Fed Leaves Rates Alone, Signals Little Change Ahead

December 12, 2019

As the economy continues its record-long expansion, the Federal Reserve voted to leave its key benchmark rate unchanged at its meeting Wednesday. Consumers buying a home or car should continue to see lower borrowing costs as a result. Even though the Fed’s key rate isn’t directly tied to mortgage rates, they do often influence them.

This marked the final Fed meeting of the year for the Federal Reserve. Officials suggested no rate changes for 2020 and projected only one increase in 2021 and one in 2022.

The Fed’s interest rates remain low by historical standards at 1.5% to 1.75% (down from 5.25% before the last recession). Fed officials adjust interest rates in helping to speed or slow economy, when necessary.

With interest rates holding steady, “this is the time to pay down debt and boost savings,” Greg McBride, chief financial analyst at Bankrate.com, told CNBC.

The average 30-year fixed-rate mortgage is substantially lower since the end of last year. Bankrate reports that it is averaging 3.9% this week, down from 4.9% a year ago. Those who purchased their house in the last year will want to consider refinancing into a lower rate, which could save them about $150 a month, McBride says.

As for the Fed, it cut its key interest rate three times this year between July and late October. But the economic outlook remains strong and they are seeing little reason to continue cutting rates.

“Our economic outlook remains a favorable one,” Jerome H. Powell, the Fed chair, said on Wednesday following the meeting. Employment and consumer spending remain strong, and recession fears from six months ago have faded. “With a strong household sector and supportive monetary and financial conditions, we expect moderate growth to continue,” Powell said. “Inflation is barely moving up, notwithstanding that unemployment is at 50-year lows and expected to remain there. We have learned that unemployment can remain at quite low levels for an extended period of time without unwanted upward pressure on inflation.”

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