What Happens to Mortgage Rates When the Fed Cuts Rates?

Just about everybody with a wallet is impacted by the Federal Reserve. That means you—homeowners and prospective buyers. Whether you’re already nestled in to the house of your dreams or still looking to find it, you’ll probably want to track what happens to mortgage rates when the Fed cuts rates. When the Fed (as it’s commonly referred to) cuts its federal funds rate—the rate banks charge each other to lend funds overnight—the move could impact your mortgage costs.

The Fed’s overall goal when it cuts the federal funds rate is to stimulate the economy by spurring consumers to spend and borrow. This is good news if you are carrying debt because borrowing tends to become less expensive following a Fed rate cut (think: lower credit card APRs). But in the case of homeownership, what happens to mortgage rates when the Fed cuts rates can be a double-edged sword.

What happens to mortgage rates when the Fed cuts rates depends on many factors.

The connection between a Fed rate cut and mortgage rates isn’t so crystal clear because the federal funds rate doesn’t directly influence the rate on every type of home loan.

“Mortgage rates are formed by global market forces, and the Federal Reserve participates in those market forces but isn’t always the most important factor,” says Holden Lewis, who’s been covering the mortgage industry for nearly 20 years and is also a regular contributor to NerdWallet.

To understand which side of the sword you’re on, you’ll need an answer to the question, “How does a Fed rate cut affect mortgage rates?” Read on to find out if you stand to potentially gain on your mortgage in a low-rate environment:

How a fixed-rate mortgage moves—or doesn’t

A fixed-rate mortgage has an interest rate that remains the same for the entire length of the loan. If the Fed cuts rates, what happens to mortgage rates if you are an existing homeowner with a fixed-rate mortgage? Nothing should happen to your monthly payments following a Fed rate cut because your rate has already been locked in.

“For current homeowners with a fixed-rate mortgage set at a previous higher level, the existing mortgage rate stays put,” Lewis says.

If you’re a prospective homebuyer shopping around for a fixed-rate mortgage, the news of what happens to mortgage rates when the Fed cuts rates may be different.

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For prospective homebuyers: If the Fed cuts its interest rate and the 10-year Treasury yield is similarly tracking, the rates on fixed-rate mortgages could drop, “and you could lock in interest at a lower fixed rate than before.”

– Holden Lewis, mortgage expert and NerdWallet contributor

The federal funds rate does not directly impact the rates on this type of home loan, so a Fed rate cut doesn’t guarantee that lenders will start offering lower mortgage rates. However, the 10-year Treasury yield does tend to influence fixed-rate mortgages, and this yield often moves in the same direction as the federal funds rate.

If the Fed cuts its interest rate and the 10-year Treasury yield is similarly tracking, the rates on fixed-rate mortgages could drop, “and you could lock in interest at a lower fixed rate than before,” Lewis says. It’s also possible that rates on fixed mortgages will not fall following a Fed rate cut.

How an adjustable-rate mortgage follows the Fed

An adjustable-rate mortgage (commonly referred to as an ARM) is a home loan with an interest rate that can fluctuate periodically—also known as variable rate. There is often a fixed period of time during which the initial rate stays the same, and then it adjusts on a regular interval. (For instance, with a 5/1 ARM, the initial rate stays locked in for five years and then adjusts each year thereafter.)

So back to the burning question: If the Fed cuts rates, what happens to mortgage rates? The rates on an ARM typically track with the index that the loan uses, e.g., the prime rate, which is in turn influenced by the federal funds rate.

If the Fed cuts rates, what happens to mortgage rates? If you have an adjustable-rate mortgage, you may see your rate change.

“If the Fed drops its rate during the adjustment period, you could see your interest rate go down and, in turn, see lower monthly payments,” says Emily Stroud, financial advisor and founder of Stroud Financial Management.

Since ARMs are often adjusted annually after the fixed period, you may not feel the impact of the Fed rate cut until your ARM’s next annual loan adjustment. For instance, if there is one (or more) rate cuts during the course of a year, the savings from the rate reduction(s) would hit all at once at the time of your reset.

If the Fed cuts rates, what happens to mortgage rates for prospective homebuyers considering an ARM? An even lower rate could be in your future—at least for a specific period of time.

“If you’re looking for a shorter-term mortgage, say a 5/1 ARM, you could save considerably on interest,” Stroud says. That’s because the introductory rate of an ARM is usually lower than the rate of a fixed-rate mortgage, Stroud explains. Add that benefit to lower rates fueled by a Fed rate cut and an ARM could be enticing if it supports your financial goals and plans.

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“If the Fed drops its rate during the adjustment period, you could see your interest rate go down and, in turn, see lower monthly payments.” 

