The Federal Reserve’s decision to cut interest rates by a quarter point for the third time this year is meant to bolster the economy.
Everyday Americans may lose some ground.
However, borrowers may not get the full benefit if the economy is weakening, as the Federal Open Market Committee and Chairman Jerome Powell have suggested it is.
In anticipation of an economic slowdown, lenders are less inclined to lend money and may even charge a higher interest rate to hedge against the risk, according to Richard Barrington, a financial expert with MoneyRates.com.
Consumers also likely will earn less interest on their savings accounts and, in some cases, lose buying power over time.
“In this case, a Fed rate cut would not be very good” for savers or borrowers, Barrington said.
Federal funds and mortgage rates are not directly linked. Rather, the economy, the Fed and inflation all have some influence over long-term fixed mortgage rates, which generally are pegged to yields on U.S. Treasury notes.
Mortgage rates have already been declining for almost a year, noted Tendayi Kapfidze, chief economist at LendingTree, an online loan marketplace, with the average 30-year fixed rate now just under 4%, according to Bankrate.
“Mortgage rates this low at the end of an economic cycle is nearly unprecedented, and may be very well keeping the housing market — and U.S. economy — afloat,” said Ralph McLaughlin, deputy chief economist and executive of research and insights for CoreLogic.
That makes this a good time to refinance at a lower rate, which would save the average homeowner about $150 a month, according to Greg McBride, chief financial analyst at Bankrate. “The refinancing window is still wide open,” he said.
Many homeowners with adjustable-rate mortgages, which are pegged to a variety of indexes such as Libor or the 11th District Cost of Funds, may see their interest rate go down as well, although not immediately because many ARMs reset just once a year.
The Fed’s third consecutive rate cut will also make it slightly cheaper for consumers to borrow money from a home equity line of credit — a popular way for homeowners to pay for renovations and repairs — or pay back their current HELOC loan. Unlike an ARM, HELOCs could adjust within 60 days, so borrowers will benefit from smaller monthly payments within a billing cycle or two.