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These Are the Best U.S. Cities for Working Women in 2019

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

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Women made history in the 2018 midterm elections, running for and winning offices by record numbers, making it the “Year of the Woman” according to Brookings. The number of state legislature offices held by women rose from 25% in 2018 to 29% in 2019, per the Center for American Women and Politics, an encouraging sign for the future of working women. With more women in office, it’s more likely that issues centering on women in the workforce will get the attention they deserve.

And they do deserve attention. Despite women’s higher educational attainment, the rate at which  women are participating in the workforce has plateaued, as have their wages. Women’s average earnings were still almost 82% of men’s in 2017, the most recent year available from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

But the picture for working women can look brighter (or bleaker) depending on where they live. For the second year in a row, to find the best places to be a working woman, MagnifyMoney analyzed and ranked the 50 largest U.S. metros.

Key takeaways

  • Washington, D.C., once again holds the top spot with an overall score of 74.
  • Seattle jumped from sixth place to second, with an overall score of 66.2.  This is because the state of Washington created a family leave insurance plan that allows workers to receive at least partial pay when they use their Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) time starting in 2020. FMLA is used as a stand-in for maternity leave by many American women. Under federal law, employers can’t fire workers for taking up to 12 weeks off for qualifying events, but employers do not have to pay workers for that time.
  • Charlotte, N.C., dropped to the lowest spot on our list, with an overall score of 32.1. Women are underrepresented in leadership roles there, both in business and in government.
  • Detroit came in second to last, with a final score of 33.5, thanks mostly to high unemployment and a wide gender pay gap.
  • Twenty-seven states offer no protections to workers who are pregnant or who have children. This is unchanged from last year, although some states with existing protection — such as Massachusetts, Washington and New York — as well as the District of Columbia expanded their benefits. Only 22 states have some kind of pregnancy accommodation laws, and some of those are scant.
  • These protections are nonexistent in six of the bottom-ranking 10 cities: Detroit, Memphis, Birmingham, Miami, New Orleans and Cleveland.

The 10 best U.S. metros for working women

The map and table above show the 10 cities that offer working women have the most equitable compensations and most opportunities for career advancement. Four of these cities are located on the Pacific Coast, with three of those in California. Neighboring cities Baltimore and Washington, D.C., and Boston and Providence have spots in the top 10.

Here’s a closer look at how these cities rank on different factors.

The nation’s capital is tops again.

Washington, D.C. is the best place overall for working women. It has the highest percentage of managerial positions in its workforce filled by women, at 43.9%, of any city. Boston, Providence, R.I., and Sacramento, Calif. were the other top 10 cities with high rates of women leadership in management positions, at just over 43% each.

D.C. also has some of the strongest parental and pregnancy leave policies of the 50 cities surveyed, second only to Boston. Of the top 10 cities, Washington is where child care is the most affordable, costing an average 19.9% of women’s median earnings.

Seattle is friendly to female entrepreneurs, as the U.S. city with the highest number of women-owned business, at 39.7%. San Diego is the other top 10 city with a high 35.8% rate of businesses owned by women. The West Coast, in general, is a place where women entrepreneurs are succeeding.

Western states welcome new legislators.

While Las Vegas had the highest number of female legislators of any city surveyed — Nevada is the only state where women hold a slightly majority in the state legislature (50.8%) — it didn’t crack the top 10 due to relatively high unemployment and low parental protection rates. Of the cities that did, Denver and Seattle have the highest numbers of women holding state legislative positions, at 46% and 40.8% respectively. Women in Colorado hold a majority in the state’s lower house.

The 2018 midterm election brought more women into statewide office, an encouraging sign for the future of working women. Across the country, the share of women who hold state office rose from just 25% in 2018 to 29% in 2019 — the highest in history. Mississippi had the lowest representation rate in the country at just under 14%, but none of its cities are big enough to make it on our list. That distinction falls to Memphis and Nashville, Tenn., where only 15% of state lawmakers are women.

Minneapolis has the lowest unemployment rate

No. 4 Minneapolis has a 3.6% unemployment rate, the lowest among all 50 cities surveyed and well below the U.S. average of 4% in January. Denver, where just 4.2% of women in the labor force are unemployed, is the other top 10 city scoring well on this factor.

L.A. once again has the lowest wage gap.

Then there’s the earnings gap between men and women, which is the lowest in
Los Angeles at just 11.2%. However, LA was not one of the top 10 cities — it came in at No. 21 overall. Two other California cities had the smallest gap in earnings by gender. San Diego women earn just 12.4% less than men, and Sacramento women earn 13.7% less.

Child care is costliest in Boston.

Despite landing in the top 10 cities for working women, Boston is where child care is the most costly with day care costs equal to 27.4% of median earnings among women.

But on the brighter side, Boston and Minneapolis are the two cities where more women receive employer-sponsored health insurance benefits. In Minneapolis, 71.4% of working women received health insurance coverage through an employer, as do 70.5% of women in Boston.

The 10 worst U.S. metros for working women

Of the 10 cities that offer women the least favorable economic conditions, public policies, and leadership opportunities, most are concentrated in the South. Specifically, seven of the 10 are in Southern states:

  • Charlotte, N.C.
  • Memphis, Tenn.
  • Birmingham, Ala.
  • Miami
  • New Orleans
  • Oklahoma City
  • Houston

Of the remaining worst cities for working women, Detroit and Cleveland are located in the Midwest. Salt Lake City, Utah is the sole western city among these 10.

Here are some details on how these cities ranked on specific factors.

Tennessee lags in female representation.

Tennessee has one of the lowest percentage of state legislative offices filled by women, at 15.2% — affecting Memphis’ rank among the 10 worst cities. New Orleans and Birmingham also had low rates of female representation in their state legislatures. One bright spot for Birmingham:  Of all 50 cities surveyed, the lowest child care costs relative to women’s median earnings were in Birmingham, Ala.

Houston has the lowest percentage of women in management positions of all 50 cities surveyed, at just 35.9%. It’s followed closely by Salt Lake City, where just 36.2% of managers are women, and Oklahoma City at 38.1%.

Women are least likely to own business in Buffalo, N.Y. It’s not among the 10 worst cities for working women, but in Buffalo just 23.7% of business have female owners. Birmingham is a bottom 10 city that’s nearly as bad on this measure, with just 23.9% of businesses owned by women.

Unemployment rates soar in southern California.

Riverside, Calif., near Los Angeles, had the highest unemployment rate among female workers, at 9.5%. Of the 10 bottom-ranked cities, Memphis and Detroit are close behind with respective unemployment rates of 7.9% and 7.5% among women.

Wage gaps span the map.

New Orleans has the widest gap in earnings between men and women of all 50 cities (tied with San Jose). In both cities, women’s median earnings are 26.6% lower than men’s earnings, but the Big Easy is also weighed down by low rates of female representation in the state legislature and parental protections. Salt Lake City nearly matches New Orleans and San Jose with a pay gap of 26.5% between men and women working there. Detroit also has wide gender pay gap that means female workers earn 25.9% less than their male peers.

Women working in Miami are the least likely to receive health coverage through their employers. Less than half (49%) of Miami’s women have employer-based health insurance.

Charlotte drops three spots.

Already in the No. 47 spot last year, Charlotte, N.C. drops to last place in this year’s rankings. Women have nearly nonexistent parental protections here and among the 10 worst cities, Charlotte women pay the most in child care. They see 26.5% of their paychecks eaten up by child care costs, on average.

