What Happens When The Fed Raises Interest Rates? – Forbes Advisor

The Federal Funds Rate is the interest rate U.S. banks charge each other to lend funds overnight. It affects other interest rates. See how it works.


Financial institutions are obligated by law to maintain certain levels of reserves, either as reserves with the Fed or as vault cash. The level of these reserves is determined by the outstanding assets and liabilities of each depository institution, as well as by the Fed itself, but is typically 10%[5] of the total value of the bank’s demand accounts (depending on bank size). For transaction deposits of size $9.3 million to $43.9 million (checking accounts, NOWs, and other deposits that can be used to make payments) the reserve requirement in 2007–2008 was 3 percent of the end-of-the-day daily average amount held over a two-week period. Transaction deposits over $43.9 million held at the same depository institution carried a 10 percent reserve requirement.

For example, assume a particular U.S. depository institution, in the normal course of business, issues a loan. This dispenses money and decreases the ratio of bank reserves to money loaned. If its reserve ratio drops below the legally required minimum, it must add to its reserves to remain compliant with Federal Reserve regulations. The bank can borrow the requisite funds from another bank that has a surplus in its account with the Fed. The interest rate that the borrowing bank pays to the lending bank to borrow the funds is negotiated between the two banks, and the weighted average of this rate across all such transactions is the federal funds effective rate.

The federal funds target rate is set by the governors of the Federal Reserve, which they enforce by open market operations and adjustments in the interest rate on reserves.[6] The target rate is almost always what is meant by the media referring to the Federal Reserve «changing interest rates.» The actual federal funds rate generally lies within a range of that target rate, as the Federal Reserve cannot set an exact value through open market operations.

Another way banks can borrow funds to keep up their required reserves is by taking a loan from the Federal Reserve itself at the discount window. These loans are subject to audit by the Fed, and the discount rate is usually higher than the federal funds rate. Confusion between these two kinds of loans often leads to confusion between the federal funds rate and the discount rate. Another difference is that while the Fed cannot set an exact federal funds rate, it does set the specific discount rate.

The federal funds rate target is decided by the governors at Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) meetings. The FOMC members will either increase, decrease, or leave the rate unchanged depending on the meeting’s agenda and the economic conditions of the U.S. It is possible to infer the market expectations of the FOMC decisions at future meetings from the Chicago Board of Trade (CBOT) Fed Funds futures contracts, and these probabilities are widely reported in the financial media.

Comparison with LIBOR[edit]

Though the London Interbank Offered Rate (LIBOR) and the federal funds rate are concerned with the same action, i.e. interbank loans, they are distinct from one another, as follows:

  • The target federal funds rate is a target interest rate that is set by the FOMC for implementing U.S. monetary policies.
  • The (effective) federal funds rate is achieved through open market operations at the Domestic Trading Desk at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York which deals primarily in domestic securities (U.S. Treasury and federal agencies’ securities).[8]
  • LIBOR is based on a questionnaire where a selection of banks guess the rates at which they could borrow money from other banks.
  • LIBOR may or may not be used to derive business terms. It is not fixed beforehand and is not meant to have macroeconomic ramifications.[9]

Predictions by the market[edit]

Considering the wide impact a change in the federal funds rate can have on the value of the dollar and the amount of lending going to new economic activity, the Federal Reserve is closely watched by the market. The prices of Option contracts on fed funds futures (traded on the Chicago Board of Trade) can be used to infer the market’s expectations of future Fed policy changes. Based on CME Group 30-Day Fed Fund futures prices, which have long been used to express the market’s views on the likelihood of changes in U.S. monetary policy, the CME Group FedWatch tool allows market participants to view the probability of an upcoming Fed Rate hike. One set of such implied probabilities is published by the Cleveland Fed.

How the Fed Funds Rate Maximizes Employment

When the Fed lowers the rate range, it’s called expansionary monetary policy. Banks offer lower interest rates on everything from credit card rates to student and car loans.

Adjustable-rate home loans become cheaper, which improves the housing market. Homeowners feel richer and spend more. They can also take out home equity loans more easily, spending that money on home improvements and new cars. These actions stimulate the economy by increasing demand.

When demand increases, employers must hire more workers and increase production. This decreases unemployment, increases consumer’s ability to spend, and feeds more demand. The Fed then sets a target range to keep a healthy level of unemployment and inflation.

Lower interest rates means more affordable bank lending. This can help businesses expand and grow.

