What Is The Prime Rate And Why Does It Matter?

Q: What exactly is the “prime rate?” How does it affect me as an individual?Symbols of percent on falling red cubes

A: The prime rate is the current interest rate that financial institutions in the U.S. charge their best customers. These customers have excellent credit, and are eligible for this optimal rate because their loans carry the lowest risk for their financial institutions.

The prime rate is also referred to as the prime interest rate, prime lending rate or simply prime. You may hear this term thrown around a lot in the financial news or when reading up on loans and mortgages. That’s because the prime rate affects every level of the economy.

We have answers to all your questions on the prime rate.

How is the prime rate determined?

The prime rate is based on another rate, which is set by the Federal Reserve Board. It’s an interconnected system starting with the government and ultimately impacting each of us on some level.

The prime rate is determined in three steps:

  1. The Federal Reserve System, which is the central bank of the United States, sets the federal funds target rate, or the interest rate, it thinks is best for financial institutions to use when lending each other money.
  2. When financial institutions lend each other money to maintain their reserve requirements, they base the interest rates they charge each other on the federal funds target rate.
  3. The Wall Street Journal surveys the largest financial institutions in the country to determine the rate they are using and then publishes this rate as the prime rate. This number is generally 3 percent higher than the federal funds target rate.

The fed’s target rate, and consequently the prime rate, changes often. In fact, the Federal Open Market Committee, which sets the federal funds target rate, meets a minimum of eight times a year to discuss possibly changing the target rate.

The prime rate reached its peak of 8.25% in the second half of 2006 and then steadily decreased to a low of 3.25% at the start of 2009. It has increased over the past few years. You can check out the changes in the prime rate at Federalreserve.gov.

How does the prime rate affect the average individual?

There are two ways the prime rate affects you.

First, the interest rate on nearly every loan, including mortgages and credit cards, is affected by the prime rate. Financial institutions and large lenders will base their interest rates on the prime rate, generally establishing their current rates at an amount that is higher than prime to cover their larger risk of default. If the prime rate rises, the interest rates on your loans and adjustable-rate credit cards will rise as well.

Second, the prime rate affects liquidity in the financial markets. When the rate is low, liquidity increases. This means funds are more readily available because loans are less expensive and easier to qualify for. This, in turn, generates a growing economy as businesses expand.

Conversely, when the prime rate is high, liquidity is low and loans are hard to come by, thus slowing the economy down.

Is the prime rate the only factor used to determine individual interest rates?

While the prime rate is the starting point that financial institutions and large lenders use in determining an interest rate for a loan, it is by no means the only factor they’ll consider.

Your credit score plays a vital role in the interest rate you’ll be granted for a large loan. The higher your score, the lower interest rate you’ll earn. Keep your score high by using your cards responsibly and paying your credit card bills on time.

Here at Destinations Credit Union, we also consider your credit history and the general state of your finances when determining your interest rate on a loan. If we see that you’re moving on an upward trajectory and working toward paying down your debts, we’ll be more likely to grant you a favorable interest rate on any loan we offer.

Also, keep in mind that as an institution devoted to your success, we are always striving to help you achieve and maintain financial wellness. To that end, we offer our members a starting interest rate on all loan products that is currently lower than the interest rate offered by most banks in the U.S. While your specific interest rate may vary due to personal circumstances, you’ll know you’re always getting the best possible terms here at Destinations Credit Union.

The prime rate is an important element in the overall state of the U.S. economy and in your personal finances as well. While you have no control over the rate’s rise and fall, you can do your part in keeping your interest rates low by maintaining a high credit score, living with financial responsibility and taking advantage of the excellent rates on products offered at Destinations Credit Union.

Your Turn: How do you keep your credit score high and your interest rates low? Share your best tips with us in the comments.

SOURCES:
https://www.investopedia.com/terms/p/primerate.asp

https://www.thebalance.com/prime-interest-rate-3305956
https://www.creditkarma.com/credit-cards/i/prime-rate/
https://www.federalreserve.gov/

How Many Credit Cards Should I Own?

The importance of maintaining a good credit score is old news. As you likely know, theStack of credit cards higher your score, the more attractive you will be to potential lenders, making larger loans and the best interest rates more accessible.

Hopefully, you’re working hard at keeping that score high by using your cards and paying your bills on time. You may be wondering, though, if more is better. Should you open a few more and get more available credit? Or, are too many cards a liability to your score?

Read on for the answers to all your questions.

How your credit score works

Before we answer the number of cards question, let’s explore the way FICO and other credit scoring agencies, like VantageScore, calculate that all-important credit score.