Full rankings: Where the largest 50 U.S. metros fit in

The map and list above provides a full overview of where each of the 50 largest U.S. cities rank. Check to see if your city is among the place friendly for working women, or a spot where they’ll have the hardest time getting ahead.

4 tips for modern working women

The results of our rankings show that while working women are doing better in some places than others, they’re still far from achieving parity with working men.

While it’s more difficult for women to change the working conditions and equality in their cities (or lack of it), they can still take steps to make sure they’re getting ahead at the office. Here’s how women can stand out at work and advance their career — and pay — more quickly.

  • Seek assignments that will get you noticed. Women are more likely to be assigned “office housework,” administrative tasks that keep a workplace running smoothly but won’t get them noticed. To position yourself for a raise or promotion, volunteer and ask for more high-profile assignments tied to important business or revenue goals. And don’t be shy about pushing back if you’re assigned mundane duties and tasks; it’s reasonable to request that these be fairly shared among all workers.
  • Find a mentor or ally at work. Look around your workplace to find the people who are in the positions you’d like to move into as you advance your career. See if these people are willing to mentor you — this can be especially beneficial if they are also women. Women can also seek mentorship, feedback and support for your professional growth from your direct manager. Lastly, you can ask for help and give support to your female peers, making sure your workplace is somewhere that women’s contributions are noticed, recognized and rewarded.
  • Balance work with personal responsibilities. The expectations often put on women outside the office can affect performance at work, especially for working mothers. While having children tends to have minimal effect on men’s careers, it might even give their paychecks a boost. For women, motherhood is often a professional setback. Society tells women they can “have it all,” but maybe the message should include “just not all at once”. Get clear on your priorities in life and how your job fits into that, and you can more easily identify when it makes sense to go full-steam at work and when to back off.
  • Manage your finances carefully. Although they have lower earnings compared to men, working women can help compensate for this by making wise money choices. Women have more student loans than men, for instance, so prioritizing paying down this and other debt is a first step to start catching up. Women also tend to have lower retirement savings than men, so make this a focus as well. Take full advantage of any employer match you get for retirement contributions. After that, continue to slowly increase contributions and use raises to boost your retirement savings rates.

Building a career and financial foundation that works for you won’t happen overnight. But following these tips, working on your professional skills, and developing solid money habits can go a long way.

Methodology

Each of the 50 largest metropolitan statistical areas (“MSAs”) was ranked against each other, on a 100-point scale, based on eight factors relevant to women’s ability to achieve financial and professional success. The final score for each MSA is the average of points assigned for each metric, and those points are assigned based on where the metro falls between the highest and lowest values for all metros.

The eight factors are:

  • Employment. The percent of women who are unemployed, as reported in the American Community Survey 2017 (five-year estimate) from the U.S. Census Bureau (“2017 ACS”).
  • Health care. The percent of women between the ages of 18 and 64 (inclusive) who have employer-based health insurance, as reported by the 2017 ACS.
  • Business ownership. Percent of businesses with employees that are owned, either wholly or equally, by women, derived from the 2016 Annual Survey of Entrepreneurs from the U.S. Census Bureau.
  • Management positions. Percent of people in management occupations who are women, derived from the 2017 ACS.
  • Wage gap. Gap, as a percent, between median earnings of men and women, derived from the 2017 ACS.
  • Child care. The average cost of in-center child care, as a percent of median earnings for women. Day care costs were reported in The Care Index from New America and Care.com, and median earnings were reported by the 2017 ACS.
  • Representation. The percent of elected state (or district) legislators who are women, as reported by the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University’s Eagleton Institute of Politics.
  • Workplace protections. State pregnancy and parental workplace protections were scored on the following bases. The highest possible score was 100 points and the lowest was zero. The highest actual score was 57 and the lowest actual score was zero.
    • Paid leave: The number of paid parental leave weeks covered by the state, divided by a maximum of 12 weeks, up to 50 points.  Data was reported by the National Partnership for Women & Families.
    • Pregnancy accommodation protections: Each MSA was granted points based on six factors reported by the National Partnership for Women & Families, for a possible total of 30 points, for the following:
      • The existence of such a law
      • If the law covers both public and private employees
      • If the law covers all employers, regardless of employer size
      • If the law doesn’t specify medical documentation for accommodations
      • If the law doesn’t include an “undue hardship” exemption for employers
      • If the law expressly extends protections for issues related to breastfeeding
    • Allowable time off to attend school events: The number of hours spent at a child’s school, per year, for which a parent cannot be fired, divided by a maximum of 40 hours, up to 20 points.  Data was reported by workplacefairness.org.

For the sake of clarity, each metro name is the first city and state listed in the MSA title, which we understand to be the most populous component of each MSA. The Care Index (child care costs) refers to Norfolk, Va., which we associate with the Virginia Beach MSA.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Elyssa Kirkham
Elyssa Kirkham |

Elyssa Kirkham is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Elyssa here

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10 Great Free Checking Accounts

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

The humble checking account may not offer rewards, cash back or many of the other perks offered by ritzy credit cards, but it remains the cornerstone of your financial life. Nobody likes paying monthly maintenance fees, so why not pick a free checking account that does away with them altogether?

Below, we’ve selected nine of the best free checking accounts by scouring our database for products meeting the following criteria:

  • No monthly maintenance fee
  • A low initial deposit amount (between $0-$50) needed to open the account
  • No minimum balance requirement
  • Minimal third-party ATM fees
  • Available nationwide

Account Name

Minimum needed to open

APY

Consumers Credit Union (IL) Free Rewards Checking$05.09% (applies to balances up to $10,000)
TAB Bank Free Kasasa Cash Checking$04.00% (applies to balances up to $50,000)
Orion FCU Premium Checking$25 deposit in Primary Share Account4.00% (applies to balances up to $30,000)
T-Mobile Money$04.00%(applies to balances up to $3,000)
One American Bank Kasasa Cash Account$503.50%(applies to balances up to $10,000)
Evansville Teachers FCU Vertical Checking$30 ($25 if you're already a member of this credit union)3.30% (applies to balances up to $20,000)
Lake Michigan Credit Union Max Checking$03.00%(applies to balances up to $15,000)
Andigo Credit Union High-Yield Checking$03.00% (applies to balances up to $10,000)
All America Bank Ultimate Rewards Checking$50, in-person2.75% (applies to balances up to $10,000)
Simple Account$02.02% to 2.15% on balances in Protected Goals

10 bests free checking accounts of November 2019

Consumers Credit Union (IL) Free Rewards Checking

The Consumers Credit Union provides an online-only Free Rewards Checking account to anyone in the nation who becomes a member. You can qualify for membership with a one-time $5 payment to Consumers Cooperative Association. Perks of the account, which charges no monthly maintenance fees and requires no minimum balance, include unlimited third-party ATM fee refunds.

