The cut to the federal funds rate, the first since June 2003, was widely anticipated by investors and followed a surprise cut to the Fed's discount rate on Aug. 17. The only question was whether the Fed would lower the federal funds rate by 25 basis points or 50 basis points. (There are 100 basis points in a full percentage point.)
The federal funds rate, an overnight lending rate that banks charge each other, is important since it influences the amount of interest consumers must pay for various types of debt, such as credit cards, home equity lines of credit and auto loans. The rate cut should help some beleaguered home borrowers who are set to see monthly payments on adjustable rate mortgages rise later this year.
In its statement, the Fed said that "the tightening of credit conditions has the potential to intensify the housing correction and to restrain economic growth more generally" and that the rate cut "is intended to help forestall some of the adverse effects on the broader economy that might otherwise arise from the disruptions in financial markets and to promote moderate growth over time."
The Fed also cut its largely symbolic discount rate by a half of a percentage point to 5.25 percent. The central bank lowered the discount rate for the first time in four years, which is what banks pay to borrow directly from the Federal Reserve, by 50 basis points on Aug. 17