In an emergency response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the FOMC lowered the target for the FFR twice in March 2020, dropping it by a total of 1.5 percentage points to its current rate of near zero. This was an attempt to ease the impact of the pandemic on employment and spending.

Impact of the Federal Funds Rate

The federal funds rate is one of the most important interest rates in the U.S. economy. That’s because it affects monetary and financial conditions, which in turn have a bearing on critical aspects of the broader economy including employment, growth, and inflation.

The rate also influences short-term interest rates, albeit indirectly, for everything from home and auto loans to credit cards, as lenders often set their rates based on the prime lending rate. The prime rate is the rate banks charge their most creditworthy borrowers—a rate that is also influenced by the federal funds rate.

Investors keep a close watch on the federal funds rate. The stock market typically reacts very strongly to changes in the target rate. For example, a small decline in the rate can prompt the market to leap higher as the borrowing costs for companies gets lower. Many stock analysts pay particular attention to statements by members of the FOMC to try to get a sense of where the target rate may be headed.

Historical rates[edit]

As of 30 October 2019[update] the target range for the Federal Funds Rate is 1.50–1.75%.[10] This reduction represented the third of the current sequence of rate decreases: the first occurred in July 2019. As of March 15, 2020 the target range for Federal Funds Rate is 0.00–0.25%,[11] a full percentage point drop less than two weeks after being lowered to 1.00–1.25%.[12]

The last full cycle of rate increases occurred between June 2004 and June 2006 as rates steadily rose from 1.00% to 5.25%. The target rate remained at 5.25% for over a year, until the Federal Reserve began lowering rates in September 2007. The last cycle of easing monetary policy through the rate was conducted from September 2007 to December 2008 as the target rate fell from 5.25% to a range of 0.00–0.25%. Between December 2008 and December 2015 the target rate remained at 0.00–0.25%, the lowest rate in the Federal Reserve’s history, as a reaction to the Financial crisis of 2007–2008 and its aftermath. According to Jack A. Ablin, chief investment officer at Harris Private Bank, one reason for this unprecedented move of having a range, rather than a specific rate, was because a rate of 0% could have had problematic implications for money market funds, whose fees could then outpace yields.[13]

Federal funds rate history and recessions.png

International effects[edit]

A low federal funds rate makes investments in developing countries such as China or Mexico more attractive. A high federal funds rate makes investments outside the United States less attractive. The long period of a very low federal funds rate from 2009 forward resulted in an increase in investment in developing countries. As the United States began to return to a higher rate in the end of 2015 investments in the United States became more attractive and the rate of investment in developing countries began to fall. The rate also affects the value of currency, a higher rate increasing the value of the U.S. dollar and decreasing the value of currencies such as the Mexican peso.[41]

The financial takeaway

The federal funds rate is an important tool — the tool, some would say — the Federal Reserve uses to stimulate or slow down the economy. Not to mention, maintain the solvency and reliability of the nation’s banks.

Financial institutions, corporations, and individuals are all affected by the federal funds rate one way or another. There’s not much you can do to alter the Fed’s moves or even anticipate them, but it’s good to understand how it can influence your daily life and finances. 