However you do have to meet some requirements in order to get all of the benefits of the account (including the high APY). The APY for this account is divided into three tiers, with the lowest earning 3.09%, the middle 4.09% and the highest tier 5.09%. The requirements for each of these tiers are:

To earn 3.09%

  • Receive eStatements
  • Make at least 12 debit card purchases a month
  • Post direct deposits or ACH payments of at least $500 each month

To earn 4.09%

  • Meet all the requirements of the previous tier
  • Have a Consumers Credit Union Visa credit card and spend at least $500 a month on it

To earn 5.09%

  • Meet all the requirements of the previous tier
  • Spend at least $1,000 a month on your Consumers Credit Union Visa credit card

Keep in mind these high APYs only apply to balances up to $10,000. The portion of any balance between $10,000.01 and $25,000 earn 0.20% APY, and balances greater than $25,000 earn an APY of 0.10%.

LEARN MORE Secured

on Consumers Credit Union (IL)’s secure website

NCUA Insured

TAB Bank Free Kasasa Cash Checking

Headquartered in Ogden, Utah, TAB Bank offers a great rate on its Free Kasasa Cash Checking account. Developed by the Kasasa Corporation, a Texas-based financial services and marketing organization, Kasasa accounts help smaller banks compete against larger rivals by providing higher rates.

TAB’s account charges no fees for using third-party ATMs, and reimburses up to $15 in third-party ATM fees per month. There are no fees and no minimum balance requirement for this account, but to earn 4.00% APY reward rate, every month you must:

  • Deposit at least one ACH payment or direct deposit, or make one bill pay transaction
  • Make at least 15 signature-based debit card purchases

If you don’t qualify in any given month, your balance earns 0.05% APY, and third-party ATM fees are not refunded. You can earn the reward rate APY on balances up to $50,000, which is well above the other maximum balances on this roundup. Balances greater than $50,000 earn an APY of 0.25%.

LEARN MORE Secured

on TAB Bank’s secure website

Member FDIC

Orion Federal Credit Union Premium Checking

Orion Federal Credit Union has served the community in Memphis, Tenn. since 1957 — and now it offers its outstanding Premium Checking product online to anyone who becomes a member. This involves opening a Primary Share Account savings account with a $25 deposit, and donating $10 to one of five local charities.

This account charges no fees for using third-party ATMs, and reimburses fees charged to you by owners of third-party ATMs, making it free to access your cash from anywhere. To earn the 4.00% APY interest rate, and also get ATM fee reimbursements and waive the $5 monthly fee for the account, you must:

  • Deposit at least $500 a month in the account, either by direct deposit or other mobile electronic deposit
  • Perform at least eight signature-based debit card transactions

Orion lets you earn their high APY on balances up to $30,000. Balances greater than $30,000 earn an APY of 0.05%.

LEARN MORE Secured

on Orion Federal Credit Union’s secure website

NCUA Insured

T-Mobile Money

Wireless carrier T-Mobile is venturing out into new territory with a financial product – a competitive one, too. T-Mobile Money is a new checking account that pays a 4.00% APY on balances up to $3,000. Balances over $3,000 earn an APY of 1.00%. There are no monthly fees, overdraft fees, transfer fees, ATM fees or minimum balance requirements.

In order to receive the 4.00% APY, though, T-Mobile Money does require the following:

  • Enroll in a qualifying T-Mobile wireless plan
  • Register for Perks with your T-Mobile ID
  • Make at least $200 in qualifying deposits to your checking account in the calendar month

Balances that do not meet these requirements, or balances over $3,000, will earn 1.00% APY.

LEARN MORE Secured

on T-Mobile Money’s secure website

Member FDIC

One American Bank Kasasa Cash Account

This small community bank, based in Sioux Falls, SD, offers a nationally available Kasasa Cash checking account that earns a decent 3.50% APY on balances up to $10,000. You need a minimum of $50 to open the account, but after that all you need to do to earn the very competitive APY of 3.50% is:

  • Make at least 12 debit card purchase transactions a month of at least $5.00 each
  • Receive electronic bank statements, account notices and disclosures
  • Log in to online banking at least one time a month

If you meet these qualifications, One American Bank also refunds up $25 in third-party ATM funds per month.

LEARN MORE Secured

on One American Bank’s secure website

Member FDIC

Evansville Teachers Federal Credit Union Vertical Checking

Don’t let the name of this credit union fool you—anyone can become a member if they open a $5 savings account, which then allows you to open a Vertical Checking account with a minimum balance of $25.

This free checking account doesn’t charge a monthly service fee or require you to maintain a minimum balance, and in return gives you an APY of as high as 3.30% on balances up to $20,000, provided you fulfill the below requirements:

  • Make at least 15 debit purchases each month
  • Make at least one direct deposit into the account each month
  • Login to your mobile or online banking at least once each month
  • Opt in to receive eStatements
  • In addition to the high APY, meeting these requirements entitles you to $15 a month for reimbursing third-party ATM fees.

In addition to the high APY, meeting these requirements entitles you to $15 a month for reimbursing third-party ATM fees.

LEARN MORE Secured

on Evansville Teachers Federal Credit Union’s secure website

NCUA Insured

Lake Michigan Credit Union Max Checking

Despite its name, the Lake Michigan Credit Union is open to anyone who makes a $5 donation to the ALS Foundation. That small donation can pay off tenfold with the credit union’s Max Checking account, which features a 3.00% APY on balances up to $15,000. The account also has no minimum balance requirements and no monthly fees.

In order to receive the 3.00% APY, you must:

  • Direct deposit into any LMCU account
  • Make a minimum of 10 debit or credit card transactions per month
  • Make 4 logins to home banking per month
  • Sign up for e-statements

The Lake Michigan Credit Union’s Max Checking account also offers up to $10 in monthly reimbursements for non-LMCU ATM fees.

LEARN MORE Secured

on Lake Michigan Credit Union’s secure website

NCUA Insured

Andigo Credit Union High Yield Checking

Another credit union with a competitive checking account is the Andigo Credit Union High Yield Checking account. With a handful of physical branches in Illinois and mobile banking services, Andigo Credit Union is open to anyone who makes a $15 donation to ConnectVETS.

Andigo’s High Yield Checking account features a 3.00% APY on balances up to $10,000, has no monthly fees, no minimum balance requirements and $12 a month in ATM surcharge rebates. However, to take advantage of the 3.00% APY, you must:

  • Have $500 or more in total direct deposit
  • Make 15 or more debit card purchases per month

Accounts that do not meet those qualifications earn a 0.06% APY. Balances above $10,000 earn 0.10% APY.

LEARN MORE Secured

on Andigo’s secure website

NCUA Insured

All America Bank Ultimate Rewards Checking

All America Bank’s Ultimate Rewards Checking is a standout account that features a 2.75% APY, no monthly service charge, no minimum balance requirements and free ATM transactions.

It’s worth noting, however, that to open an account you must make a $50 minimum deposit in-person – All America Bank has physical branches in Oklahoma. If you cannot make the deposit in-person, there is a hefty minimum balance of $500 required to open an account online.

To receive the 2.75% APY on this account, you must meet the following requirements:

  • Make 10 All America Bank Visa debit card transactions per month
  • Receive statements electronically

If those requirements aren’t met, you’ll earn an APY of 0.25%. Balances over $10,000 will earn 0.50% APY.

LEARN MORE Secured

on All America Bank’s secure website

Member FDIC

Simple Account

Another online-only account, Simple is owned and backed by regional bank BBVA Compass and offers customers a checking account that’s intertwined with the app’s Protected Goals savings account, and additional budgeting tools. Simple doesn’t charge any fees, meaning users enjoy:

  • No monthly maintenance fee
  • No minimum balance needed
  • No account closing fee
  • No stop payment fees
  • No debit card replacement fee
  • No ATM fee if using Simple’s network, but users can be charged a fee by other banks if using a non-network ATM

One fee you do have to pay is a foreign transaction fee when using your Simple card internationally, which can be up to 1% of the transaction.

