What the Fed’s Rate Hike Means for Credit Cards and Student Loans

The Fed’s decision to raise its key interest rate by three-quarters of a percentage point is good news for savers, but less so for borrowers: They can expect to pay more on credit card debt, car loans and certain student loans. [Here’s what the Fed’s decision means for mortgages.]

Credit card rates are closely linked to the Fed’s actions, so consumers with revolving debt can expect to see those rates rise, usually within one or two billing cycles. The average credit card rate was recently 16.73 percent, according to Bankrate.com, up from 16.34 percent in March.

“With the frequency of Federal Reserve rate hikes this year, it will be a drumbeat of higher rates for cardholders every couple of statement cycles,” said Greg McBride, chief financial analyst at Bankrate.com. “And the cumulative effect is growing. If the Fed raises rates by a total of three percentage points this year, your credit card rate will be three percentage points higher by the first of the year.”

Car loans are also expected to climb, but those increases continue to be overshadowed by the rising cost of buying a vehicle (and the pain of what you’ll pay at the gas pump). Car loans tend to track the five-year Treasury, which is influenced by the federal funds rate — but that’s not the only factor that determines how much you’ll pay.

A borrower’s credit history, the type of vehicle, loan term and down payment are all baked into that rate calculation.

The average interest rate on new-car loans was 5.08 percent in May, according to Dealertrack, which provides business software to dealerships. That’s almost a full percentage point higher than December 2021, when rates had reached their lowest point since 2015 and when the firm began tracking rates.

The average rate for used vehicles was 8.46 percent in May, also nearly a full percentage point higher than December. But those rates vary widely; borrowers with the lowest credit scores received average rates of 20 percent in May, Dealertrack said, whereas individuals with the most pristine credit histories received rates of 3.92 percent.

Whether the rate increase will affect your student loan payments depends on the type of loan you have.

But new batches of federal loans are priced each July, based on the 10-year Treasury bond auction in May. Rates on those loans have already jumped: Borrowers with federal undergraduate loans disbursed after July 1 (and before July 1, 2023) will pay 4.99 percent, up from 3.73 percent for loans disbursed the year-earlier period.

Private student loan borrowers should also expect to pay more; both fixed and variable-rate loans are linked to benchmarks that track the federal funds rate. Those increases usually show up within a month.

But the Fed is not finished and has penciled in rates hitting 3.4 percent by the end of 2022. Private lenders will probably bake those and other expectations into their interest rates as well — meaning borrowers could end up paying anywhere from 1.5 to 1.9 percentage points more, depending on the length of the loan term, explained Mark Kantrowitz, a student loan expert and author of “How to Appeal for More College Financial Aid.”

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