— -- The nation's central bank is meeting today in a long-awaited two-day meeting that may influence everything from mortgage rates to how much people save in the bank.
The Federal Reserve has kept short-term interest rates near zero since 2008, but many economists expect the Fed to raise rates at this meeting or later this year.
Here are some of the things that you should know about the Federal Reserve's possible moves:
Most consumers will only see gradual effects if Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen does announce an increase in interest rates. That's because if the Fed does raise interest rates tomorrow, it will only be by a fraction of a percentage point.
"And Chair Yellen will almost surely accompany the announcement of any rate increase with a statement that future rate increases will happen very gradually as well," Boston College economics professor Peter Ireland said.
Ireland said he thinks that whatever the Fed decides isn't going to have much of an effect on American consumers and businesses, at least in the short term.
But if the Fed raises the federal funds rate, which raises borrowing costs for banks, consumers may eventually see an increase in some of their banking fees.
“While it will be a game-time decision as to whether or not the Federal Reserve raises interest rates at this week’s meeting, borrowers should definitely take note," said Greg McBride, Bankrate.com chief financial analyst. "As the Fed eventually moves away from 0 percent interest rates, credit card issuers will do the same so grab the 0 percent balance transfer offers now while you still can.”
The good news, especially for people like seniors who save their money at a bank, is that the return on your money may improve.
"American savers will finally start getting more attractive returns on their money as well," Ireland said.
But McBride noted that “Savers should not expect any immediate relief as many banks will try to hold the line on deposit pricing to breathe some life into their interest margins. Seek out the top-yielding accounts as this is where the improvement will be found."
Mortgages, Auto Loans
If the Fed does announce a raise interest rates tomorrow, consumers probably shouldn't feel rushed in getting a loan this week.
"What the Fed is telling us, however, is that it wants to get started on bringing interest rates back to more normal levels," Ireland said. "That means that over the next few years, borrowing for mortgages, auto loans, and so on will be getting more expensive."
But while there the average household budget may see inconsequential effects from one interest rate hike, homeowners with adjustable rate mortgages and home equity lines of credit should be mindful that the cumulative effect of interest rate hikes over the course of the next couple of years could have a dramatic effect, McBride said.
"Refinance into a fixed-rate mortgage now, or see if your home equity lender is among those that offers the ability to fix the interest rate on the outstanding balance of your home equity line," McBride said.