We’re just days from finding out if the Federal Reserve will raise rates for the 10th consecutive time since March 2022.
The next Federal Open Market Committee meeting is set for May 2 and 3. Though some experts think the Fed may raise interest rates again, inflation is cooling and the unemployment rate is stable. So there’s a chance the Fed could press pause on rate hikes.
What does this mean for your savings? We spoke to five experts to see what they think will happen next and how you should prepare.
Will the Fed raise rates again?
Experts are divided on whether the Fed will raise rates again or pause their rate hike. But some experts believe the Fed may hike rates once last time in May.
The latest Consumer Price Index report shows that inflation only rose by 0.1% from February to March — a smaller increase from months prior. But inflation is still high, at 5% year-over-year. Since we’re not quite at the Fed’s 2% target range, there’s a chance that we’ll see another rate hike, but not as significant as last year’s 50 to 75 basis point increases.
“I believe that the Fed will be raising rates by 25 bps at the May meeting,” said Lawrence Sprung, a certified financial planner and author of Financial Planning Made Personal. “This will probably lead to banks adjusting rates higher from where we are today.” While Sprung expects rates to rise a bit more, he does not expect them to surpass the highs we experienced several weeks ago.
Inflation is the highest it’s been in over 40 years, said Chelsea Ransom-Cooper, managing partner and financial planning director at Zenith Wealth Partners. And it doesn’t come down as easily as it goes up.
“Inflation goes up like a rocket ship but comes down like a parachute,” said Cooper.
The Federal Reserve Bank has raised the federal funds rate several times since 2022 to combat inflation, pointing to how long it can take to level the economy and inflation. She believes reaching the 2% target rate will take some time. “The next FOMC meeting in May might be the last interest rate hike of the year,” she said.
What to expect if the Fed doesn’t raise rates
While some experts believe the work of taming inflation isn’t done, Powell noted that the US economy slowed significantly at last month’s FOMC meeting.
“We no longer state that we anticipate that ongoing rate increases will be appropriate to quell inflation; instead, we now anticipate that some additional policy firming may be appropriate,” Powell said. Based on Powell’s comments, last month’s consumer price index report and signs of inflation cooling off, some experts believe that the recent streak of rate hikes is over for the foreseeable future.
“I am hoping they are done with raising, but I didn’t want them to raise after the Silicon Valley Bank collapse, and they did,” said Cary Carbonaro, a certified financial planner and Director of the Women and Wealth Division at Advisors Capital Management. “We should wait for the dust to settle from all the fast and furious rate hikes we already had.”
There is a chance that the Fed will do nothing next week, said Ligia Vado, a senior economist for the Credit Union National Association. There are a few reasons that could happen:
First, banks are feeling stress from tightening underwriting standards, provoked by recent bank failures and other factors, she said. What’s more, there’s already a decline in access to credit and borrowing. “It could be argued that the Silicon Valley Bank effect makes a Fed move unnecessary,” said Vado.
If the Fed does not raise rates, you can expect one of two things to happen: Rates will remain stagnant, which can be good if you want more time to choose the right savings account option or continue to earn a decent yield on the high-yield savings account you already have. On the other hand, rates may slowly drop, and any account with a variable rate may see a decrease in the APY, meaning you’ll earn less on your savings. In this case, options with a fixed rate, such as a CD, may be worth considering, so you can lock in a high rate now.
How to prepare for the Fed’s next move now
“Predicting the outcome of a Fed meeting is always a bit of a gamble, but based on recent trends, we might see the Federal Reserve adjusting its policy to address inflation or economic growth concerns,” said Tim Doman, a certified financial planner and CEO of Top Mobile Banks.
Whichever way the Fed goes, banks will respond to the Fed’s move by adjusting their rates accordingly, whether pushing rates higher or keeping them stable for a while. Keep an eye on what the Fed says and be prepared to adapt your savings strategy if necessary, said Doman. “Flexibility is key in the current economic environment.”
For now, think about how you plan to allocate your savings to determine the best savings account option. It’s generally a good idea to focus on building up an emergency fund first, then putting extra savings away in accounts that may earn better interest rates, like CDs. A fully liquid savings option, like a high-yield savings or money market account, gives you access to your money in case you experience an unexpected expense, face a layoff or find rising prices cut into your paycheck even more.
Once you have emergencies covered, a CD is another option worth exploring. Most CD terms offer over 4.00% APYs right now, even for shorter terms. Just make sure you won’t need the money before the term is up — otherwise, you’ll face early withdrawal fees. And if you want more flexibility but also like the idea of locking in a fixed interest rate, you could build a CD ladder — investing in CDs that come due at different times to give you easier access to your money — instead.
If you carry high-interest debt, like credit card balances, you’ll want to focus on paying these accounts down. As the Fed raised rates, savings rates went up, but so did the cost of borrowing — making your credit card balance even more costly. If you can calculate a repayment plan, focus on putting as much as you can towards high-interest debt each month, while still putting some money aside for savings. If you’re paying too much in interest to make a dent in your debt, consider a balance transfer credit card or a debt consolidation loan. A balance transfer card can offer 12 to 18 months to tackle your debt, interest-free, while a debt consolidation loan typically has lower credit requirements, a lower interest rate than credit cards and can help stretch out your payments over several years.
Whether your goal is to save more or eliminate credit card debt, now is the time to act. Experts agree that the tipping point for interest rates is coming soon, so you’ll want to take advantage of high rates to maximize your savings. And with rates expected to remain high for the foreseeable future, it’s also crucial to pay off high-interest credit card debt sooner, rather than later.