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Cradle-to-Grave Guide to Common Tax Credits and Deductions

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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It’s true what they say — nothing in life is guaranteed except death and taxes. However, there are a number of tax deductions and credits you can take advantage of throughout your lifetime to free up extra cash.

We outlined the most common deductions and credits you may be able to qualify for once you reach life’s biggest milestones, like completing higher education, getting married or buying a home.

Tax credits vs. tax deductions

Before we dive in, however, it’s crucial for you to understand the difference between tax credits and tax deductions:

  • A tax credit reduces the amount of tax you owe
  • A tax deduction reduces your taxable income

Tax credits have a much greater impact on reducing your tax load since they are deducted directly off your tax bill. For example, a $2,000 tax credit will result in you owing $2,000 less in taxes this year.

Tax deductions, however, can still help you save money in several ways, including lowering your taxable income so more of your income is taxed at a lower rate.

Your cradle-to-grave tax guide

While you should speak to an accountant to determine which overall tax strategy will work best for your income and circumstances, one of the best ways to save is by making sure you take all the tax deductions and credits that are available to you.

Your School Years

American opportunity tax credit (AOTC)

The American Opportunity Tax Credit (AOTC) is worth up to $2,500 per year and can be used for qualified education expenses incurred during the first four years of college by an eligible student. This credit covers the first $2,000 in qualified education expenses for each eligible student, along with 25% of the next $2,000 you paid ($500) for the same student within a calendar year. If the credit reduces your tax bill to zero, you can have up to 40% of the remaining amount (up to $1,000) refunded to you.

To qualify for the full credit, you must have a MAGI (modified adjusted gross income) of $80,000 or less for singles or $160,000 or less if you’re married filing jointly. Credits are phased out for incomes between $80,000 and $90,000 for single filers and $160,000 to $180,000 for those married filing jointly. You cannot claim the credit for incomes over those amounts.

Students must meet the following requirements:

  • Must be pursuing a degree or education credential
  • Be enrolled at least half time for at least one academic period of the year
  • Not have finished four years of college at the beginning of the year
  • You can’t claim the AOTC or the former Hope credit for more than four tax years
  • No felony drug convictions at the end of the tax year

Lifetime Learning Credit

The Lifetime Learning Credit (LLC) can cover qualified tuition and higher education expenses undertaken by eligible students pursuing higher education in a qualified educational institution. This credit is for undergraduate, graduate, and professional students and is worth up to $2,000 per tax return. Even better, there is no limit on the number of years you can claim this credit.

To qualify, you must

  • Pay for qualified expenses for higher education at an eligible educational institution
  • Be pursuing higher education yourself or have a spouse or dependent pursuing higher education on your tax return
  • Be enrolled in at least one academic period at the beginning of the tax year
  • Have a MAGI below $67,000 for single filers in 2018 and $134,000 if you’re married filing jointly

Note that this credit phases out between $57,000 and $67,000 MAGI for single filers and $114,000 and $134,000 for those married filing jointly. Anyone with incomes over those limits cannot claim this credit.

Student loan interest deduction

If you, your spouse or a dependent on your tax return pays interest on a qualified student loan in 2018, you may be able to deduct the lesser of $2,500 or the amount of interest you paid. This deduction is available for individuals with a MAGI below $80,000 (or $160,000 if married filing jointly). You can also claim this deduction even if you do not itemize on your taxes.

Business deduction for work-related higher education

If you work for someone else or you’re self-employed and you itemize when you file taxes, you may be able to deduct expenses for work-related education. The deduction is worth an “amount by which your qualifying work-related education expenses plus other job and certain miscellaneous expenses is greater than 2% of your adjusted gross income,” notes the IRS.

To qualify for this deduction, you must be a working individual, itemize your deductions on Schedule A (Form 1040 or 1040NR) if you’re an employee, file Schedule C, Schedule C-EZ, or Schedule F if you’re self-employed, and have qualifying work-related education expenses.

Major Life Moment: Getting Married

While getting married can make a drastic impact on how much you pay in taxes each year, the changes may be more nuanced than it seems. For the most part, your marital taxes will depend on your combined income and tax bracket as well as whether you file separate tax returns or married filing jointly.