– Emily Stroud, financial advisor and founder of Stroud Financial Management

Benefits of other variable-rate loans following a rate cut

If you have a Fed rate cut and mortgage rates on your mind and are a borrower with other types of variable-rate loans, you could be impacted following a Fed rate cut. Borrowers with variable-rate home equity lines of credit (HELOCs) and adjustable-rate Federal Housing Administration loans (FHA ARMs), for example, may end up ahead of the curve when the Fed cuts its rate, according to Lewis:

  • A HELOC is typically a “second mortgage” that provides you access to cash for goals like debt consolidation or home improvement and is a revolving line of credit, using your home as collateral. A Fed rate cut could result in lower rates for variable-rate HELOCs that track with the prime rate. If you are an existing homeowner with a HELOC, you could see your monthly payments drop following a Fed rate cut.
  • An FHA ARM is an ARM insured by the federal government. If you’re wondering about a Fed rate cut and mortgage rates, know that this type of mortgage behaves much like a conventional variable-rate loan when the Fed cuts it rate, Lewis says. Existing homeowners with an FHA ARM could see a rate drop, and prospective homebuyers could also benefit from lower rates following a Fed rate cut.

When it comes to a Fed rate cut and mortgage rates, refinancing to a lower rate could be an option for existing homeowners.

Refinancing: A silver lining for fixed rates

When it comes to a Fed rate cut and mortgage rates, refinancing to a lower rate could be an option if you have an existing fixed-rate loan. The process of refinancing replaces an existing loan with a new one that pays off your old loan’s debt. You then make payments on your new loan, so the goal is to refinance at a time when you can get better terms.

“If someone buys a home one year and a Fed rate cut results in a mortgage rate reduction, for example, it presents a real refinance opportunity for homeowners,” Lewis says. “Just a small percentage point reduction could possibly trim a few hundred bucks from your monthly payments.”

Before a refinancing decision is made based on a Fed rate cut and mortgage rates, you should consider any upfront costs and fees associated with refinancing to ensure they don’t offset any potential savings.

Managing your finances as a homeowner

You might be expecting some savings in your future now that you’re armed with information on what happens to mortgage rates when the Fed cuts rates. Whether you’re a homebuyer and financing your new home is going to cost you less with a lower interest rate, or you’re an existing homeowner with an ARM that may come with lower monthly payments, Stroud suggests to use any uncovered savings wisely.

“Invest that cash back into your property, pay down your home equity debt or borrow with it,” she says.

Understanding the connection between the Fed rate cut and mortgage rates can help you better manage your finances as a homeowner.

While news of a Fed rate cut may entice you to analyze how your mortgage will be impacted, remember there are many factors that help to determine your mortgage rate, including your credit score, home price, loan amount and down payment. The Fed’s actions are only one piece of a larger equation.

Even though the Fed’s rate decisions may dominate headlines immediately following a rate cut, your home is a long-term investment and one you’ll likely maintain for years. To best prepare for what happens to mortgage rates when the Fed cuts rates is to always manage your home finances responsibly and be sure to make choices that will lead you down the right path based on your financial goals.

*This should not be considered tax or investment advice. Please consult a financial planner or tax advisor if you have questions.

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Money Moves to Make in Your 20s, 30s, and 40s

Reaching your twenties is an exciting milestone for most as it means you’ve officially entered adulthood. Along with that milestone comes new responsibilities and worries that we didn’t picture when our teenage selves dreamed of turning 21. We imagined our college graduation, moving into our first apartment, and launching our new career. That vision didn’t include dealing with student loan debt, taking on a low paying entry-level job, or having to confront that despite spending 4 years in college, you’re still unsure how the world of personal finance actually works.

It’s easy to dismiss it all because well you’re a 20 something, and you’ll have plenty of time to play catch up. The reality is that each decade plays an important role in our future financial health. Take the time now to learn about your money and follow the money moves outlined below to put yourself on a path of lifelong financial success and eventual freedom.

Money Moves to Make in Your 20’s:

Learn How To Budget

Building a budget doesn’t have to be overly complicated or time-consuming. It’s actually the first step in putting yourself in control of your finances because it means you know where your money goes each month. The good news is that there are lots of apps and online tools that can make the process a breeze. Consider a system like Mint that will connect to your accounts and automatically categorize your spending for you. The right budgeting tool is simply the one you’ll stick with long term.

Pay Off Debt

Debt isn’t all bad. It may be the reason you were able to earn your degree, and a mortgage may help you one day buy a home. It can also quickly overrun your life if you aren’t careful. Now’s the perfect time before life gets more hectic with family commitments to buckle down and tackle any loans or credit card balances so you can be debt-free going into your 30’s.

Build a Cash Cushion

The financial downturn caused by the pandemic has reminded the whole world of the importance of having an emergency fund. We don’t know what life is going to throw at us and having a cushion can help you navigate the uncertain times. Though it’s not all about having a secret stash of cash to deal with the bad news of life (medical bills, car repair, layoff), it can also be about having the cash to seize an exciting opportunity. Having savings gives you the freedom and security to deal with whatever life brings your way – good or bad.

