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What a rate cut means to homeowners

How to keep ahead of rates and lower them when your card issuer hikes them up.

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By Gerri Willis, CNN


NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Most analysts see the Fed cutting rates for the third consecutive time tomorrow. What investors don't know is just how deep the Fed will cut. What will this mean for your mortgage? Here's what you need to know.

1: Long-term mortgages won't move much

Right now investors are split on whether the Fed will lower the funds rate by another quarter point to 4.25% or cut it by a half-point, to 4%. But the fact is, there's not much doubt that the Fed will cut rates. And because of that, the market has already priced that in, says Mike Larson with moneyandmarkets.com. 30-year fixed rates have been falling for some time.

In July, the average rate on a 30-year fixed mortgage was 6.66%. Last week, it was 5.82%. So, a rate cut won't really do very much to lower long-term rates. They're already low. So if you want to refinance, it's a good time to start shopping.

2: ARM resets not as severe

The Fed move tomorrow may be more significant to borrowers with adjustable-rate mortgages than what the government is doing in freezing subprime interest rates. That's according to Greg McBride at bankrate.com. Most resets on adjustable rate mortgages will reset in the middle of next year. And the fact that the Fed is cutting rates, will make these resets more manageable for prime borrowers, which aren't covered by the foreclosure-prevention plan announced last week.

So, if you had an adjustable rate mortgage that started at 4.5% and your rate was going to reset at 7.5%, you may only face a rate reset of 5.7%.

3: HELOCS will be cheaper

Home equity lines of credit will be cheaper if the Fed does cut rates. It may take up to three billing cycles to see the actual decrease in your bill. If you need to consolidate debts or you need money for medical bills or college expenses, you may consider shopping around for a HELOC since lenders are likely to price in the Fed's cut immediately.

4: Keep it in perspective

The take away here is that the Fed is on your side. This rate cut won't be the silver bullet that fixes the housing market. But it's apparent that Fed is in a rate cutting mode, and the cumulative effect on that will help consumers. There are a number of things the Federal Reserve can't control, like the impact of the credit crunch.

You need to look at inflation, job growth and the overall health of the economy as indicators of when this housing crisis may subside. When we get down to it, there are two issues here, according to McBride. That's inventory of houses on the market and the affordability of houses. Interest rate cuts won't do much to make that go away. Sometimes, it's just a matter of time. To top of page

Gerri's Mailbox: Got questions about your money? We want to hear them! Send e-mails to toptips@cnn.com or click here - each week, we'll answer questions on CNN, Headline News and CNNMoney.com.

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