As a cash management product, the Simple Account automatically comes with a savings account feature. While the checking balance in a Simple Account earns a token 0.01% APY, Simple’s Protected Goals savings balances earn an APY of 2.15%.

LEARN MORE Secured

on Simple’s secure website

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

James Ellis
James Ellis |

James Ellis is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email James here

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2019 Fed Meeting Predictions — Fed Cuts Rate for the Third Time this Year

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

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The Federal Reserve cut the federal funds rate at its October meeting. This move follows a July rate cut, which was the Fed’s first downward rate move in over a decade, and a second September cut. These moves are designed to sustain the economy’s continued expansion by protecting against what the Fed sees as downside risks to the economy.

The Fed remains optimistic about the U.S economy’s outlook, but the question remains: will the Fed continue to cut rates? Read on for our predictions for each upcoming Fed meeting and updates on what went down at the most recent conclaves.

What happened at the October Fed meeting

The FOMC has cut the federal funds rate at its third consecutive meeting. After cutting interest rates in July and September, the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) has lowered the federal funds rate range by 25 basis points to 1.50% to 1.75%. As with the previous two reductions, the committee says this easing is meant to provide “significant support” to the U.S. economy against downside risks. These include muted inflation pressures, the ongoing trade battle with China, slower global growth and weaker U.S. manufacturing due to global uncertainties.

Does this mean the Fed will continue to cut rates? Fed Chair Jerome Powell is always quick to state that the Fed’s decisions are driven by the economy’s performance, noting at the post-meeting press conference that “policy is not on a preset course.” He said the economy’s current growth rate and continuing resiliency would not indicate another necessary rate cut. Of course, he also stressed that any changes to this state of affairs could prompt the Fed to ”materially reassess” its outlook, although he never shares what he thinks those changes might look like.

For what it’s worth, the FOMC again did not deliver a unanimous decision to cut rates. Kansas City Fed President Esther George and Boston Fed President Eric Rosengren voted to maintain the target range at 1.75% to 2.00%.

The downside risks to the U.S. economy remain, but it continues to perform well on its own. The Fed’s October meeting statement began by outlining the state of the economy. On the upside, the statement indicated that the labor market remains strong, the economy is growing at a moderate rate, job gains are solid, unemployment is low and household spending growth is strong. The weaker data points include low inflation, weaker business fixed investments and exports and slower manufacturing.

On the whole, the data continues to point to a growing, stable economy, in its 11th year of expansion. The committee itself said it expects the economy to keep expanding at a moderate rate.

Our October Fed meeting predictions

There’s a chance the Fed will cut the federal funds rate again. The federal funds rate currently stands at 1.75% to 2.00%. If the Fed cuts rates in October, it will be the third cut in as many meetings. The two recent cuts — in July and September — were characterized by the Fed as protective measures, guarding against downside risks to the otherwise strong economy. These risks included constant global trade uncertainty and its byproduct, manufacturing decline.

Unfortunately, global trade negotiations remain rocky and manufacturing continues to display weak growth numbers. In September, U.S. manufacturing activity fell to a 10-year low, according to the Institute for Supply Management. In order to further support the economy, the Fed may have to execute another rate cut, many experts argue.

We should hear more about the state of the economy and the chance of recession. Talk of recession has hung over the economy since last December, although never truly manifesting as a real threat. Market watchers pointed to an inverted Treasury yield curve as a sure sign of recession, as an inversion has historically preceded a recession. However, the data supported the opposite: strong job growth, historically low unemployment rates and wage growth. In any case, the yield curve recently un-inverted.

The U.S. economy is in its 11th year of expansion, which the Fed seeks to support and maintain with its monetary policy choices. So keep an eye out for the Fed’s latest outlook.

Upcoming Fed meeting dates:

Here is the FOMC’s calendar of scheduled meetings for 2019. Each entry is tentative until confirmed at the meeting proceeding it. For past meetings, click on the dates below to catch up on our pre-game forecast and after-action report.

Our September Fed meeting predictions

It certainly looks like the Fed may cut rates again at its September meeting. The 25 basis point (bp) cut in July — the first in over a decade — reduced the federal funds rate to 2.00% to 2.25%, and the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) justified its move by saying it wanted to protect against “downside risks,” namely weak global growth and rocky trade policy negotiations. Due to the persistence of these risks in the interim, markets and economic experts are preparing for yet another 25 bps cut later this month, which would put the federal funds rate at 1.75% to 2.00%.

After the July meeting, Fed Chair Jerome Powell stated that he and the FOMC did not see the historic rate reduction as the first in a string of cuts. However, Powell spoke at the University of Zurich on Sept. 6, right before the FOMC’s pre-meeting silent period, and stated that the committee would “continue to act as appropriate” to protect the U.S. economy. The risks cited in July have not abated in September, so many have concluded it’s not too far-out to assume this signals another rate cut.

Economist and Fed-watcher Tim Duy agrees — and he thinks the cuts won’t end in September, either. “The Fed will cut rates 25bp next week and leave the door open for more,” he wrote.

We’ll get a look at the Fed’s newest Summary of Economic Projections this month. Every other Fed meeting brings the release of the Summary of Economic Projections (SEP), which outlines each committee member’s outlook for the U.S. economy over the next couple of years and the longer term. These forecasts include GDP growth, inflation, unemployment and the federal funds rate. The SEP gives us a relative idea of what to expect from the economy in the future.

Relatedly, Powell should once again stress that we’re not on the verge of recession. While speaking in Zurich, Powell assured that the Fed’s “main expectation is not at all that there will be a recession.” He points to the U.S. economy’s continued expansion — “moderate growth, a strong labor market” and inflation, although muted, hovering around the 2% goal. He also reminded us that we’re now in the 11th year of an economic expansion. It is expected that Powell will use the post-meeting press conference, as he has done before, to address and dispel recession concerns.

That said, recession concerns aren’t entirely unfounded. Overall growth has slowed from its speedy pace in 2018, and the latest jobs report showed fewer new jobs in August. Further, the Treasury yield curve — a tool used to look at the future direction of interest rates and broader economic trends — has inverted recently. This phenomenon — where long-term Treasury interest rates fall below short-term Treasury rates — has historically indicated an upcoming recession. A yield curve inversion like this shows that markets are predicting lower rates in the future. However, there’s certainly room for prediction error; the curve inverted once before this year and it was not followed by an immediate recession.

What happened at the September Fed meeting

The Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) cut the federal funds rate, as expected. Fed funds took another 25 basis point tumble to 1.75% to 2.00%, and the committee once again cited “implications of global developments” and “muted inflation pressures” as the causes.

If you recall, this reduction seems to contradict Fed Chair Jerome Powell’s remarks back in July, when he was emphatic that July’s cut — the first in over a decade — was not the opening shot in a campaign of many reductions. Rather, he referred to it more as a “mid-cycle adjustment” and a protective response due to a few “downside risks” (weak global growth and trade uncertainties) to the otherwise strong economy.

