MOULTRIE-- Savings are everywhere. Zero percent interest here, no payments until 2003 there. Some people are viewing low interest rates as a time to buy a new home. Some others see an opportunity to refinance.

Businesses are desperately trying to get people back in the spending mood -- starting with the Federal Reserve, which has cut interest rates more drastically than many people can remember.

Frank Bivins, a broker at All American Realty, says he can see the results of the Fed's recent actions:

"People are taking full advantage of the new rates ... We're getting contracts every day," Bivins said.

Mary Scott, a salesperson at Mattco Realtors, echoed Bivins: "Business has picked up tremendously in the past few weeks."

Some automobile dealerships are offering unusually low percentage rates on new purchases.

Hutson Motor Company, located on Highway 133, is among dealers offering 0 percent financing on new purchases.

"This deal is too good to be true," owner Robert Hutson said.

Although cutting the prime lending rate is music to some people's ears, others cringe.

"I'm afraid my retirement 'nest egg' will shrink," said Sally Shovar, a Moultrie homeowner.

"Returns on CDs and bonds, which are largely used to facilitate retirements, move proportionately with the PLR," Colony Bank loan officer John Gandy said.

By cutting the discount rate on Nov. 6 to 1.5 percent, the Fed caused the Prime Lending Rate (PLR) to fall from 5.5 to 5 percent. The last time the PLR was 5 percent was April 1973.

The discount rate, or the federal funds rate, is the interest the Fed charges on loans made to banks. When the discount rate fluctuates, as it does according to the market, so does the PLR.

The Fed uses the discount rate as a gas and brake pedal for the economy. When things look dismal, the Fed lowers the rate in hopes of stirring up some consuming behaviors. On the other hand, it is raised to rein in spending and inflation.

The PLR is the basis on which almost every interest rate banks charge their customers is set. If the PLR falls, so do a number of other interest rates.

"It has the trickle down effect," said Kent Moore, business professor at Valdosta State University. "Eventually, it affects just about every interest rate."

This translates into good and bad for consumers.

The good news is that the interest rates on short and long term loans drop, saving borrowers' money. Short term loans are affected almost immediately, whereas it might take up to six months for long term interest rates to feel the effects from the slashed rates.

The bad news is lower rates on savings accounts, certificates of deposits and other accounts that are also tied to the PLR.

Bankrate.com, a Website that contains a plethora of financial advice, advises that now is the best time to refinance home equity loans. It explains that an end to rate-cutting by the Fed may be in the near future, and the next few weeks will be the best time to lock in a low equity loan rate.

Bankrate adds that now is the best time to pay off any credit card debts. Variable-rate cards that are linked to the prime rate are at an all-time low, the website said.



-- By Kevin Liles



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