WASHINGTON—Borrowing costs for consumers have risen as the Federal Reserve continues to tighten monetary policy, with interest rates on home, auto and credit-card loans reaching multiyear highs in recent months.
Rates on mortgages, which account for the biggest chunk of U.S. household borrowing, are at their highest levels since 2013. According to
the average fixed rate on a 30-year mortgage was 4.54% last week, up from 3.95% in early January. Though rates are still moderate by historical standards, that increase is enough to add about $100 to the monthly mortgage on an average-priced home in the U.S. with a 20% down payment.
So far, there is little sign that higher interest rates are damping consumer spending, which handily beat economists’ expectations in April even after the Fed raised its benchmark federal-funds rate in March to a range between 1.50% and 1.75%.
The central bank is likely to announce another quarter-percentage-point increase Wednesday and pencil in at least one more move this year.
For now, economists say rising wages, low unemployment and the recent tax cuts are likely to ease the impact of higher borrowing costs for many households.
But some individuals are already feeling the squeeze, particularly in markets where housing prices are also rising.
Scott Van Sande,
32 years old, a corporate data-privacy director in Phoenix, said his family’s search for a new home has taken longer than expected, in part because he has watched mortgage rates rise steadily since he started looking last year. They are a full percentage point above the 3.5% he pays on his current mortgage, and not knowing how much further they will rise has been a source of anxiety.
“With prices and rates what they are, it’s been difficult to find something that will work for us,” said Mr. Van Sande, adding that he and his wife have had three children since buying their current home and could use another bedroom. “It’s almost forcing you into a position of purchasing something high just because there’s a fear of the rates making it more expensive down the road, so it is kind of a tricky situation.”
Other types of consumer loans also have grown more expensive as lenders anticipate further Fed rate increases in coming years to keep the economy from overheating.
Average five-year rates for a new-car loan rose last week to 4.71%, the highest level since early 2012, according to financial data publisher
Average annual percentage rates on credit cards and average rates for home equity lines of credit both have hit their highest levels since before the 2008-09 crisis, Bankrate says.
“On credit cards and variable rates such as [home equity lines of credit], it’s an almost instantaneous one-to-one correlation,” said
a corporate economist at Navy Federal Credit Union. “You see those go up almost immediately tracking the federal-funds rate.”
Still, most consumer spending isn’t made on credit, Mr. Frick said.
And while household debt has reached record levels in absolute terms, “a preponderance of fixed rate[s]…on household balance sheets will mitigate the effects of higher interest rates over coming quarters,” said
Richard F. Moody,
chief economist at Regions Financial Corp., in a note to clients on May 23.
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