As with the July meeting, there were dissenters on the committee. Kansas City Fed President Esther George and Boston Fed President Eric Rosengren, who had both voted against the July rate change, preferred to maintain the 2.00% to 2.25% range. St. Louis Fed President James Bullard also voted against the decision, although he really wanted a bigger, 50 basis point cut.

Chair Powell and the Fed’s Summary of Economic Projections (SEP) indicate a continued positive outlook for the U.S. economy. The Fed continues to acknowledge that the U.S. economy itself is still doing just fine; as Powell stated at today’s press conference, “we continue to see sustained expansion.”

“This has been our outlook for quite some time,” he added, despite significant changes in their views on the appropriate path of interest rates.

More specifically, the FOMC’s statement points to the continued strength of the labor market, moderate growth in economic activity, solid job gains, a low unemployment rate and strong household spending growth. The only downside seems to be weakened business fixed investment and exports — both of which can be explained by the ongoing trade conflict.

The SEP indicates that committee members now predict an infinitesimal increase in both the real GDP and the unemployment rate for 2019. The personal consumption expenditure (PCE) and Core PCE inflation projections remain unchanged from the June SEP — so inflation continues to be a non-event. Their future predictions for 2020 to 2022 and the longer run also remain relatively unchanged.

The Fed dot plot — which anonymously indicates each member’s federal funds rate prediction — shows a much lower and more cohesive outlook for 2019 when compared to June’s SEP. Undoubtedly as a result of rate cut double header, there are more low-rate predictions through 2022. The majority indicate a federal funds rate below 2% for this year and next year.

So how about that recession? The past few months have been clouded by a certain cognitive dissonance: The Fed’s positive economic outlook on one hand, and the public’s seeming obsession with an imminent recession on the other. If you were to look at just the data, you’d see an economy performing well. Of course, there’s more to it than that, as risks keep emerging and causing softness here and there.

Still, the “most likely case is continued moderate growth,” a widely shared projection among forecasters, according to Powell. And the reason for the continued positive outlook, Powell added, is the committee’s dedication to its mandates: “Our shifting to a more accommodative stance over the course of the year has been one of the reasons why the outlook has remained favorable.”

As for continued worries about the inverted treasury yield curve, Powell admitted that while the Fed certainly monitors the yield curve carefully, “there’s no one thing” that you can point to that undoubtedly means recession. Rather, Powell suggested, the inverted curve may be a result of the very risks the rate cut is intended to protect against.

“We don’t see a recession, we’re not forecasting a recession, but we are adjusting monetary policy in a more accommodative direction to try to support what is, in fact, a favorable outlook.”

Our July Fed meeting predictions

Chances of a rate cut at the July meeting are way up. Committee Chair Powell all but confirmed the possibility in his recent testimony before Congress. “Since the June meeting, and even for a period before that, the data have continued to disappoint,” he said. As the Fed relies on jobs, manufacturing and wage data to help inform their policy decisions, disappointing data like what we’ve been seeing, provides a real justification of a rate cut.

However, the cut shouldn’t be anything more than 25 basis points. “The data doesn’t support a 50bp move,” maintains economist Tim Duy. Growth has certainly slowed in 2019, but June’s job reports provided a positive surprise, while wage growth still weakened.

Experts speculate that if the Fed does not cut rates this month, they will signal a rate cut to come in September instead. For one, Boston Federal Reserve President Eric Rosengren has vocalized that he thinks the economy is “quite strong” at the moment and doesn’t quite yet need Fed policy interference. Whether the rest of the FOMC agrees with him or not will be revealed next week.

We’ll hear more about the economy’s future as talk of an impending recession continues. Speculation about an upcoming recession has held steady since December 2018, when the Fed downgraded their economic outlook. Since then, growth has continued to slow, although a few positive surprises along the way have buoyed sentiment.

One recession indicator will be very clear if the Fed actually holds off on a rate cut this month. “Without a rate cut, the markets may consider the odds of a more significant slowdown as increasing,” said Ken Tumin, founder of DepositAccounts.com, another LendingTree-owned site. One interpretation of the Fed not cutting rates yet would be a need to maintain an insurance policy against an impending economic slowdown. “Keep your powder dry” is a common saying, and no cut may mean the Fed wants to reserve it’s finite rate cutting policy tools to fight a recession later.

What happened at the July Fed meeting

The Federal Reserve cut the federal funds rate by 25 basis points. After a six-month monetary policy pause, the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) has lowered the federal funds rate by 25 basis points to a range of 2.00% to 2.25%, a choice it maintains is “appropriate to sustain the expansion” of the economy.

The FOMC statement cites “implications of global developments” (such as trade conflict and Brexit) and “muted inflation pressures” as its chief reasons for the rate cut, also calling out softer growth in U.S. business fixed investment. On the other hand, the committee acknowledged the still-favorable parts of the U.S. economy, including the strong labor market, low unemployment and increased household spending.

At the press conference, Fed Chair Jerome Powell underscored these good bits, stressing that “nothing in the U.S. economy that present a prominent, near-term threat,” while very pointedly calling out global risks, warning that the implications of these risks weigh heavily on the FOMC’s thinking.

As to whether these points signal more rate cuts, Powell was adamant that they do not. In reference to previous instances where mid-cycle rate cuts have evolved into rate cutting cycles, Powell said that “the Committee is not seeing that,” adding “that’s not our perspective … or outlook.”

The Fed maintained a positive outlook for the U.S. economy. Despite slower growth, the US economy has continued to grow, and Chair Powell made sure to emphasize the point in his press conference. “The Committee still maintains a favorable baseline outlook,” he said, continuing to stress the issue throughout.

Powell begs us not to take the rate cut as a signal of panic at the Fed. If you remember, Boston Federal Reserve President Eric Rosengren spoke on July 19 about his preference to wait to make any rate changes, “given that the economy is quite strong” and with inflation holding around 2%. In fact, Rosengren and Kansas City Fed President Esther L. George were the two dissenters at the July meeting. Both indicated their preference to keep rates unchanged.

At the press conference, Powell doubled down on the rate cut as a safeguard from downside risks. He identified three threats the rate cut would protect against. First, weak global growth, namely in Europe and China. Secondly, weak domestic manufacturing. Third — a byproduct of risks one and two — is stubbornly muted inflation growth.

For some, however, the Fed rate cut is hardly justified, or is merely a fig leaf.

Ahead of the July meeting, University of Oregon economist Tim Duy proclaimed that “the December rate hike was simply a small mistake than needed to be rectified,” and he remained as emphatically critical in its wake. “All policy makers really know at this point is that they are navigating a mid-cycle course correction,” he wrote in Bloomberg.

The Fed’s reassurances of a positive economic outlook suggest a recession remains a distant threat, at best. We’ve seen consistent growth throughout this year, albeit at a slower pace than 2018. Plus, the Fed continues to keep a positive outlook for the U.S. economy. Any threats that are perceived now are the target of today’s rate cut, designed to continue the growth we’ve been seeing.

When asked about how cutting rates today would give the Fed little wiggle room to cut again when a recession hits, Powell was quick to shut down any assumption that one was impending. “In other cycles, the Fed wound up raising rates again after a mid-cycle adjustment,” he countered, quickly adding, however, that “I’m not predicting that.” Still, he leaves it open to the possibility of future rate hikes after this cut, rather than an overall downward turn.

