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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Mint Money Audit: Managing Money When You Make Enough

Anna’s email requesting help with her finances began with a unique confession.

“Farnoosh, my money problem garners little sympathy,” the 32-year-old wrote. “My issue is that I make too much of it.”

Now, THIS is interesting, I thought. I immediately followed up with many questions.

Here’s what I learned through our conversation:

The Denver-based Mint user earns $220,000 per year as an engineer. Anna’s also benefited from years of big bonuses and her net worth, not including her home equity, is close to a million dollars.

After paying taxes and health benefits and maxing out her 401(k), Anna takes home between $8,000 and $10,000 each month. Her expenses mainly consist of a $1,200 mortgage payment, car insurance, gas, food and utilities, amounting to maybe a few thousand dollars per month.

The rest either goes into savings where she stashes about $5,000 to $10,000 for unexpected expenses or into a brokerage account where she has roughly $800,000 invested. A wealth management firm manages that portfolio and charges, she says, an annual 1% fee.

Anna has no consumer debt, besides her mortgage, which amounts to about $338,000. It’s a 30-year fixed rate loan with a 2.85% interest rate. The home has appreciated in recent years with about $100,000 in equity (including Anna’s initial 20% down payment).

So, what is the problem, exactly?

“My big worry is that I don’t have the habits to manage money well,” Anna told me. Her sizeable bank balance has her feeling financially free, although she worries about getting carried away with spending sometimes.

“When I see money in my bank account I rationalize that ‘yea, that vacation is doable. I don’t hold back on the things that may seem frivolous,’” she says. But It seems she wants more financial grounding and to be able to evaluate expenditures and price tags more critically.

Anna’s situation may be unique, but I think relatable in the sense that we all would like to feel more thoughtful with how we spend, save and invest. And while some may do well with earning money, it should not be assumed that they can also manage that money well.

I applaud Anna for wanting to be sure that, even with an impressive net worth, she is actually making wise financial decisions.

Here’s my advice.

Take a Deep Breath

No need to panic when spending on things and experiences that you enjoy. From what I can tell Anna’s prioritizing the serious financial stuff first like contributing the max to her 401(k) and saving all of her annual bonuses in a brokerage account. She has no credit card debt and pays all her bills on time. That’s terrific.

Sometimes we just want to hear that we’re on the right track with our money and I have a very simple way to measure this:

If you manage each paycheck by saving, investing and paying all your bills first, then by all means, you’re entitled to have fun with whatever is left without any fear or regret. Am I right?

If you’ve done the good work of taking care of your future with your money, then don’t hesitate treating yourself and others with the remaining funds today. Splurge away and enjoy your hard-earned money. And remember to enjoy the moment.

Ditch Your Money Managers

I do think Anna could find a better home for her investments.

Paying one percent of her managed assets to this firm may not seem that high of an annual fee. But when you think about Anna’s balance of $800,000, that’s $8,000 this year. What about next year and the decades after that as she contributes more to the account? That fee, compounded over the next 30 years, will amount to – conservatively – over one million dollars. Ouch.

That doesn’t even factor in the expense ratios for each mutual fund that’s in her portfolio.

If all Anna seeks is investment assistance, she may be better suited stationing her money with an automated wealth platform or robo-advisor where her money is largely invested in low-fee index funds or exchange-traded funds (ETF) and the portfolio management fee is typically 0.50% or less.

Of course, breaking up with your financial advisor is not always so simple. It’s especially hard for Anna, as she equated her money managers to “father figures.”

If I were Anna, I would just explain to my advisors over email something like, “I want be more conservative with my money and that includes being extra mindful of the various fees that I’m paying. To that end, I’ve decided to manage my money more independently. I’m sure you can understand. I appreciate your help over the years. Please let me know next steps.”

Planners know the drill and are used to having clients end relationships.  Stay strong. Nobody can really argue with the fact that saving money is a good thing!

Establish Short and Long Term Goals

Anna wants to spend and save with more conviction. I think having some concrete, tangible goals can help.

For example, she shared that she’d like to get married, have a family and own two homes – one near her office downtown and another in the mountains as a getaway.

So, the next step is to understand what these goals cost. What are, say, the going prices on a vacation home in her state? How much might she want to stash in a separate account for the future down payment on this property? Knowing the underlying costs of her goals can better direct how much to spend elsewhere.

Next time she’s planning a vacation, she may be more inclined to price compare or hunt down better deals, as opposed to just judge whether the trip is financially “doable” by the amount of money in her bank account. Now she’ll have the image of that second home and its costs and will make a more informed choice.

Contribute to a Cause

Last but not least, when you feel you make more than enough, like Anna does, this is a great opportunity to be extra charitable. If she’s seeking a way to give her money more meaning and feel purposeful in her financial life, this is a truly wonderful way to go about it. Discover a cause that you’re passionate about and make an impact as a volunteer and donor.

Have a question for Farnoosh? You can submit your questions via Twitter @Farnoosh, Facebook or email at farnoosh@farnoosh.tv (please note “Mint Blog” in the subject line).

Farnoosh Torabi is America’s leading personal finance authority hooked on helping Americans live their richest, happiest lives. From her early days reporting for Money Magazine to now hosting a primetime series on CNBC and writing monthly for O, The Oprah Magazine, she’s become our favorite go-to money expert and friend.

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Source: mint.intuit.com