In December 2015, the Federal Reserve raised the federal funds target rate to a range of 0.25% to 0.50%, the first rate increase from the near-zero range where it had lingered for seven years. Many economists viewed this action as a positive sign that the Fed had finally deemed the U.S. economy healthy enough to withstand slightly higher interest rates. It remains to be seen how rate increases will play out for the remainder of 2016. In the meantime, try taking this short quiz to test your interest rate knowledge.

 

Quiz

 

1. Bond prices tend to rise when interest rates rise.
a. True
b. False

 

2. Which of the following interest rates is directly controlled by the Federal Reserve Open Market Committee?
a. Prime rate
b. Mortgage rates
c. Federal funds rate
d. All of the above
e. None of the above

 

3. The Federal Reserve typically raises interest rates to control inflation and lowers rates to help accelerate economic growth.
a. True
b. False

 

4. Rising interest rates could result in lower yields for investors who have money in cash alternatives.
a. True
b. False

 

5. Stock market investors tend to look unfavorably on increases in interest rates.
a. True
b. False

 

Answers

 

1. b. False. Bond prices tend to fall when interest rates rise. However, longer-term bonds may feel a greater impact than those with shorter maturities. That’s because when interest rates are rising, bond investors may be reluctant to tie up their money for longer periods if they anticipate higher yields in the future; and the longer a bond’s term, the greater the risk that its yield may eventually be superceded by that of newer bonds. (The principal value of bonds may fluctuate with market conditions. Bonds redeemed prior to maturity may be worth more or less than their original cost.)

 

2. c. Federal funds rate. This is the interest rate at which banks lend funds to each other (typically overnight) within the Federal Reserve System. Though the federal funds rate affects other interest rates, the Fed does not have direct control of consumer interest rates such as mortgage rates.

 

3. a. True. Raising rates theoretically slows economic activity. As a result, the Federal Reserve has historically raised interest rates to help dampen inflation. Conversely, the Federal Reserve has lowered interest rates to help stimulate a sluggish economy.

 

4. b. False. Rising interest rates could actually benefit investors who have money in cash alternatives. Savings accounts, CDs, and money market vehicles are all likely to provide somewhat higher income when interest rates increase. The downside, though, is that if higher interest rates are accompanied by inflation, cash alternatives may not be able to keep pace with rising prices.

 

5. a. True. Higher borrowing costs can reduce corporate profits and reduce the amount of income that consumers have available for spending. However, even with higher rates, an improving economy can be good for investors over the long term.

Many differences exist among baby boomers, Generation Xers, and millennials. But one thing that brings all three generations together is a concern about their financial situations.

According to an April 2016 employee financial wellness survey, 38% of boomers, 46% of GenXers, and 51% of millennials said that financial matters are the top cause of stress in their lives. In fact, baby boomers (50%), Gen Xers(56%), and millennials (60%) share the same top financial concern about not having enough emergency savings for unexpected expenses. Following are additional financial concerns foreach group and some tips on how to address them.

 

Baby boomers
Baby boomers cite retirement as a top concern,with 45% of the group saying they worry about not being able to retire when they want to. Although 79% of the baby boomers said they are currently saving for retirement, 52% of the same group believe they will have to delay retirement. Health issues (30%) and health-care costs (38%) are some of the biggest retirement concerns cited by baby boomers. As a result, many baby boomers(23%) are delaying retirement in order to retain their current health-care benefits.

Other reasons reported by baby boomers for delaying retirement include not having enough money saved to retire (48%), not wanting to retire (27%), and having too much debt (23%).
Generation X
While baby boomers are concerned about retiring when they want to, Gen Xers are more specifically worried about running out of money in retirement, with 50% of the surveyed group citing this as a top concern. More Gen Xers(26%) than baby boomers (25%) or millennials(21%) have already withdrawn money held in their retirement plans to pay for expenses other than retirement.

Besides worrying about retirement, 25% of GenXers are concerned about meeting monthly expenses. Forty-four percent find it difficult to meet household expenses on time each month,and 53% consistently carry balances on their credit cards.

Being laid off from work is another financial worry among Gen Xers, cited by 22% of those surveyed–more than cited by baby boomers or millennials.

Gen Xers (26%) report that better job security would help them achieve future financial goals, which may help explain their worry about both future (retirement) and current (living) expenses.