Here are the major components of your credit score:

  1. Your payment history. The timeliness – or lack thereof – of your payments comprises 65% of your FICO score, making it the most important factor. VantageScore, another major credit scoring company, doesn’t share the percentages it uses, but it calls payment history “extremely influential” in determining your score.
  2. Your credit utilization. Credit scoring companies look at how much of your available credit you are using.A large amount of available credit – even in aggregate across multiple cards – is not always a good thing.
  3. The age of your credit. Next up on the list of influential factors is how long you’ve had your credit cards open. Lenders want to see a long and active history of credit cards and on-time payments.
  4. The kind of credit you have. A variety of credit indicates that you are an attractive borrower.

The benefits of having multiple cards

Having one open credit card is not sufficient for achieving a high credit score. In order to give you the best shot at excellent credit, make sure you have several open cards. In the long run, having multiple cards can boost your score in two important areas:

  • Your payment history. When you pay several credit card bills on time instead of just one, this component of your score will go up.
  • Credit utilization rate. FICO likes to see a low credit utilization rate. This means that the more unused credit you have, the higher you will score in this area. Having multiple cards open will automatically increase your available credit. You’ll also be able to spread your credit use across several cards, further lowering your credit utilization rate.

The right number of credit cards

Are you waiting to hear that magic number telling you exactly how many cards you should have in for achieving and maintaining a high score? Well, unfortunately, there is no such “magic” number.

As mentioned, you do need to have several credit cards to increase your credit age and available credit, but there is no specific amount you should have. Instead, let’s take a look at the credit cards of consumers who have excellent scores.

The FICO high-achiever statistics track people with FICO scores that top 785. These statistics find that the average FICO high-achiever has 7 open credit cards. Of these cards, only four have outstanding balances. The average credit account is 11 years old and the most recently opened account is 28 months old.

So, while you may be quick to observe that several cards may be a good thing, consider the age of the cards in the wallets of high achievers. Perhaps lots of NEW cards won’t help you achieve excellent credit. Rather, a proven track record of on-time payments and responsible use of credit is the vital factor here.

When not to open new cards

If you’re planning on taking out a large loan, like a mortgage or an auto loan, within the next year, it’s not a good idea to start applying for new cards. Here’s why:

  • Hard checks on your credit. Every new credit card you apply for means another time your credit history gets pulled. Lots of “hard checks” can negatively affect your score – just what you don’t need before applying for a large loan. It may hurt your chances of approval and/or increase your approved rate.
  • Your credit age will decrease. The age of your credit is determined by taking an average age of all your cards. By opening lots of new cards, you’re bringing that average down and hurting your score.
  • Your credit variety will be lessened. Similarly, opening more unsecured cards with revolving credit will lower your credit variety, because you will suddenly have a much heavier amount of unsecured credit lines and less of other types of borrowings.
  • Too much open credit. While once considered a positive attribute across all credit scoring companies, the recent modifications to the VantageScore have changed all that. Lots of open credit will now negatively affect your VantageScore. This score is used for auto loans and other large loans; though most mortgage lenders currently only consider your FICO score.

Here’s the final word on having lots of open credit cards: If you’re just starting to build your credit and don’t plan on taking out a huge loan soon, it’s a good idea to open a few cards. Pay them on time and try not to go above 30% of your available limit on any of them. But, if you plan on applying for a large loan in the near future, give that card acquisition a rest and focus on using the cards you have responsibly.

Whichever category you fall into, remember to use your cards and pay those bills on time! The easiest way to do this is to make it automatic. Set up each of your credit cards to pay for a monthly bill. Then, set up your credit card bills to be paid automatically as well.

Keeping your credit score strong can have positive effects on your finances for years to come! Contact Destinations Credit Union or our partner financial counselor, Greenpath, for ways to improve your credit score!

Your Turn: How many credit cards do you own? Do you think this number is too few or too many? Share your thoughts with us in the comments!

SOURCES:
https://www.bankrate.com/credit-cards/how-many-credit-cards-is-too-many/

https://www.google.com/amp/s/lifehacker.com/how-many-credit-cards-should-i-have-1658094283/amp
https://www.creditcards.com/credit-card-news/too-many-cards-1586.php
https://www.nerdwallet.com/blog/finance/too-many-credit-cards-hurt-fico-score/
https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.creditkarma.com/credit-cards/i/how-many-credit-cards-does-the-average-american-have/amp/

How To Fund An Emergency

Q: Help! I’ve been hit with a financial emergency and I don’t know how to pay for it! Woman standing in flooded houseWhat are my options?

A: Ideally, you’ll want to have an emergency fund in place for this very reason. If you don’t, or the money you have set aside isn’t enough, you have several options to consider.