Our June Fed meeting predictions

The Fed could signal a possible future rate cut. Chair Jerome Powell recently indicated the Fed’s willingness to cut rates, if necessary, in response to a bad outcome in trade negotiations, or data pointing to a weakening economy. This was the first time Powell had hinted at the possibility of monetary policy changes since the Fed chose to put an end to its rate hike streak back in January.

Economist Tim Duy points to the May jobs report, especially revisions to the prior months’ data, as another trigger for the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) to foreshadow a possible rate cut. Job gains slowed in May, due to softer economic growth rather than a lack of workers. But Duy warns that the revisions indicate U.S. job growth has “slowed markedly” over the last four months, another worrying sign.

Note that there is practically zero chance of a rate cut at the upcoming June meeting. Instead, you should look for hints to a rate cut later in 2019. “I don’t think they’ll change the rate,” says Tendayi Kapfidze, chief economist at LendingTree. “Definitely not at this meeting. I’d be surprised if it happens before September.”

The Fed could soften their economic forecast. The June Fed meeting will bring the latest Summary of Economic Projections (SEP). Much like it sounds, this is where the FOMC updates their long-term forecast for economic performance over the next few years.

Kapfidze predicts we’ll see another downgraded SEP forecast. “I think they’ll come up with a softer forecast. It’s just a question of how soft,” he said. With the data coming in somewhat mixed and trade negotiations remaining highly unpredictable, Kapfidze said the Fed finds itself in a “delicate moment to get the pulse of the state of the economy.”

We should learn more about the Fed’s approach to their 2% inflation goal. At the April/May meeting, we learned that inflation for personal consumption expenditures — the Fed’s preferred measure of price changes — fell unexpectedly. This left many economists and experts concerned that the Fed was neglecting its mandate to keep inflation symmetrically around 2%.

“Perhaps inflation is not coming back as they anticipated,” Kapfidze muses. So while inflation is stable right now, it’s definitely still a concern.

What happened at the June Fed meeting

The Fed kept the federal funds rate steady… for now. The federal funds rate was left at 2.25% to 2.50%, as the Fed continues its rate pause. The Fed changed its tone by dropping its “patient stance” language, saying instead that it would “closely monitor the implications” given the “uncertainties about this outlook,” namely trade developments and global growth concerns.

In simpler terms, the FOMC felt the current data didn’t support a case for cutting rates right now. However, it does expect the economic climate to change in the next few months – possibly for the worse.

“The Committee wanted to see more [before making any changes],” said Fed Chair Jerome Powell at the post-meeting press conference. “I expect a full range of data, and that something will change before the next meeting.” Essentially, as these “uncertainties” become clearer, the Fed will adjust policy accordingly.

The dovish St. Louis Fed President James Bullard was the only dissenter to the policy decision, voting to lower the federal funds rate range by 25 basis points, while all others voted to maintain rates where they are.

A rate cut at the next meeting is by no means an inevitable conclusion. Most experts expected the Fed to signal that a rate cut was imminent. We didn’t get that strong of a sign.

The Fed’s latest Summary of Economic Projections (SEP) predicts no rate changes until 2020, keeping the projection for 2019 within the current range at 2.4%. The 2020 projection, however, dropped to 2.1%, which lies below the current lower limit of the rate range. It’s also well below the previous March projection for 2020 of 2.6%.

Still, Tendayi Kapfidze, chief economist at LendingTree, points to three signs that a rate cut is coming. “For one, at least eight Fed members projected a cut before the end of the year,” he shares. “Two, we saw one member already voting for a cut at this meeting. Three, the Fed removed the word ‘patient’ in their statement, instead calling out the uncertainties and risks.”

As for when the Fed might reduce rates, Kapfidze thinks the next Fed meeting in July is still too soon. “Perhaps September is more realistic.”

The SEP was stronger than expected. The Fed’s economic projections were little changed from its March outlook, again contradicting expert predictions of a softer outlook. Change in real GDP and the federal funds rate projections for 2019 matched the numbers in March, while the unemployment rate projection dropped by a single basis point for 2019.

In its statement, the FOMC points to strong labor market reports, low unemployment, higher household spending and overall moderate economic growth as support for a continued favorable baseline outlook.

That tricky problem with inflation remains. If you recall from last month’s meeting, inflation was the hot topic as the Fed was concerned about inflation continuing to fall short of its goal of 2%. This time around, the Fed again acknowledged that overall inflation and inflation for items other than food and energy are running below 2%.

Chair Powell shared that the Committee points to uncertainties in global growth and trade negotiations as factors for muted inflation. Plus, the SEP gives us some additional insight, showing us that the Fed expects inflation to continue to run below target.

Still, Powell reiterated the Committee’s firm commitment to its inflation objective. He also stated that while inflation continues to run below target, the Committee expects it to pick back up thanks to solid growth and a strong job market, although “at a slower pace than had been expected.”

Our April/May Fed meeting predictions

The Fed should reaffirm their patient stance at the April 30/May 1 meeting, and may reiterate their view that stronger U.S. economic data is needed before they can make more policy changes. The Fed already said as much in its March meeting minutes, where it confirmed that “a majority of participants” agreed to leave “the target range unchanged for the remainder of the year,” due to the unsettled economic outlook. When considering rate changes, the Fed looks at job growth, wages, and inflation pressures; if the numbers meet the Fed’s parameters, rates stay unchanged, but if they are too hot or too cold, rates need to change. Inflation has been hovering around the Fed’s target of about 2%, and while both job growth and retail sales were points of concern due to low numbers since December, both measures have recovered somewhat in March economic data reports.

Without drastic changes to the data, there is little risk the Fed will be moving rates up (or down). As economist Tim Duy succinctly told MagnifyMoney, “We will not see a rate cut. I don’t think we will see much change in policy at all. It should be a boring meeting.”

About that economic outlook! Even if the Fed stays on pause, it seems like the latest data should tamp down talk of an upcoming recession. We’ve been hearing analysts and commentators talk about a possible recession since December, when the data showed a decline in economic indicators across the board. The cynicism really started to kick in when the Treasury yield curve began to invert, which can be (but isn’t always) a harbinger of recession. However, the stronger March jobs, retail and new home sales reports have lessened such concerns. Plus, the latest GDP report from the Bureau of Economic Analysis shows growth at an annual rate of 3.2% in the first quarter of 2019, exceeding economists’ predictions of 2.5% growth.

Tendayi Kapfidze, lead economist at LendingTree, said as much back in March ahead of that month’s Fed meeting: “Since the financial crisis, data in the first quarter has been coming in weak because of seasonal adjustment. Models that make this adjustment are skewed by this, but then everything can reaccelerate in following quarters.” Plus, on top of that adjustment, the government shutdown greatly affected reports in both their results and how they were measured.

On the whole, we’re still seeing an economy on the rise, not a decline — it’s just not growing quite as fast as it was in 2018.

What happened at the April/May Fed meeting

The Fed maintained their patient policy stance. The Fed left rates unchanged at 2.25% to 2.50%. The latest economic data has indicated some recovery in jobs and retail sales growth, while the unemployment rate remains low, as well. Plus, GDP grew 3.2% in the first quarter, exceeding expert economists’ predictions of 2.5%. This data supports the Fed’s outlook for a growing economy and its decision to keep interest rates unchanged.

What about the Fed’s inflation goal? This was the big question for Fed Chair Jerome Powell at his press conference following the FOMC meeting. Inflation for personal consumption expenditures — the Fed’s preferred measure of price changes — has been dropping for the past three months, with the first quarter coming in at 0.7%, below the committee’s 2% target. Powell did note that inflation “unexpectedly fell,” standing at 1.6% for the previous 12 months ending in March.

