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How the Federal Reserve Impacts Personal Loans | Personal Loans and Advice

Key Takeaways

  • If the federal funds rate rises when you’re taking out a new personal loan, you’ll typically pay a higher interest rate.
  • The Federal Reserve’s policy moves won’t affect the rate of an existing fixed-rate personal loan.
  • On a variable-rate personal loan, the rate may rise if the Fed rate increases.

The Federal Reserve doesn’t directly set personal loan rates. But its monetary policies are designed to have a widespread effect on the U.S. economy. When the central bank makes a policy move, it creates a chain reaction that trickles down to personal loan interest rates.

Borrowers with an existing fixed-rate personal loan won’t need to worry about their interest rate changing in reaction to these Fed moves. But if you’re shopping around for a new personal loan or you have one with a variable interest rate, the Federal Reserve can impact the rate you pay throughout the loan term. Read on to learn how.

How Does the Fed Impact Personal Loan Interest Rates?

The Federal Reserve’s monetary policies influence interest rates on many financial products, from credit cards to mortgages and personal loans.

Federal Funds Rate 

One way the Fed guides the direction of the economy is by controlling the federal funds rate, which is the benchmark rate banks use for overnight lending.

Raising or lowering the federal funds rate can have a ripple effect on other rates that are tied to it. For instance, the prime rate moves with the Fed rate and acts as the underlying index for many loan products. Lenders use the prime rate to determine what to charge borrowers, including people who apply for personal loans.

A higher Fed rate increases borrowing costs for banks, so they’ll transfer those higher costs onto consumers by increasing the prime rate. Banks usually calculate the prime rate by adding 3 percentage points to the federal funds rate. As of June 2024, the Fed rate is 5.5% and the prime rate is 8.5%.

A series of Fed rate hikes have caused personal loan rates to increase in the last couple of years. Between March 2022 and June 2024, the Federal Reserve increased the federal funds rate from 0.5% to 5.5% in an effort to cool down inflation. The prime rate increased from 3.5% to 8.5% during the same time frame. Average personal loan rates followed suit, rising from 9.87% to 12.49%.

Buying and Selling Securities

The Fed can also trade securities to control the money supply and influence interest rates. This is called “open market operations.”

For instance, the Fed often buys long-term U.S. Treasuries to reduce their yields, which often leads to lower market rates (which can include personal loans). The Fed can also sell securities for the opposite effect.

“U.S. Treasuries are considered risk-free and are the basis for all other interest rates in the economy,” says Aleksandar Tomic, associate dean for strategy, innovation and technology and the program director of the master of science in applied economics programs at Boston College.

“When yields on U.S. Treasuries go up, rates on personal loans will go up as well,” Tomic says. Essentially, “the borrower has to convince a lender to lend to them instead of the U.S. government, which has zero risk of default.”

Does It Impact Existing Personal Loans?

If you already took out a personal loan with a fixed interest rate, then any future decisions the Fed makes won’t affect your personal loan. “The Fed’s policies will not impact someone with a fixed rate, unless they try to refinance or are looking for a new loan,” Tomic says.

A fixed rate stays the same throughout your loan term, no matter what happens with the prime rate or federal funds rate. However, changes to the Fed rate could impact personal loans with a variable interest rate.

Fixed vs. Variable Rate Loans

When you apply for a personal loan, you may have a choice between a fixed rate or a variable rate. Here’s how the Fed’s decisions may impact both types of loans.

Fixed-Rate Personal Loans 

Most personal loans come with a fixed interest rate that never changes throughout the loan term. These loans come with fixed monthly payments that offer predictability. When the Fed changes its benchmark interest rate, lenders often do the same with the rates they charge borrowers.

In a low-rate environment, you could save on interest costs when taking out a personal loan. But the opposite is true, too. When the federal funds rate rises, you’ll typically pay a higher interest rate when you take out a new personal loan.

Variable-Rate Personal Loans 

Some personal loans come with variable interest rates that may change anytime during the loan term. Variable rates usually start low, making them attractive to borrowers who want to save on interest. But borrowers take a risk that the rate will increase at some point. Lenders usually adjust the rate based on changes in the loan’s underlying benchmark, which is often the prime rate.

“If the Federal Reserve raises interest rates, the variable rate on an existing personal loan is likely to rise,” says Hugh Johnson, an economic adviser to the chairman of the New York State Assembly Committee on Ways and Means. “It will cost the consumer more each month going forward.”

The specific rate change and how frequently it can change depends on the terms of the loan. “In the early years of the loan, interest is the largest portion of the payment, so changes in the interest rate will have a large effect on the monthly payment,” Tomic says. “In more mature loans, the effect is smaller.”

You may be able to avoid further rate changes by taking out a fixed-rate debt consolidation loan. This move effectively refinances your debt and eliminates rate increases.

Are Personal Loan Interest Rates Expected to Increase or Decrease?

Personal loan interest rates will likely remain where they are for the next few months and then potentially go down.

The Fed chose to keep its key rate steady at its June meeting, meaning personal loan rates likely won’t change much in either direction.

The Fed is stabilizing its rate because “the decline in inflation has stalled,” Johnson says. “And as a result of that, the Federal Reserve is likely to need more evidence that inflation is declining … toward their 2% target.”

And moving forward, “the consensus expectation is the Fed will lower interest rates and will do so at least once in 2024, most likely in the fourth quarter,” Johnson says.

In the meantime, the Fed will likely hold its benchmark rate steady and monitor the economy.

FAQs

The Federal Reserve is the nation’s central bank that was established in 1913 and operates outside of the government. It has a dual mandate to maximize employment and monitor inflation. Within the Federal Reserve System, there are three branches:

  • Reserve banks. The 12 regional reserve banks are located in large cities spread across the U.S. The reserve banks provide services to commercial banks, serve as fiscal agents for the U.S. government, and conduct and distribute economic research.
  • The Board of Governors. The board is composed of seven members who are appointed by the president and confirmed by Congress. The board members guide the reserve banks and the Federal Reserve’s policy actions.
  • The Federal Open Market Committee. The FOMC acts as the Fed’s main body for monetary policy. It’s composed of the board of governors, the president of the regional New York Fed and four other reserve bank presidents. 

The FOMC schedules eight regular meetings throughout the year and may hold other meetings as needed. At these meetings, the FOMC votes on whether to raise, lower or maintain the federal funds rate. 2025 dates are not available yet. Its 2024 meeting dates are:

  • Jan. 30-31
  • March 19–20
  • April 30–May 1
  • June 11–12
  • July 30–31
  • Sept. 17–18
  • Nov. 6–7
  • Dec. 17–18

Personal loan rates and fees can vary widely from one lender to the next, so it’s a good idea to get quotes from multiple lenders. Many personal loan companies help you do this with an online prequalification tool and a soft credit inquiry, which won’t impact your credit score. The prequalification typically estimates your loan amount, repayment term and interest rate. Compare offers from several lenders to find the lowest interest rate and fees.

If lenders are quoting you high interest rates, consider working on your financial standing. Check your free credit score to see where it stands, and pull your credit reports to make sure the information is correct. Taking steps to improve your credit could help you qualify for a personal loan with a better interest rate.

Sarah Goldberg
Sarah Goldberg

Sarah is a seasoned financial market expert with a decade of experience. She's known for her analytical skills, attention to detail, and ability to communicate complex financial concepts. She holds a Bachelor's degree in Finance, is a licensed financial advisor, and enjoys reading and traveling in her free time.

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