A few deductions that can impact your tax load once you get married include:

Increased standard deduction

For the 2018 tax year, the standard tax deduction has been increased to $12,000 for individuals and $24,000 for married couples. These amounts are nearly double what they were in 2017 ($6,350 for singles and $12,700 for married couples filing jointly).

Charitable contributions

If you itemize your taxes and donate money to charity each year, you may be able to deduct some or all of your donations. Your donation must be to a qualified charitable organization as defined by the IRS, and you must keep a written or printed record of the transaction.

Contributions to individuals are never deductible. You can donate items instead of cash (such as a donation of clothing or furniture to a Goodwill Store), but you can only deduct fair market value. If you plan to make a donation of noncash property worth more than $5,000, you’ll need to have a qualified appraisal of the property first and fill out Form 8283, Section B on your tax return.

In 2018, taxpayers can deduct the full amount of their cash donations to charity provided the deduction does not exceed 60% of their adjusted gross income (AGI). If you donate more than 60% of your AGI in a single tax year, you may also be able to carry over amounts to the next five years. This IRS quiz can help you determine if you’re eligible and how much you can deduct in charitable contributions this year.

Your Working Years

Deductions for contributions to qualified retirement accounts

For the 2018 tax year, you can deduct up to $5,500 in contributions to an IRA ($6,500 if you’re ages 55 and older) provided you meet income requirements. Your deduction may be limited if you or your spouse have a retirement plan at work, or if your income exceeds maximums outlined by the IRS.

If you are covered by a retirement plan at work, you can take the full deduction for IRA contributions if you’re single and your MAGI is below $63,000; married filing jointly or a qualifying widower with a MAGI of $101,000 or less, or married filing separately with a MAGI of $10,000 or less. The credit is phased out for single filers with a MAGI between $63,000 and $73,000 and those married filing jointly or qualifying widowers with a MAGI between $101,000 and $121,000. If you’re married filing separately with a MAGI over $10,000 you do not qualify for this deduction.

If you do not have a retirement plan at work, deductions for IRA contributions are limited to:

  • Single, head of household, or qualifying widower: Take the full deduction up to the amount of your contribution limit.
  • Married filing jointly or separately with a spouse who is not covered by a plan at work: Take the full deduction up to the amount of your contribution limit.
  • Married filing jointly with a spouse who does have a retirement plan at work: Take a full deduction if your MAGI is $189,000 or less, a partial deduction if your MAGI is between $189,000 and $199,000, and no deduction if you MAGI is $199,000 or more.
  • Married filing separately with a spouse that is covered with a plan at work: Take a partial deduction if your MAGI is less than $10,000 and no deduction if your MAGI is higher than that.

If you have a 401(k), SEP IRA, Solo 401(k), or another type of employment-based retirement plan, you can deduct amounts you contribute on your taxes up to certain limits. Those limits are as follows for 2018 (and 2019):

 2018 tax year2019 tax year
401(k)$18,500$19,000
403(b)$18,500$19,000
SEP IRA25% of employee compensation up to $55,000 in 2018 25% of employee compensation up to $56,000 in 2019
Simple IRA$12,500$13,000
SARSEP Plans (Simplified Employee Pension)25% of employee compensation up to $55,000 in 2018 25% of employee compensation up to $56,000 in 2019
One participant 401(k) plans, including Solo 401(k)$18,500 or $24,500 if age 50 and older, but a self-employed business owner can also contribute another 25% of compensation as defined by the plan up to $55,000 total$19,000 or $25,000 if age 50 and older, but a self-employed business owner can also contribute another 25% of compensation as defined by the plan up to $56,000 total

Individuals age 50 and older may also contribute an additional $6,000 per year to their retirement account if they have a 401(k), 403(b), SARSEP or governmental 457(b). Catch-up contributions for Simple IRA or Simple 401(k) plans are limited to $3,000 through 2019. As mentioned already, individuals age 50 and older can also contribute an additional $1,000 toward an IRA as a catch-up contribution.

Earned income tax credit

While the earned income tax credit (EITC) is available to all workers who qualify, the effect is more notable for those who have children. This credit is available to people who work for themselves or someone else who meet certain income requirements, and the amount of the credit increases when you claim more children as dependents.

