What Is a Variable Rate?

What Is a Variable Rate?

By Charles Joseph | Editor, Financial Affairs
Reviewed by Corey Michael | Senior Financial Analyst

A variable rate, often referred to as a floating or adjustable rate, is an interest rate that fluctuates over the lifespan of a loan or credit product. These rates are usually tied to a benchmark interest rate like the prime rate or LIBOR. When the benchmark rate changes due to economic factors, the variable rate can increase or decrease as well.

The key advantage of a variable rate is that it can potentially offer lower interest costs than a fixed rate if the interest rate environment decreases. However, it also comes with risks, as rates can increase, resulting in higher payments. Always consider your ability to handle potentially increased payments before choosing a variable-rate product.

Related Questions

1. What is a fixed rate?

A fixed rate is an interest rate that stays the same for the entire term of a loan or credit product. It provides certainty and stability as your payment amounts won’t change over time.

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2. How is a variable rate determined?

A variable rate is typically determined by a benchmark interest rate. This could either be the prime rate or LIBOR. Essentially, if the benchmark rate increases or decreases, the variable rate follows suit.

3. Can a variable rate become a fixed rate?

Yes, some credit products offer a conversion feature which allows you to switch from a variable rate to a fixed rate. However, the specifics will depend on the terms and conditions of the specific loan or credit product.

4. What are typical loans that use variable rates?

Variable rates are commonly utilized for mortgages, car loans, credit cards, and student loans. Each has different terms and conditions for how the rate changes and when.

5. Are variable rates more risky?

Variable rates do carry a higher level of risk compared to fixed rates because they can increase, leading to higher payments. However, they can also decrease, which can ultimately save you money compared to a fixed rate.