 

 

Millennials
Unlike baby boomers and Gen Xers who worry about future financial needs, millennials seem to be more concerned about meeting current expenses. This concern has grown substantially for millennials, from 23% in the same survey conducted in 2015 to 35% in2016. Millennials are also finding it increasingly difficult to pay their household expenses on time each month, with the number jumping from 35% in 2015 to 46% in 2016.

Considering the amount of debt that millennials owe, it’s probably not surprising that they worry about making ends meet. Specifically, 42% of the millennials surveyed have a student loan(s),with 79% saying their student loans have a moderate or significant impact on their ability to meet other financial goals.

In an attempt to make ends meet, 30% of millennials say they use credit cards to pay for monthly necessities because they can’t afford them otherwise. But 40% of those who consistently carry balances find it difficult to make their minimum credit-card payments on time each month.

 

 

How each generation can address their concerns
Focusing on some basics may help babyboomers, Gen Xers, and millennials address their financial concerns. Creating and sticking to a budget can make it easier to understand exactly how much money is needed for fixed/discretionary expenses as well as help keep track of debt. A budget may also be a useful tool for learning how to prioritize and save for financial goals, including adding to an emergency savings account and retirement.

At any age, trying to meet the competing demands of both short- and long-term financial goals can be frustrating. Fortunately, there is still time for all three generations to develop healthy money management habits and improve their finances

A long period of low yields has been challenging for many fixed-income investors, but owning bond investments in a rising interest-rate environment could become even trickier. When interest rates go up, the prices of existing bonds typically fall. Consequently, the Federal Reserve’s rate-setting decisions could affect the entire fixed-income market.

 

Still, bonds are a mainstay for conservative investors who prioritize the preservation of principal over returns, and for retirees in need of a predictable income stream. Although diversification does not guarantee a profit or protect against investment loss, owning a diversified mix of bond types and maturities is one way to manage interest-rate and credit risk in your portfolio.

 

Consider duration

 

Overall, bonds with shorter maturities are less sensitive to interest-rate fluctuations than long-term bonds. A bond’s maturity is the length of time by which the principal and interest are scheduled to be repaid. A bond’s duration is a more specific measure of interest-rate sensitivity that takes cash flow (interest payments) into account.

 

For example, a five-year Treasury bond has a duration of less than five years, reflecting income payments that are received prior to maturity. A five-year corporate bond with a higher yield will have an even shorter duration, making it slightly less sensitive to interest-rate fluctuations. If interest rates increase 1%, a bond’s value is generally expected to drop by approximately the bond’s duration. Thus, a bond with a five-year duration could lose roughly 5% in value. (U.S. Treasury securities are guaranteed by the federal government as to the timely payment of principal and interest.)

 

Build a ladder

 

Bond laddering is a buy-and-hold strategy that could also help cushion the potential effects of rising rates. This process puts your money to work systematically, without trying to predict rate changes and time the market.

 

Buying individual bonds provides some certainty, because investors know how much they will earn if they hold a bond until maturity, unless the issuer defaults. A ladder is a portfolio of bonds with maturities that are spaced out at regular intervals over a certain number of years. When short-term bonds from the low rungs of the ladder mature, the funds are reinvested at the top end of the ladder. As interest rates rise, investors may be able to increase their cash flow by capturing higher yields. A ladder may also help insulate bond portfolios from volatility, because higher yields on new bonds may help offset any paper losses on existing holdings.

 

Bond ladders may vary in size and structure, and could include different types of bonds depending on an investor’s time horizon, risk tolerance, and goals. Individual bonds are typically sold in minimum denominations of $1,000 to $5,000, so creating a bond ladder with a sufficient level of diversification might require a sizable investment.

 

Rise with rates

 

Adding a floating-rate component to a bond portfolio may also provide some protection against interest-rate risk. These investments (long offered by U.S. corporations) have interest payments that typically adjust based on prevailing short-term rates.

 

The U.S. Treasury started issuing floating-rate notes with two-year maturities in January 2014. Investors receive interest payments on a quarterly basis. Rates are tied to the most recent 13-week Treasury bill auction and reset weekly, so investors are paid more as interest rates rise and less as they fall.

 

Note: Bonds redeemed prior to maturity could be worth more or less than their original cost, and investments seeking to achieve higher yields also involve a higher degree of risk. Interest payments are taxed as ordinary income. Treasury bond interest is subject to federal income tax but exempt from state and local income taxes.