In 2018, the EITC is limited to:

  • $6,431 with three or more qualifying children
  • $5,716 with two qualifying children
  • $3,461 with one qualifying child
  • $519 with no qualifying children

Income limits to qualify for the credit are as follows:

 No childrenOne childTwo childrenThree or more children
Single, Head of Household, or Widowed$15,270$40,320$45,802$49,194
Married Filing Jointly$20,950$46,010$51,492$54,884

You must also have $3,500 or less in investment income per year to qualify for this credit.

Qualified transportation fringe benefit

Employees who work for an employer who offers qualified transportation fringe benefits may receive up to $260 per month for transit vouchers or commuter highway vehicle fares and another $260 per month for work-related parking fees.

Saver’s credit

For the 2018 tax year, you may be eligible for the Saver’s credit if your income is below certain limits and you contribute to a qualifying retirement account such as an IRA or employer-sponsored account. You may be eligible if you’re age 18 or older, not a student and not a dependent on anyone’s tax returns.

The credit can be worth 50%, 20%, or 10% of your retirement plan contributions depending on your income, with a maximum credit amount of $2,000 (or $4,000 if you are married and filing jointly).

To receive the 50% credit return for the 2018 tax year, your AGI must not be more than $38,000 if you’re married filing jointly, $28,500 if you’re head of household, or $19,000 for all other filers. In 2019, those income limits change to $38,500, $28,875 and $19,250 respectively.

State and Local Taxes Deduction (SALT)

The SALT tax deduction allows individuals to deduct state and local taxes (including property taxes) from the income they report on their federal taxes. The value of the SALT deduction is capped at $10,000 as of 2018. Also note that this deduction is only available to people who itemize.

Home office deduction

If you work out of an office in your home, you may be able to deduct some of your qualified business expenses. This deduction can be used by homeowners and renters alike, and it applies to all types of homes. You must report regular and exclusive use to use this credit, however, and your home must be the primary location where your business is run.

Generally speaking, deductions for a home office are based on the percentage of the home you use for business purposes. And while the IRS offers a standard method for computing the deduction, busy small-business owners may want to consider the simplified option.

Major Life Moment: Buying a Home

Mortgage interest tax deduction

If you itemize when you file your taxes, you may be able to deduct interest you pay on your home mortgage. For the 2018 tax year, however, the limit on home loans you can deduct interest on has been reduced. You can now deduct the mortgage interest on up to $750,000 of debt for home loans, or $375,000 if you’re married but filing a separate return.

According to the IRS, this deduction can also apply to home equity loans and HELOCs provided the funds you borrow are used to “buy, build or substantially improve the taxpayer’s home that secures the loan.”

Tax savings for points

If you paid “points” to your lender when you took out a home mortgage to reduce your interest percentage, you may be able to deduct the amount spent on your taxes as part of your mortgage interest tax deduction in the year you pay them. This deduction is usually available provided the loan is secured by your home, the amount of points you pay is typical for where you live, and the cash you paid at closing in your down payment equals the points.

Residential Energy Efficient Property Credit

You may be able to take a special tax credit when you make energy efficient improvements to your home. To qualify, you must have lived in the home for the year and it must be your primary residence.

According to the IRS, this tax credit is currently offered on “qualified solar electric property, solar water heating property, small wind energy property, geothermal heat pump property, and fuel cell property.” This also includes labor costs and money spent on wiring or piping needed to connect the device to your home. The credit is for up to 30% of your costs. For qualified fuel cell property, the credit is limited to $500 “for each one-half kilowatt of capacity of the property.”

Property tax deduction

Homeowners who itemize their tax returns can deduct up to $10,000 per year in state and local income taxes (SALT) as we mentioned above, and this includes property taxes. This deduction is good for property taxes you pay starting on the date you purchased your home. However, it is not applicable to seller’s delinquent property taxes from the prior year at the time you close on the sale of your home.

Keep in mind, however, that you can only deduct property taxes themselves on your return, and that this amount may be different than amounts withheld for property taxes and homeowners insurance in your mortgage escrow account.