We’ve listed some ideas below. Be sure to review the pros and cons of each before determining which option(s) will work best for you.

1.) Credit cards

For many people, when faced with staggering and unexpected bills, the default option is to pull out their plastic. Unfortunately, following this trend can put you on the fast track toward a lifetime of debt and playing catch-up because of this one-time emergency.

Credit cards offer incredible convenience. With your card in hand, you don’t have to wait for approval, take on another source of debt, or even think about how you’ll pay for it all until later.

When you borrow with a credit card, though, you’ll get more than you bargained for. With interest rates that can soar (in some cases, to an astronomical 30%), you’ll end up paying a lot more money than what you initially borrowed.

To make it worse, credit cards are designed to keep you in debt. They make it easy to push off paying what you owe by only requiring a minimum monthly payment. With accrued interest, paying only the minimum each month means you’ll hardly be making headway on that debt at all and will end up carrying it for a lot longer than planned.  (Please note: Destinations Credit Union has a fixed-rate credit card so you will know in advance if rates ever change.)

2.) 401(k) loans

You may not have an adequate emergency fund on hand, but what you may have is funds sitting in your retirement fund. But, should you crack open a 401(k) to pay for a financial emergency?

Borrowing money from a retirement fund should only be used as a last resort. It’s really advisable only for those whose credit has been shot and won’t qualify for another loan. 401(k) loans have a low interest rate, but will affect your future financial stability in ways other loans will not. For this reason, experts only recommend borrowing from a 401(k) if you are completely secure in your job and the money will be used for a sound investment. Using this money to fund a medical emergency or household repair is not such an investment.

Also, payments for the loan will be taken out of your future paychecks, so be sure you can afford less regular income before borrowing from a 401(k).

3.) Friends and family

For many, friends and family are the obvious answer when you need someone to bail you out during a rough time.

But is this solution really so obvious?

For some, it may very well be the case. Borrowing from friends and family means borrowing without interest and being granted generous loan terms. However, it can also get sticky, fast.

Only borrow from people you know and love with these guidelines in place:

  • Have a clear repayment plan in place and be sure you can stick to the set timeline. Don’t accept any offers of “pay me back in 10 years,” or that debt will be haunting you for a very long time.
  • Write down the loan terms and create a shared contract detailing all of the terms and the repayment plan.
  • Consider having a third party witness the loan and sign the contract.
  • Keep your financial and personal relationship separate. As long as you’re making your payments on time, there’s no reason to discuss the loan every time you speak.

Borrowing from those you hold most dear means putting a cherished relationship in jeopardy. Do not go this route unless you are confident your relationship can stand up to the test and you are absolutely sure you can repay on time.

4.) Personal loans

Personal loans exist for reasons like these. Since they have no explicit purpose, you won’t need to give any lengthy explanations for why you need the money and you should have the funds in hand rather quickly.

Unfortunately, though, personal loans are unsecured and most of them come with high interest rates and fees. You’ll also need to have decent credit to qualify. As a member of [credit union], though, you have access to personal loans with affordable rates. They may just be your way out of a financial bind!

If you think a personal loan might be right for you, call, click or stop by Destinations Credit Union today to learn all about our rates and payment options. We’re always here to help you out!

Setting up an emergency fund

It might be too late right now, but it’s never too early to start thinking about the future. Start setting up your emergency fund today so you’re never stuck in a tight spot again.

Here’s how to make it happen in five simple steps:

  • Create a goal for your fund. Ideally, an emergency fund should have enough cash to cover your living expenses for 3-6 months.
  • Review your monthly budget to find places to cut back. Alternately, look for ways to boost your income.
  • Determine how long it will take you to reach your goal by allocating the saved or earned money to your emergency fund.
  • Open a savings account specifically for this purpose.
  • Set up automatic monthly transfers from your checking account to your emergency fund.

Now you can sit back and watch your emergency fund build itself into something substantial that will help you sleep better at night. From here on, unexpected expenses or setbacks won’t throw you for a loop. You’ll be prepared for anything!

Your Turn: Do you have a secure plan in place for emergencies?

SOURCES:
https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.forbes.com/sites/peterlazaroff/2017/09/23-how-to-set-up-your-emergency-fund/amp/  

https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.bankrate.com/retirement/4-reasons-to-take-out-a-401k-loan/amp/  
http://www.businessinsider.com/how-to-borrow-money-from-friends-family-2013-1  
https://www.nerdwallet.com/blog/loans/personal-loan-why-should-i-get/  
https://www.thebalance.com/why-using-your-credit-card-for-emergencies-is-risky-960992