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Saturday, July 13, 2024

Interest Rates Keep Dropping. Here’s What Experts Want You to Do

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If you’re like most Americans (or Canadians), you don’t passionately follow financial news. You’re not plugged into CNBC and The Wall Street Journal every day. C’mon, that stuff is pretty dull.

Speaking of financial news, here are a couple of dull, boring sentences that might mean a lot to your pocketbook: The Fed made an emergency cut in interest rates. Rates are at all all-time low.

So, what’s that mean for you? It affects your mortgage, your credit cards, your savings account and your student loans. Basically, it’s never been cheaper for you to borrow money.

“I’m telling people to take advantage of these rates and refinance their mortgages or their student loans,” says financial advisor Justin Chidester, owner of Wealth Mode Financial Planning in Logan, Utah. “I’m pretty much telling everyone, ‘Just go get a quote. It’s not going to hurt you to do that.’”

What exactly should you be doing now? We asked three financial planners, and here are four pieces of advice they gave us. 

Conveniently, you can do all this stuff online. You don’t even have to leave your house.

1. Get Rid of Your Expensive Credit Card Debt

“As the Fed slashes rates, we’d also expect your credit card’s annual percentage rate (APR) to follow suit,” says Maggie Johndrow, a financial advisor with Johndrow Wealth Management in Hartford, Connecticut.

So you’ll be paying a little less interest on your credit card balance. The problem is, credit debt is still the most expensive kind of debt you can have. Your credit card companies are still getting rich off those interest charges.

“Get a personal loan to consolidate your credit card debt,” Chidester advises.

A website called Fiona can match you with a low-interest loan you can use to pay off every credit card balance you have. The benefit? You’re left with just one bill to pay every month, and because the interest rate is so much lower, you can get out of debt so much faster.

If your credit score is at least 620, Fiona can help you borrow up to $100,000 (no collateral needed) with fixed rates starting at 3.84% and terms from 24 to 84 months.

Fiona won’t make you stand in line or call a bank. And if you’re worried you won’t qualify, it’s free to check online. It takes two minutes, and it could save you thousands of dollars. 

Totally worth it.

2. Save Thousands of Dollars on Your Mortgage

Mortgage rates are at a 50-year low, so it’s worth thinking about refinancing. No joke: Over the life of a 30-year mortgage, a lower interest rate can potentially save you tens of thousands of dollars.

“If you can knock it down a half-percent, you should seriously consider it,” Chidester says. “If you can drop it a whole percentage point, I think it’s almost a no-brainer. If you think you’re going to move in the next five years, though, you need to look carefully at whether it’s really worth paying the closing costs.”

To get a quote on a mortgage refi, reach out to your lender, or shop your options online. With many online lenders, you can get a quote in a matter of minutes, and it shouldn’t hurt your credit score, either.

Speaking of credit score… That’ll also play a factor in your refinancing rates, so check your score with Credit Sesame. It’s free and takes all of 90 seconds. Plus, it’ll give you personalized tips on how to improve it.

Don’t dawdle, though.

“As the demand for mortgage refinances increases, lenders may level-off their interest rates or even increase them because there isn’t enough supply to meet the demand. So it would be prudent to lock-in a lowered rate as soon as you can,” Johndrow says.

3. Earn More Money From Your Savings

Turnabout is fair play, and lower interest rates work the other way, too: You’re paying less interest to your lenders, but your bank is paying less interest to you. 

Interest rates on savings accounts are dropping. And even if you have a savings account, chances are you weren’t earning much money from it, anyway.

“I always recommend looking at online savings accounts that are FDIC-insured as an alternative to your local brick-and-mortar bank,” Lee says. “They almost always pay 1% or more than traditional banks.”

These days, the average savings interest rate is limping along at a measly 0.09%, according to the FDIC. Deposit a hundred bucks, and you literally won’t earn a dime in a month’s time.

But with Credit Karma Savings, you’ll earn more than six times the national average.

And unlike other savings accounts, Credit Karma doesn’t make you jump through hoops to collect interest. As long as you have at least 1 cent in your account, you’re good to go. Best yet: No fees. The account is completely free.

It takes no more than a few minutes to open an account.

4. Finally Pay Off Those Lingering Student Loans

Got student loans? You could probably be paying less interest on those. Refinancing them could help you pay off your debt faster and save you thousands of dollars in interest.

“If you’ve been in college recently, you’re probably coming out with rates in the high 6% or 7%, so you can usually refinance to private loans at a lower rate,” Chidester says.

With companies like Splash Financial, you can take steps to refinance your student loans in minutes. At first, it might sound like you’re just moving your debt around, but the key is to find a loan with better interest rates (Splash’s fixed-rate loans start as low as 3.48%) and/or lower monthly payments.

“Due to the rate cut, a 10-year fixed-rate student loan average is now around 4.70% and the five-year variable rate loan is averaging 4.03% — both down by double digits from rates in 2019,” Johndrow says.

Getting a free quote won’t hurt your credit score. All you have to do is enter some basic info. (This includes your Social Security number so Splash can check your credit, but the site is bank-level secured.)

If you have a credit score of 660 or higher and an annual income of at least $40,000, you should have a good chance of qualifying.

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