Your Caregiving Years

Child tax credit

The tax credit for having a dependant child goes up to $2,000 per child in 2018 for dependents under the age of 17. The MAGI income threshold for this credit is $400,000 for couples filing jointly and $200,000 for individual filers. Taxpayers with incomes over those amounts are subject to a phase out of the credit.

According to the IRS, up to $1,400 of the credit can be refundable for each qualifying child, meaning you could receive a refund even if you don’t owe any taxes.

Also note that you may be able to receive a tax credit for other dependents. This credit is a non-refundable tax credit of up to $500 for qualifying dependants that are a U.S. citizen, U.S. national, or a U.S. resident alien.

Child and dependant care credit

You may be able to deduct some of your child care expenses if paying for dependent care allowed you to work and earn an income. The limit on the child and dependant care credit is $3,000 for one qualifying individual or $6,000 for two or more qualifying individuals. You are not eligible to take this credit if you are married filing separately.

Also note that noncustodial parents that claim a child as a dependent may not be able to claim the child and dependent care credit since the children of divorced parents may be treated as a qualifying individual for the custodial parent.

Adoption credit

For adoptions finalized in 2018, adoptive parents may be able to deduct up to $13,810 per child. This credit is nonrefundable, meaning you won’t receive this amount if you don’t owe any tax. However, parents can carryover any unused credit from one year to the next.

An eligible child is any child you adopted under the age of 18, and the credit applies to any adoption-related expenses parents incur. However, income limits apply and reduce the number of people who can qualify for this credit. In 2018, those with a modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) over $247,140 cannot claim the credit. Those with a MAGI between $207,140 and $247,140 can claim a partial credit.

Child and dependant care credit

This credit applies to both care for a child or care for an aging parent that is your dependent, and it hinges on whether or not you paid someone for help. For example, If you did pay for elderly care for a dependent parent during the tax year, you may be able to qualify for up to $3,000 in tax credits.

Major Life Moment: Moving

Deduction for moving expenses

You may be able to deduct moving expenses on your taxes provided you moved for a business-related reason (such as changing jobs), your move date is close to the date your work situation changes, you’re moving at least 50 miles further than your old job was from your old place of employment and you have worked 39 weeks at your new job after your arrival in the new area. However, you don’t have to satisfy the distance or time tests if you’re a member of the Armed Forces.

This quiz from the IRS can help you determine whether you’re eligible to deduct moving expenses and if so, how much. Also note that you cannot deduct moving expenses reimbursed by your employer if they are excluded from your income.

Capital gains exclusion from a home sale

If you lived in your primary residence for at least two of the last five years and decide to sell, you may be able to exclude $250,000 of profits earned from the sale (for individuals) or $500,000 of profits earned from the sale (for couples married filing jointly).

Bonus: Medical expenses

Medical expenses tax deduction

If you wound up with considerable medical expenses during 2018, the IRS allows you to deduct any that exceed 7.5% of your adjusted gross income (AGI). Starting in 2019, however, taxpayers can only deduct the amount of the total unreimbursed expenses that exceed 10% of their AGI.

These expenses can include preventative care, psychiatric treatment, surgeries, dental care, prescription medications, and other qualified medical expenses like glasses, contacts, hearing aids and dentures. To claim this deduction, you have to itemize when you file your taxes.

Credit for the Elderly or the Disabled

If you are age 65 or older or retired on permanent and total disability, you receive taxable disability income within the tax year, and you have an income below certain limits, you could qualify for the tax credit for the elderly or the disabled.

Income limits for this credit depend on whether your spouse is living or lived part of the year, your age, and whether you are on permanent and total disability, but they are generally low. If, for example, you are single, head of household, or a qualifying widower, you can’t have an AGI over $17,500 and the total of your nontaxable social security and other nontaxable pension(s), annuities, or disability income cannot be more than $5,000.

Healthcare premium tax credits

When you buy a health insurance plan in the Health Insurance Marketplace at Healthcare.gov (or in your state exchange if they have one), you may qualify for healthcare premium tax credits depending on your income and other factors. This credit is refundable, meaning you can receive it back even if you don’t owe tax. However, the size of your credit is offered on a sliding scale based on income and varies depending on the price of healthcare plans in your state or municipality.