  1. ^ «Fedpoints: Federal Funds». Federal Reserve Bank of New York. August 2007. Retrieved October 2, 2011.
  2. ^ «The Implementation of Monetary Policy». The Federal Reserve System: Purposes & Functions (PDF). Washington, D.C.: Federal Reserve Board. August 24, 2011. p. 4. Retrieved October 2, 2011.
  3. ^ «Effective Federal Funds Rate». Federal Reserve Bank of New York. Retrieved May 1, 2021.
  4. ^ «Monetary Policy, Open Market Operations». Federal Reserve Bank. January 30, 2008. Archived from the original on April 13, 2001. Retrieved January 30, 2008.
  5. ^ «Reserve Requirements». Board of Governors of The Federal Reserve System. December 16, 2015.
  6. ^ Stefan Homburg (2017) A Study in Monetary Macroeconomics, Oxford University Press, ISBN 978-0-19-880753-7.
  7. ^ «Fed funds rate». Bankrate, Inc. March 2016.
  8. ^ Cheryl L. Edwards (November 1997). Gerard Sinzdak. «Open Market Operations in the 1990s» (PDF). Federal Reserve Bulletin (PDF).
  9. ^ «BBA LIBOR — Frequently asked questions». British Bankers’ Association. March 21, 2006. Archived from the original on February 16, 2007.
  10. ^ «Federal Reserve issues FOMC statement». Board of Governors of The Federal Reserve System. September 18, 2019.
  11. ^ «Federal reserve press release».
  12. ^ «Federal reserve press release».
  13. ^ «4:56 p.m. US-Closing Stocks». Associated Press. December 16, 2008. Archived from the original on July 18, 2012.
  14. ^ David Waring (February 19, 2008). «An Explanation of How The Fed Moves Interest Rates». InformedTrades.com. Archived from the original on May 5, 2015. Retrieved July 20, 2009.
  15. ^ «Historical Changes of the Target Federal Funds and Discount Rates, 1971 to present». New York Federal Reserve Branch. February 19, 2010. Archived from the original on December 21, 2008.
  16. ^ «$SPX 1990-06-12 1992-10-04 (rate drop chart)». StockCharts.com.
  17. ^ «$SPX 1992-08-04 1995-03-01 (rate rise chart)». StockCharts.com.
  18. ^ «$SPX 1995-01-01 1997-01-01 (rate drop chart)». StockCharts.com.
  19. ^ «$SPX 1996-12-01 1998-10-17 (rate drop chart)». StockCharts.com.
  20. ^ «$SPX 1998-09-17 2000-06-16 (rate rise chart)». StockCharts.com.
  21. ^ «$SPX 2000-04-16 2002-01-01 (rate drop chart)». StockCharts.com.
  22. ^ «$SPX 2002-01-01 2003-07-25 (rate drop chart)». StockCharts.com.
  23. ^ «$SPX 2003-06-25 2006-06-29 (rate rise chart)». StockCharts.com.
  24. ^ «$SPX 2006-06-29 2008-06-01 (rate drop chart)». StockCharts.com.
  25. ^ Shaw, Richard (January 7, 2007). «The Bond Yield Curve as an Economic Crystal Ball». Retrieved April 3, 2011.
  26. ^ «Press Release». Board of Governors of The Federal Reserve System. December 16, 2008.
  27. ^ «Open Market Operations». Board of Governors of The Federal Reserve System. December 16, 2015.
  28. ^ «Decisions Regarding Monetary Policy Implementation». Board of Governors of The Federal Reserve System. Archived from the original on December 15, 2016.
  29. ^ Cox, Jeff (March 15, 2017). «Fed raises rates at March meeting». CNBC. Retrieved March 15, 2017.
  30. ^ «Federal Reserve issues FOMC statement». Board of Governors of The Federal Reserve System. June 14, 2017.
  31. ^ «Federal Reserve issues FOMC statement». Board of Governors of The Federal Reserve System. December 13, 2017.
  32. ^ «Federal Reserve issues FOMC statement». Board of Governors of The Federal Reserve System. March 21, 2018.
  33. ^ «Federal Reserve issues FOMC statement». Board of Governors of The Federal Reserve System. June 13, 2018.
  34. ^ «Federal Reserve issues FOMC statement». Board of Governors of The Federal Reserve System. September 26, 2018.
  35. ^ «Federal Reserve issues FOMC statement». Board of Governors of The Federal Reserve System. December 19, 2018.
  36. ^ «Federal Reserve issues FOMC statement». Board of Governors of The Federal Reserve System. July 31, 2019.
  37. ^ «Federal Reserve issues FOMC statement». Board of Governors of The Federal Reserve System. September 18, 2019.
  38. ^ «Federal Reserve issues FOMC statement». Board of Governors of The Federal Reserve System. October 30, 2019.
  39. ^ «Federal Reserve issues FOMC statement». Board of Governors of The Federal Reserve System. March 3, 2020.
  40. ^ «Federal Reserve issues FOMC statement». Board of Governors of The Federal Reserve System. March 15, 2020.
  41. ^ Peter S. Goodman, Keith Bradsher and Neil Gough (March 16, 2017). «The Fed Acts. Workers in Mexico and Merchants in Malaysia Suffer». The New York Times. Retrieved March 18, 2017. Rising interest rates in the United States are driving money out of many developing countries, straining governments and pinching consumers around the globe.
  • Historical Data: Effective Federal Funds Rate (interactive graph) from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis
  • Federal Reserve Web Site: Federal Funds Rate Historical Data (including the current rate), Monetary Policy, and Open Market Operations
  • MoneyCafe.com page with Fed Funds Rate and historical chart and graph
  • Historical data (since 1954) comparing the US GDP growth rate versus the US Fed Funds Rate — in the form of a chart/graph
  • Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland: Fed Fund Rate Predictions
  • Federal Funds Rate Data including Daily effective overnight rate and Target rate
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