When asked about what signs the FOMC might see as a need to take action, Powell first answered, “We are strongly committed to our 2% inflation objective, and to achieving it on a sustained and symmetric basis,” a point he reiterated throughout the conference. “The Committee would be concerned if inflation were running persistently above or below 2%” he continued, also noting that what they are currently seeing does not indicate a persistent problem.

While policy remains on hold for now, economist Tim Duy has indicated that weak inflation numbers should still push the Fed to cut rates before the end of the year — “If the Fed is serious about the inflation target, then the odds favor a rate cut over a rate hike,” he writes. Given Powell’s reassurance of the Fed’s strong commitment to its inflation goal, a rate cut could certainly be in the near future.

Our March Fed meeting predictions

There’s little chance of a rate hike this time around. In a policy speech on March 8, Fed Chair Jerome Powell reinforced the FOMC’s patient approach when considering any changes to the current policy, indicating he saw “nothing in the outlook demanding an immediate policy response and particularly given muted inflation pressures.”

This is no different from what we heard back in January, when the Fed took a breather after its December rate hike. There was no change to the federal funds rate at that meeting, and Powell had stressed that the FOMC would be exercising patience throughout 2019, waiting for signs of risk from economic data before making any further policy changes.

Further strengthening the case for rates on hold, the reliably hawkish Boston Fed President Eric Rosengren cited several reasons that “justify a pause in the recent monetary tightening cycle,” in a policy speech on March 5. His big tell was citing the lack of immediate signs of strengthening inflation, which remains around the Fed’s target rate of 2%.

Even though there had been some speculation of a first quarter hike at the March Fed meeting, LendingTree chief economist Tendayi Kapfidze reminds us that the Fed remains, as ever, data-dependent. “The latest data has been on the weaker side, with the exception of wage inflation,” he says.

The economic forecast may be weaker than December’s. The Fed will release their longer-range economic predictions after the March meeting. These projections should include adjustments in the outlook for GDP, unemployment and inflation. The Fed will also provide its forecast for future federal funds rates.

Kapfidze expects we’ll see a weaker forecast this time around than what we saw in December. “I except the GDP forecast to go down, and the federal funds rate expectations to go down.” This follows a December report that posted lower numbers than the September projections.

Despite flagging economic projections, Rosengren offered a steady outlook in his speech. “My view is that the most likely outcome for 2019 is relatively healthy U.S. economic growth,” he said, again attributing this to “inflation very close to Fed policymakers’ 2 percent target and a U.S. labor market that continues to tighten somewhat.”

The Fed’s economic predictions offer clues to its future policy decisions. In September, the Fed projected a 2019 federal funds rate of 3.1%. That number dropped to 2.9% in the December report. With the current rate at 2.25% to 2.5%, there’s still room for more hikes this year. Keep in mind, however, that, the March meeting may narrow projections for the rest of 2019.

As for Kapfidze, he thinks we’ll see a rate hike in the second half of the year. “If wage inflation continues to increase and it trickles more into the economy, the Fed could choose to raise rates due to that risk.”

However, as of March 12, markets see the odds of a rate hike this year at zero, while the odds of a federal funds cut has risen to around 20%, based the Fed Fund futures.

What happened at the March Fed meeting

The Federal Reserve signaled no rate hikes this year, and the possibility of only one increase in 2020. The Fed has pivoted pretty rapidly from its hawkish stance in 2018 to a more dovish outlook as it puts policy on ice. This change in tone grows directly from the FOMC’s observation of slowing growth in economic activity, namely household spending and business investment. The Fed also noted that employment gains have plateaued along with the unemployment rate, which nevertheless remains at very low levels.

So the federal funds rate looks to remain at 2.25% to 2.50% for a year or more, and the FOMC highlighted that this is the not-too-hot, not-too-cold level that for now best serves its dual mandate to “foster maximum employment and price stability.”

The Fed also released its Summary of Economic Projections (SEP). The March SEP indicated a median projected federal funds rate of 2.6% for 2020, which is why everybody is discussing the possibility of at least one, small increase next year.

For those who were really hoping for at least one more rate hike, all is not lost — Tendayi Kapfidze, LendingTree chief economist, believes we shouldn’t take March’s decision too gravely. “There are special factors that suggest the economy could reaccelerate,” he says. “The government shutdown threw a wrench into things, slowing some activity and distorting how we measure the economy.” He also remarks that since the financial crisis, data in the first quarter has continued to come in weak, still leaving room for everything to reaccelerate in the second and third quarters. He points to the already strong labor market as a plus.

Fed economic forecasts hint at a possible rate cut by the end of 2019. Just as the Fed projects a slightly higher federal funds rate in 2020, it also posted a projected 2.4% for 2019. Note that this projected rate falls below the upper end of the current rate corridor of 2.5%. This means the doves may want to see a possible rate cut if improvements in the economic outlook don’t materialize by mid-year.

When asked about this potential rate cut, Fed Chair Jerome Powell emphasized the Committee’s current positive outlook, while also emphasizing that it remains mindful of potential risks. Still, he maintained that “the data are not currently sending a signal that we need to move in one direction or another.” He also remarked that since it’s still early in the year, they have limited and mixed data to consult.

Kapfidze offers a more concretely positive outlook, noting that the chances of a rate cut are pretty slim. “To get a rate cut, you’d have to have sustained growth below 2%. There would have to be further weakness in the economy, like if trade deals get messier, to warrant a rate cut.”

The Fed downgraded its economic outlook for 2019 for the second time in recent months. In line with Kapfidze’s predictions, we did see a weaker economic outlook coming out of this month’s Fed meeting. The median GDP forecast for 2019 and 2020 decreased from December projections, while it remained the same for 2021 and beyond. This comes hand in hand with the decreased fed funds rate projections.

The FOMC increased their unemployment projections, which Kapfidze found surprising because the labor market has been so strong. “Maybe they believe that those numbers indicate a deceleration,” he said, “but really, it has to be consistent considering the other changes that they made.”

Why the Fed March meeting is important for you

It’s easy to let all of this monetary policy talk go in one ear and out the other. But what the Fed does or doesn’t change has an impact on your daily life. Without a rate hike since December, we’re already starting to see mortgage rates fall. This is helpful not only for those who want to buy a home, but also for those who bought homes at last year’s highs to refinance.

As for personal loans and credit cards, we may still see these rates continue to increase, just at a slower rate. These rates have little chance of decreasing because lenders may take the current weaker economic data as a sign that the economy is going to be more risky.

Deposit accounts will feel the opposite effects as banks may start to cut savings account rates. At best, banks will keep their rates where they are for now, until more evidence for a rate cut arises.

Our January Fed meeting predictions

Don’t expect a rate hike. The FOMC ended the year with yet another rate hike, raising the federal funds rate from 2.25 to 2.5%. It was the committee’s fourth increase of 2018, which began with a rate of just 1.5%.

But the January Fed meeting will likely be an increase-free one. Tendayi Kapfidze, chief economist at LendingTree, the parent company of MagnifyMoney, said the probability of a rate hike is “basically zero.”

