You’ve probably heard about the Federal Reserve (or “the Fed,” as we’ll call it here), especially in the news, right? Maybe you’ve come across the term “Fed fund rate,” too. Sounds complicated, doesn’t it? But don’t worry, that’s why we’re here today.

In this article, I will help you get to know our big friend, the Fed, a bit better.  I will break down:

  • What the “Fed fund rate” is.
  • Why it matters to you.
  • Why it gets so much attention.
  • Impact on the whole world when the Fed Fund Rate Changes, and
  • What we can learn from Fed Fund Rates change histories.

First Things First: What is the Fed?

Before we dive into the Fed fund rate, let’s quickly touch on what the Fed is. The Fed is the United States’ central bank, and it has a big role in keeping the economy stable. It’s like the country’s financial guardian, always working in the background to keep things on track.

So, What Exactly is the Fed Fund Rate?

Now, let’s get to the meat of our conversation, the Federal Funds Rate. This is the interest rate at which banks and credit unions lend reserve balances to each other overnight. It’s called “federal funds” because these are the reserves held by banks at Federal Reserve Banks.

Confused? Think of it like this: banks often need to borrow money from each other to meet minimum reserve requirements. They want to make sure they have enough money on hand. The rate they charge each other for these short-term loans is the federal funds rate.

How is the Fed Fund Rate Determined?

Here’s where our buddy the Fed comes in. Fed Fund rates are set by the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC), which is a branch of the U.S. Federal Reserve responsible for monetary policy decisions. The committee takes into account factors such as inflation, employment levels, economic growth, and financial market conditions to assess the appropriate level of interest rates.

The Fed influences this rate through its “open market operations”, which is a fancy term for buying and selling government securities. This way, they can adjust the amount of money in the economy and keep things balanced.

The Fed doesn’t set the Fed fund rate directly. Instead, they set a “target range.” The banks then negotiate the exact rate amongst themselves, but they usually keep it within this range.

Why Should You Care About the Fed Fund Rate?

Great question! Why should this matter to you, right?

Well, the Fed fund rate has a significant effect on the overall interest rate environment. If the Fed raises the target range for the Fed fund rate, it becomes more expensive for banks to borrow money. And guess what? Banks will usually pass these increased costs on to us, the consumers.

#1. When the Fed Fund Rate increases

In practical terms, when the Fed fund rate increases, the interest rates on things like credit cards, mortgages, and other loans usually go up too.

Think about when your mortgage interest rate increases from 1% to 4% now. Your monthly mortgage repayment has increased significantly.

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As interest rates go up, it becomes more costly to borrow money.

By making borrowing more expensive, higher interest rates helps control prices, prevent excessive borrowing, and maintain a stable economy in the long run.

The purpose of hiking the rate is to help maintain price stability, control inflationary pressures, and ensure sustainable economic growth in the long term.

#2. When the Fed Fund Rate decreases

Conversely, when the Fed lowers the rate, borrowing tends to become cheaper.

Let’s look at this example: During the “Great Singapore Sale”, prices are slashed across the board. This encourages borrowing and spending, which spurs more investments, and fuels job creation.

Just like the anticipation of discounted prices triggers a surge in shopping, lower interest rates make borrowing cheaper for businesses and individuals.

This can lead to increased consumer spending, more business expansions, and a boost to overall economic growth.

In short…

So, why do you hear about the Fed fund rate so much? Because it’s a big deal! It’s a key tool the Fed uses to help manage the U.S. economy but with international impact.

By understanding what the Fed fund rate is, you’re taking a great step toward better understanding the economy and how it affects your wallet.

While all of this might seem a bit complex, it’s part of our daily lives, affecting everything from our mortgages to our savings accounts. Keep in mind that while the Fed Fund rate might seem like it’s only about banks and big businesses, it really does trickle down to all of us.

Beyond the Basics: What else does the Fed Fund Rate affect?

We’ve already talked about how the Fed fund rate affects interest rates on loans and credit cards, but did you know it also impacts the stock market and even the strength of the U.S. dollar on the international stage?

When the Fed fund rate is low, companies can borrow money at lower costs, potentially increasing their profits. That can boost stock prices. However, lower interest rates can also lead to inflation, which is something the Fed watches carefully.

On the international stage, a higher Fed fund rate can attract foreign investors looking for better returns on their investments, leading to an increase in the value of the U.S. dollar. So, yes, this one rate has quite a reach!

That is why every time the Fed holds a meeting about the rate, the whole finance world pays attention.

What Fed Fund Rates History can tell us about

One of the fascinating things about the Fed is the delicate balancing act it performs. It wants to encourage economic growth, but not at the expense of skyrocketing inflation. If it raises the Fed fund rate too high, it could stifle growth. If it lowers it too much, we could see prices rise too fast. It’s a constant balancing act.

That is why knowing what Fed fund rates are is not enough. We also need to examine the historical patterns and their impact on the economy to gain valuable insights into the present and future financial landscape.

The interactive diagram below shows the history of the effective Fed Fund Rates.

As you can see, Fed Fund Rates have a long history of ups and downs.

To make it easier for you to understand the Fed Fund Rates change history, I have created an infographic with the complete Federal Funds Rate History from 1990 to 2023.

Let’s test your understanding of Fed Fund Rate

So now you know the Fed uses several tools to manage this balance, and the Fed fund rate is one of the primary ones. So, understanding the Fed fund rate gives you a window into the financial market and we need to monitor it regularly.

Now take the 3-question quiz below to see if you have a good understanding of Fed Fund Rate.

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About the Author

Ivan Guan is the author of the popular book "FIRE Your Retirement". He is an independent financial adviser with more than a decade of knowledge and experience in providing financial advisory services to both individuals and businesses. He specializes in investment planning and portfolio management for early retirement. His blog provides practical financial tips, strategies and resources to help people achieve financial freedom. Follow his Telegram Channel to join the FIRE community.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author. This does not reflect the official position of any agency, organization, employer or company. Refer to full disclaimers here.

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