You must report a MAGI of more than 100% and less than 400% of the federal poverty limit for your family size to qualify for this credit. Those whose incomes fall within this range will receive all or part of the tax credit depending on their income, their family size, and other factors. While the total amount of these credits can vary, bigger credits tend to go to those with the lowest incomes.

As an example, a family of four with a MAGI of $100,400 in 2018 would be ineligible for a premium tax credit since their income is 400% of the Federal Poverty Limit (FPL) that year.

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Holly Johnson
Holly Johnson |

Holly Johnson is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Holly here

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2019 Fed Meeting Predictions — Fed Cuts Rate for the Second 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 September meeting. This move follows the July rate cut, which was the Fed’s first downward rate move in over a decade. 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 we see more cuts before the year’s end? Read on for our predictions for each upcoming Fed meeting and updates on what went down at the most recent conclaves.

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.

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.

Lauren Perez
Lauren Perez |

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

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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)
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)3.00% (applies to balances up to $20,000)
Simple Account$02.02%
SoFi Money$01.80%
Empower Checking$01.65%
Discover Cashback Credit$0None, but customers receive 1% cash back each month on certain spending with a limit of $3,000
Ally Bank Interest Checking$00.60%

10 bests free checking accounts of October 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

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 3.00% 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.

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on Evansville Teachers Federal Credit Union’s secure website

NCUA Insured

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 2.02%.

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on Simple’s secure website

SoFi Money

SoFi may be better known for its personal loan products, but its SoFi Money cash management account offers a great free checking experience. This account earns a decent 1.80% APY with fees and no minimum balance requirements. SoFi charges no ATM fees of its own, and it will reimburse you for any third-party ATM fees you are charged anywhere in the world. If you need physical checks, you can request them from SoFI.

SoFi partners with multiple banks to hold your money in FDIC-insured accounts. This means that SoFi Money accounts are FDIC insured on balances up to $1.5 million in total, well above the standard $250,000 FDIC insurance level available with conventional accounts.

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on SoFi’s secure website

Empower Checking Account

This online-only checking account is backed by Evolve Bank and Trust, an FDIC-protected bank that ensures the money you place in your Empower account stays safe. Empower requires no minimum deposit or balance, doesn’t charge a monthly maintenance fee, and each month will waive the third-party fees you incur from a single use of an out-of-network ATM.

In addition to the 1.65% APY, Empower gives you cashback rewards of 1% on up to $1,000 of debit purchases each month. However, this account can only be managed through its app so users will have to be comfortable with banking via mobile device.

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on Empower’s secure website

Member FDIC

Discover Cashback Debit

You might be more likely to think of credit cards when it comes to this brand, but Discover also functions as an FDIC-insured, online only bank that offers a suite of personal banking products including one of the best free checking accounts currently on the market. The Discover Cashback Debit account features a smorgasboard of perks and goodies for customers, including:

  • No monthly maintenance fees, minimum balance to open or minimum daily balance
  • A nationwide network of more than 60,000 ATMs customers can use fee-free
  • Free replacement debit cards
  • Free online bill pay

Living up to its name, the Cashback Debit account grants 1% cash back each month on qualifying spending up to $3,000. What kind of spending counts? Just about everything, with the exception of ATM transactions, the purchase of money orders, loan payments or account funding, and peer-to-peer transactions. In addition, some purchases made over a third-party app or service (such as Venmo) may not qualify.

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on Discover Bank’s secure website

Member FDIC

Ally Bank Interest Checking Account

The Ally Bank Interest Checking Account may not offer a high APY (unless you can maintain at least a $15,000 balance), but the free online banking, bill pay, and checks — both standard and cashier — along with no monthly maintenance fee, required minimum balance or minimum deposit to open make it a great option for customers looking for a free checking account.

While no minimum balance is required to earn 0.10% APY, customers can earn 0.60% if they maintain a daily balance of at least $15,000. Customers can use any of the 55,000 ATMs in the Allpoint® network for free, and Ally will reimburse up to $10 of non-network ATM fees each billing cycle. Other fees to watch out for include:

  • $15 stop payment fee
  • $25 per-day maximum overdraft fee
  • $20 outgoing domestic wire fee

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on Ally Bank’s secure website

Member FDIC

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James Ellis
James Ellis |

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