Kapfidze’s assessment is twofold. First, he noted that the Fed typically announces rate increases during the third month of each quarter, not the first. This means a hike announcement would be much more likely during the FOMC’s March 19-20 meeting, rather than in January.

Perhaps more importantly, Kapfidze said there’s been too much market flux for the FOMC to make a new decision on the federal funds rate. He predicts the Fed will likely wait for more evidence before it considers another rate hike.

“I think a lot of it is a reaction to market volatility, and therefore that’s lowered the expectations for federal fund hikes,” Kapfidze said.

But if a rate hike is so unlikely, what should consumers expect from the January Fed meeting? Here are three things to keep an eye on.

#1 The frequency of rate hikes moving forward

It’s unclear when the next increase will occur, but the FOMC’s post-meeting statement could give a clearer picture of how often rate hikes might occur in the future.

The Fed released its latest economic projections last month, which predicted the federal funds rate would likely reach 2.9% by the end of 2019. This figure was a decline from its September 2018 projections, which placed that figure at 3.1%.

As a result, many analysts — Kapfidze included — are forecasting a slower year for rate hikes than in 2018. Kapfdize said some analysts are predicting zero increases, or even a rate decrease, but he believes that may be too conservative.

“I still think the underlying economic data supports at least two rate hikes, maybe even three,” Kapfidze said.

Kapfidze’s outlook falls more in line with the Fed’s current projections, as it would mean two rate hikes of 0.25% at some point this year. There could be more clarity after the January meeting, as the FOMC’s accompanying statement will help indicate whether the Fed’s monetary policy has changed since December.

#2 An economic forecast for 2019

The FOMC’s post-meeting statement always includes a brief assessment of the economy, and this month’s comments will provide a helpful first look at the outlook for 2019.

Consumers will have to wait until March for the Fed’s full projections — those are only updated after every other meeting — but the FOMC will follow its January gathering with its usual press release. This statement normally provides insight into the state of household spending, inflation, the unemployment rate and GDP growth, as well as a prediction of how quickly the economy will grow in the coming months.

At last month’s Fed meeting, the committee found that household spending was continuing to increase, unemployment was remaining low and overall inflation remained near 2%. Kapfidze expects January’s forecast to be fairly similar, as recent market fluctuations might make it difficult for the FOMC to predict any major changes.

Read more: What the Fed Rate Hike Means for Your Investments

“I wouldn’t expect any significant change in the tone compared to December,” Kapfidze said. “I think they’ll want to see a little more data come in, and a little more time pass.”

At the very least, the statement will let consumers know if the Fed is taking a patient approach to its analysis, a decision that may help indicate just how volatile the FOMC considers the economy to be.

#3 A response to the government shutdown

The big mystery entering January’s Fed meeting is the partial government shutdown. While Kapfidze said the FOMC’s outlook should be similar to December, he also warned that things could change quickly if Congress and President Trump can’t agree on a spending bill soon.

“The longer it goes on, and the more contentious it gets, the less confidence consumers have — the less confidence business have. And a lot of that could translate to increased financial market volatility,” Kapfidze said.

Kapfidze added that the longer the government stays closed, the more likely the FOMC is to react with a change in monetary policy. During the October 2013 shutdown, for example, the Fed’s Board of Governors released a statement encouraging banks and credit unions to allow consumers a chance at renegotiating debt payments, such as mortgages, student loans and credit cards.

“The agencies encourage financial institutions to consider prudent workout arrangements that increase the potential for creditworthy borrowers to meet their obligations,” the 2013 statement said.

What happened at the January Fed meeting:

No rate hike for now

In its first meeting of 2019, the Federal Open Market Committee announced it was keeping the federal fund rate at 2.25% to 2.5%, therefore not raising the rates, as widely predicted. This decision follows much speculation surrounding the economy after the Fed rate hike in December 2018, which was the fourth rate hike last year. In its press release, the FOMC cited the near-ideal inflation rate of 2%, strong job growth and low unemployment as reasons for leaving the rate unchanged.

In the post-meeting press conference, Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell confirmed that the committee feels that its current policy is appropriate and will adopt a “wait-and-see approach” in regards to future policy changes.

Read more: How Fed Rate Hikes Change Borrowing and Savings Rates

Impact of government shutdown is yet to be seen

The FOMC’s official statement did not address the government shutdown in detail, although it was discussed briefly in the press conference that followed. Powell said he believes that any GDP lost due to the shutdown will be regained in the second quarter, providing there isn’t another shutdown. Any permanent effect would come from another shutdown, but he did not answer how a shutdown might change future policy.

What the January meeting bodes for the rest of the year

Don’t expect more rate hikes. As for what this decision might signal for the future, Powell maintains that the committee is “data dependent”. This data includes labor market conditions, inflation pressures and expectations and price stability. He stressed that they will remain patient while continuing to look at financial developments both abroad and at home. These factors will help determine when a rate adjustment would be appropriate, if at all. When asked whether a rate change would mean an increase or a decrease, he emphasized again the use of this data for clarification on any changes. Still, the Fed did predict in December that the federal funds rate could reach 2.9% by the end of this year, indicating a positive change rather than a negative one.

CD’s might start looking better. For conservative savers wondering whether or not it’s worth it to tie up funds in CDs and risk missing out on future rate hikes – long-term CDs are looking like a safer and safer bet, according to Ken Tumin, founder of DepositAccounts.com, another LendingTree-owned site. Post-Fed meeting, Tumin wrote in his outlook, “I can’t say for sure, but it’s beginning to look more likely that we have already passed the rate peak of this cycle. It may be time to start moving money into long-term CDs.”

Look out for March. Depending on who you ask, the FOMC’s inaction was to be expected. As Tendayi Kapfidze, LendingTree’s chief economist, noted [below], if there is going to be a rate increase this quarter, it will be announced in the FOMC’s March meeting. We will also have to wait for the March meeting to get the Fed’s full economic projections. For now, its statement confirms that household spending is still on an incline, inflation remains under control and unemployment is low. It also notes that growth of business fixed investment has slowed down from last year. As for inflation, market-based measures have decreased in recent months, but survey-based measures of longer-term inflation expectations haven’t changed much.

 

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Learn more: What is the Federal Open Market Committee?

The FOMC is one of two monetary policy-controlling bodies within the Federal Reserve. While the Fed’s Board of Governors oversees the discount rate and reserve requirements, the FOMC is responsible for open market operations, which are defined as the purchase and sale of securities by a central bank.

Most importantly, the committee controls the federal funds rate, which is the interest rate at which banks and credit unions can lend reserve balances to other banks and credit unions.

The committee has eight scheduled meetings each year, during which its members assess the current economic environment and make decisions about national monetary policy — including whether it will institute new rate hikes.

A look back at 2018

As we continue through an economically uncertain 2019, it’s worth understanding what the Fed did in 2018, and how those decisions might affect future policy.

The year 2018 was the Fed’s most aggressive rate-raising year in a decade. The FOMC’s four rate hikes were the most since the 2008 Financial Crisis, after the funds rate stayed at nearly zero for seven years. This approach was largely based on the the FOMC’s economic projections, which found that from 2017 to 2018 GDP grew, unemployment declined and inflation its Fed-preferred rate of 2%.

In addition to the rate hikes, the FOMC also continued to implement its balance sheet normalization program, through which the Fed is aiming to reduce its securities holdings.

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Lauren Perez
Lauren Perez |

Lauren Perez is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Lauren here