What are interest rates?

Interest is the cost of borrowing money or the reward for saving.

An interest rate is a percentage charged on the total amount you borrow or save.

Even a small change in interest rates can have a big impact. It’s important to keep an eye on whether they rise, fall or stay the same.

If you’re a borrower, the interest rate is the amount you are charged for borrowing money – a percentage of the total amount of the loan. You can borrow money to buy something today and pay for it later.

Interest is what you pay for the privilege. It’s a bit like hiring a car. Interest is what you pay to ‘hire’ someone else’s money.

If you’re a saver, it’s the same except the interest is paid to you – because banks are paying to hire your money.

What is Bank Rate?

‘Bank Rate’ is the single most important interest rate in the UK. We decide this interest rate and explain the reasons behind our decision.

In the news, it’s sometimes called the ‘Bank of England Base Rate’ or even just ‘the interest rate’.

We use Bank Rate in our dealings with other financial institutions, which influence lots of other interest rates in the economy. This includes the various lending and savings rates offered by high street banks and building societies.

For example, in 2020 Bank Rate was cut to 0.1% during the Covid-19 (coronavirus) crisis. This reduced the rates at which high street banks could borrow money from the Bank of England. Banks lowered the interest rates on some loans, such as mortgages, but also offered lower interest rates on some savings accounts.

Why are there so many different interest rates?

The number of different interest rates available when you borrow or save can be confusing.

The interest rates high street banks set depend on more than just Bank Rate. For loans, other factors are considered, including the risk of the loan not being paid back: the greater the risk, the higher the rate the bank will charge.

Why do interest rates matter to me?

Bank of England's KnowledgeBank guide to why do interest rates matter.

  • Hi, my name is Geoff and I work at the Bank of England. Today I’m going to tell you about interest rates. Interest rates were cut sharply in 2009 and remain extremely low by historical standards. With rates so low for so long do they really matter anymore? Yes they do.

    Whether you’re running a business or a family on a budget, interest rates continue to affect our daily lives and have a big impact on what’s left over to spend on essentials each month. For most, interest payments on a mortgage are one of the biggest outgoings. Covering the cost of spending on credit cards and pay day loans can also be a big drain. Many of those with savings rely on interest payments from the bank to provide essential income to live on. So whether you’re a saver or a borrower, the level of interest rates for you and your family, really does matter.

If interest rates rise, borrowing could become more expensive for you. Whether you are looking to get a mortgage to buy a house, or a new car on credit, it’s crucial to think about what steeper costs mean for you.

Imagine you have a £130,000 mortgage that you want to pay off over 25 years. If the interest rate on the mortgage is 2.5%, the monthly repayment will be £583.

But if the interest rate is 1% higher, the monthly repayment will be higher, at £651.

Of course, interest rates can go down as well as up. If the mortgage interest rate was 1% lower, the monthly repayment would be around £520.

It’s key to understand how a change in interest rates could impact your money. You can use a mortgage calculator to work out how your monthly payments might be affected.

Find out more

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