How would a rise in interest rates affect your finances?

Holly Thomas / 28 January 2014

Will they won’t they? Everyone is talking about if and when the Bank of England will increase interest rates.



Some are dreading it because it means the cost of their debts will increase. Those without any borrowing to worry about might be hoping for rates to rise to improve returns on cash savings.

So where does the land lie?

In August, Mark Carney, Governor of the Bank of England, said that it would only consider raising interest rates from their record low of 0.5% when the unemployment rate falls to 7%. Last week unemployment took another shock dive to 7.1 % and now stands just above the Bank of England's threshold for considering an interest rate rise.

This has caused many forecasters to adjust their expectations. The Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR) expects Bank rate to rise to 1% in the final three months of 2014. The investment bank Citi has also changed its forecasts and predicts rates will rise to 0.75% at the end of this year. Investment bank Nomura now predicts the first rise will occur not in February 2015 but August this year, to 0.75%, rising to 1% by the end of the year.

Even forecasters who expected a much later change have brought forward their predictions. The consultancy Capital Economics has shifted its prediction from 2016 to the final quarter of 2015.

What would a rate rise mean for you?

Borrowing

When interest rates rise – so will the cost of mortgages. The Resolution Foundation thinktank has forecast that about 1 million households would face perilous debts if Bank of England base rates rose to 3%, with 2 million forced to spend more than half of their income on servicing a mortgage if rates returned to the 5% level common before the onset of the financial crisis in 2007.

If you have a mortgage, it’s worth looking at overpaying while rates are still low.

Experts are urging homeowners to use the opportunity while on a low mortgage rate to overpay on their mortgage - if their finances allow.

“In the long term it will pay off,’ says David Hollingworth at London & Country, the broker. “Overpaying a mortgage enables you to clear the balance that you owe ahead of schedule and save on the interest you pay.

Read our guide to getting a mortgage when you're over 50.

Saving

Even when rates do rise, that’s not to say the banks will all race to increase savings rates.

The returns currently available on deposit accounts may be less than generous, however, you still need money put away as a buffer against hard times. Being tax efficient in a low interest rate environment is even more important.

An ISA should be your first port of call to make use of your tax-free allowance – currently £11,520.

As well as using your ISA allowance you can also make your savings grow faster by using your personal allowance to the maximum. We are all entitled to earn £9,440 a year before we have to start paying income tax. If you are over 65, that rises to £10,500, and if you are over 75, £10,660.

If you earn less than these amounts you don’t have to pay income tax on any interest you earn on your savings. However, your bank won’t know your status unless you tell them, and will take tax unless you fill in an R85 form. You can get the form from your bank.

Pensions

When interest rates do rise, annuity rates should improve, which means that anyone who plans to retire in the next couple of years could secure a higher income.

Rates on annuities, which you can use to convert your defined contribution or personal pension pot into a regular income, are at historic lows, so it might be worth waiting to see if you can get a better income. But factor in the lost income during this waiting period.

What is an annuity? Read our guide...

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.