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Understanding why interest rates change

Interest rates are interesting. See what we did there? Word play is fun. Interest rates? Maybe not so much. Like we said, interesting is a more appropriate descriptor. They can often be an obstacle when you’re trying to get approved for a loan. Everyone wants a lower interest rate, but not every lender is willing to offer one. In most cases, lenders will use your credit history to determine your interest rate, but there are outside influences that can also affect interest rates.

If you’re willing to follow along as we peel back the curtain, you can get a better understanding of what interest rates and how they are impacted by the world around us.

What is an interest rate?

Interest rates are the cost of doing business. If you want to borrow money from a lender, they’re taking a risk and expect a reward in return. You might be able to borrow money from a friend with nothing more than a promise to pay them back, but lenders don’t work on an honor system.

The interest rate determines how much of a reward the lender gets. If you are approved for a loan with a 2% interest rate, in the end the lender will get back the total amount borrowed for the loan, plus an extra 2%. Think of that extra 2% as a tip for services rendered.

One term you might see mentioned alongside the interest rate is Annual Percentage Rate (or APR). The APR is the total amount you pay each year to borrow money. Not only does that include the amount of interest paid, but it also considers any fees charged for the loan.

Why do interest rates change?

The answers you’ve been waiting five paragraphs for are here. Now that you know exactly what an interest rate is, you’re ready to see who is pulling the strings.

Government. If the economy is a train, the U.S. Federal Reserve is the conductor. It wants to keep the train moving. If the economy is starting to slow down, the Federal Reserve can lower interest rates. When the interest rates are lower, people are more open to borrowing and spending money, which helps fuel the economy. Lower interest rates also make it cheaper for businesses to borrow money and use it to invest and create new jobs, reducing unemployment.

The Federal Reserve is also known as the “central bank” of the U.S. It can create more money and deposit it with commercial bankers, increasing their supply of money. With more money in the bank, lenders can often lower interest rates to their borrowers.

Supply and Demand. We all know the feeling of opening up the refrigerator, only to find it empty with nothing inside to satisfy our hunger. Well when you apply for a loan from a lender, they might not have money for you to borrow. They don’t have an infinite supply of cash. If the demand for money is greater than their supply, lenders will charge higher interest rates. Because they may have to borrow from another lender, they will be charged a fee, which the borrower ends up paying for.

Inflation. Remember when a ticket to the movies was 25 cents? You probably don’t because that was the price of admission in 1920. Unless of course you’ve invented time travel, in which case we’d love to hear more about that. But back on topic, inflation has dramatically affected the value of our money over time, and that has consequences. Lenders will consider future inflation when figuring out interest rates to ensure that their return will still be profitable at the end of your loan.

If you have any questions about interest rates or are in fact a time traveler willing to share your secrets, please get in touch with us. We’re here to help you!