 7 percent; and then there’s that healthcare fix.

It’s enough to keep us all shaking our heads and wondering about how we’re going to make ends meet, save money, and what it’s going to cost to borrow money. We wonder if, when, and how we’re going to make more money when everything seems to always be costing more.

With economic instability, ongoing political deadlock, and government mistrust, it does appear that it’s going to be standing still for a while longer. The Federal Reserve says that interest rates may stay low through 2015 and beyond.

How exactly does this interest rate thing work? The Federal Reserve (the Fed) is responsible for the stability of our financial system. In order to maintain that stability, it either raises or lowers interest rates on a fairly routine basis. When the economy is booming and companies are seeing profits, the unemployment rate is low and you’re out spending money, short-term rates are raised to keep the economy from building too fast. When that happens, we experience inflation – prices go up when there’s too much money and too few goods and services. The Fed raises interest rates to slow things down and that means low rates go up.

The Fed lowers short-term rates when the economy is slowing, making it less expensive to borrow money. That means you have more money to spend elsewhere and that speeds up the economy. Recessions occur when consumers become tight-fisted with their money and don’t buy products and services to keep companies thriving and workers employed. Throw in an international incident involving oil-producing nations and interest rates could be affected.

Many of you ask why our savings rates can’t be higher. They’re all part of the big picture painted by the Federal Reserve. Credit unions and other financial institutions just can’t set rates on a whim. The Federal Reserve sets forth certain requirements for all types of financial institutions. What’s going on nationally and internationally affects us and ultimately you as a saver or a borrower. When interest rates are high, your money makes money for you, but at the same time, you’re going to pay more to borrow. Unfortunately, when rates fall, your money makes less money, but should you need to borrow, it’s a lot cheaper for you.

We understand that this prolonged period of low-interest rates has caused many challenges for those of you who have saved and saved your entire lives hoping to cash in on the interest accumulated in your savings to help supplement your retirement income. Unfortunately, like you, we’re at the mercy of these big picture conditions and requirements.

Keep in mind that we do have a variety of short and long-term savings options for you. Determining your savings goals or revising existing ones may be necessary for savings success. Now is the perfect time to take a good look at your financial picture to see how you can get the most out of your savings in 2014 and beyond.

Republished from our “Avenues” newsletter, “A Word From Bob”, March/April 2014.

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