Understand Credit

Your credit score can dictate so much of your life. That little number can play a big role in the home you buy, the car you drive, and even the job you hold as some employers (especially in the finance world) will pull your credit. It’s important that you check your credit report and score (also available through Mint), learn how it’s calculated, and work to improve it.

Money Moves to Make in Your 30’s:

Invest For Retirement

Now that you’ve spent your 20’s building the foundation for your financial life, it’s time to make sure you’re also tackling the big picture goals like saving and investing for retirement. I typically recommend that clients save 10% to 15% of their annual income towards retirement. That may seem like an insurmountable goal, but starting small by saving even 1 to 3% of your salary can make a big difference in the future. Also, make sure to take advantage of any matching contributions that your employer may provide in your retirement plan. If, for example, they offer to match contributions up to 6%, I would try hard to work towards contributing at least 6%.

Buying Your First Home

Buying your first home is a top goal for many, but it also seems to be getting increasingly more difficult especially if you live in a major city. The most important steps you can take is to improve your credit score, pay down high-interest debt, and be aggressive about saving for a down payment. Saving 20% down will help you qualify for the best loan terms and interest rate, but there are still home loans available even if you aren’t able to save that much. Just be realistic with your budget and what you can afford. Don’t let a lender or real estate agent determine what payment will fit into your budget.

Be Covered Under These Must-Have Insurances

You’ve spent the last several years building your savings and growing your family. It’s now crucial that you have the proper insurance coverage in place to protect your assets and your loved ones. Life and disability insurance are top of the list. Life insurance doesn’t have to be expensive or complex. Get a quote for term-life that will last a set number of years and protect your partner and children during those crucial years that they depend on you. Disability insurance protects your income if you become sick or injured and are unable to work. Your earning ability is one of your biggest assets during this time, and you should protect it. This coverage may be offered through your employer, or you can request a quote for an individual policy.

Invest in Self-Care and Well Being

Mental health is part of self-care and wealth. Most people don’t talk about how financial stress and worry affect their overall health. When you can take care of yourself on all levels, you will feel healthier and wealthier, and happier. But it is not easy. It takes work, effort, awareness, and consciousness to learn how to detach the value in your bank account or financial account from your self-worth and value as a human being. When you feel emotional about your money, investments, or the stock market, learn ways to process them and take care of yourself by hiring licensed professionals and experts to help you.

Money Moves to Make in Your 40’s:

Revisit Your College Savings Goal

As your kids get older and prepare to enter their own journey into adulthood, paying for college is likely a major goal on your list. Consider opening a 529 plan (if you haven’t already) to save for their education. 529 plans offer tax advantages when it comes to saving for college. There are lots of online resources that can help you understand and pick the right plan for you. Visit https://www.savingforcollege.com. This is also a great time to make sure you’re talking to your kids about money. Give them the benefit of a financial education that you may not have had.

Get Aggressive with Retirement Planning

Your 40’s likely mark peak earning years. You’ll want to take advantage of your higher earnings to maximize your retirement savings especially if you weren’t able to save as much in your 20’s and 30’s. Revisit your retirement plan to crunch the numbers so you’ll be clear on what you need to save to reach your goal.

Build More Wealth

You’ve arrived at mid-life probably feeling younger than you are and wondering how the heck that big 4-0 got on your birthday cake. We typically associate being 20 with being free, but I think we’ve got it wrong. There is something incredibly freeing about the wisdom and self-assurance that comes with getting older. You’ve proved yourself. People see you as an adult. Your kids are getting older and your finances are more settled. Now’s the time to kick it up to the next level. Look for ways to build additional wealth. This may mean tapping into your entrepreneurial side to launch the business you’ve dreamed of or buying real estate to increase passive income. Now’s also a great time to find a trusted financial advisor who can help guide your next steps and help you plan the best ways to build your wealth.

Revisit Your Insurance Coverage

Insurance was crucial before, but it’s time to revisit your coverage and make sure you’re protected especially if you decide to launch a business or buy additional real estate. This is also where a financial advisor can help you analyze your coverage needs and find the policies that will work for you.

Consider Estate Planning

Estate planning (think wills, trusts, power of attorney) isn’t the most fun / exciting topic. It involves imagining your gone and creating a plan for the loved ones you leave behind. It is also often overlooked by adults in their younger years. It’s easy to assume estate planning is something the wealthy need to do. It really comes down to whether you want to decide how your life savings will be managed or if you want a court to decide. It’s also crucial for parents with children who are minors to select a guardian and have those uncomfortable conversations with their family members about who would care for the children if the worst were to happen. It’s also a good time to visit this topic with your own aging parents and make sure they have the proper documents and plans in place.

 

Whether you’re in your 20’s, 30’s or 40’s, it can be easy to put off planning your finances especially in the middle of a pandemic. Most of us are busy, and it’s easy to tell yourself that you’ll have time to work on a goal in the future. Commit to setting aside one hour each week or even each month to have a money date and review your finances. Don’t let yourself reach a milestone birthday (30, 40) and regret not being farther ahead. Follow these money moves now to seize control of your financial future.

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