But what does it actually mean, and how does it affect your financial decisions?
What is a Variable Interest Rate?
A variable interest rate, also known as an "adjustable" or "floating" rate, is a type of interest rate that can fluctuate over time. Unlike fixed interest rates, which stay the same throughout the loan or security term, variable interest rates are based on an underlying benchmark interest rate or index that changes periodically. This benchmark rate may be set by a central bank, such as the Federal Reserve in the United States, or by other financial institutions.
How Variable Interest Rates Work
When you take out a loan or invest in a security with a variable interest rate, your interest payments will change in response to changes in the benchmark rate. For example, if you have a variable-rate mortgage and the benchmark interest rate goes up, your monthly mortgage payments will also increase. Conversely, if the benchmark interest rate goes down, your monthly mortgage payments will decrease.
The frequency of these changes can vary depending on the terms of the loan or security. Some variable interest rates may be adjusted on a daily or weekly basis, while others may be adjusted monthly, quarterly, or annually.
Advantages of Variable Interest Rates
One of the primary advantages of choosing a variable interest rate is the potential to save money if the benchmark interest rate goes down. If you have a variable-rate loan or security and the benchmark rate drops, your interest payments will also decrease, which means you'll have more money available to use for other expenses or investments.
In addition, some variable interest rates may have lower starting rates than fixed interest rates, which can make them an attractive option for borrowers who want to save money on interest in the short term.
Disadvantages of Variable Interest Rates
One of the biggest risks is that the benchmark interest rate could go up, which would cause your interest payments to increase. If you have a variable-rate loan or security and the benchmark rate goes up significantly, you could end up paying much more in interest than you would with a fixed-rate option.
Another potential disadvantage is the uncertainty of not knowing how your interest payments will change over time. With a fixed-rate loan or security, you'll know exactly how much you'll be paying in interest each month, which can make budgeting and financial planning easier. With a variable-rate option, however, your interest payments could go up or down at any time, which can make it more difficult to predict your monthly expenses.
Choosing Between Variable and Fixed Interest Rates
When deciding whether to choose a variable or fixed interest rate for a loan or security, there are several factors to consider. One of the most important is your risk tolerance. If you're comfortable with the possibility of your interest payments increasing, a variable interest rate may be a good option for you. However, if you prefer the stability of knowing exactly how much you'll be paying in interest each month, a fixed interest rate may be a better choice.
Another factor to consider is the current economic climate. If interest rates are low and are expected to stay low, a variable interest rate may be a good option because the risk of rates increasing significantly is lower. However, if interest rates are already high and are expected to continue increasing, a fixed interest rate may be a safer choice.
Finally, it's important to carefully read and understand the terms of any loan or security before making a decision. Some variable interest rates may have caps on how much your interest rate can increase or decrease over a certain period, which can limit your risk. Others may have additional fees or penalties if you decide to switch from a variable to fixed interest rate or vice versa.
The Bottom Line
A variable interest rate is a type of interest rate that can fluctuate over time based on an underlying benchmark interest rate or index. While variable interest rates can offer potential savings in the short term, they also come with the risk of interest rates increasing significantly over time.
When deciding between a variable or fixed interest rate for a loan or security, it's important to consider your risk tolerance, the current economic climate, and the terms of the loan or security. By doing your research and carefully considering your options, you can make an informed decision that meets your financial goals and needs.
Depending on the institution, you may also have the option to choose between a fixed or variable interest rate.
The Prime Rate is usually used as a benchmark to set interest rates on various types of loans and credit products, including mortgages, credit cards, and personal loans.
It's worth noting that interest rates can vary widely depending on a variety of factors, such as the length of the loan, the creditworthiness of the...
Interest rates are also influenced by central banks, which are responsible for setting the base rate that commercial banks use to determine the...