Interest Rates and Other Measurements

Interest rates play an important role in our financial lives and our financial decision making. Having a better understanding of what different rates mean can help you make better decisions. Here are some definitions and explanations to help you understand what the different rates mean.

Prime Rate

This is the often-quoted rate many banks charge large customers for borrowing. However, many consumer borrowing tools, such as credit cards, charge interest rates that are pegged to the prime rate. When the Federal Reserve raises or lower rates, this is one of the first to change.

Long-Term Government Bond Rate

This is the rate quoted for 10-year US government bonds. It represents what someone would earn if they bought one of these bonds in the open market. There is a very active market for these instruments, and the rate changes daily (even minute to minute) as investors and dealers buy and sell these bonds.

Annual Percentage Rate

This is the rate you pay when borrowing money. It takes into account all of the costs of borrowing such as points with a mortgage, or lower rates for an initial period and higher rates later in the life of the loan. APR is the most important figure to consider when borrowing money. It is the best way to get a true comparison of different borrowing alternatives.

Dividend Yield

This merely represents the return you would get from dividends of owning a stock. For example, if a share of stock pays a $2 dividend and the share costs $50, the dividend yield is 4 percent.

Total Return

This term describes the entire return you get from an investment. It includes dividends and changes in the price of the underlying investment. Using the stock example quoted above, if that same $50 stock continues to pay a $2 dividend, but also increases to $55 in the course of a year, your total return would have been $7 or 14%. Conversely, if the value of that same share drops to $45, your total return would be a negative $3 or 6%.

Time-Weighted Internal Rate of Return

This measure is like total return, but also takes into account the timing of any cash flows and assumes the cash flows are reinvested into the same investment. It can be a complicated calculation and is best used to measure returns from a total portfolio. It is the method used by mutual funds to describe their results.


Everyone wants to earn the highest returns on their money and pay the lowest rates on their debts. While it sounds simple, be sure to review all the terms of any savings and loan to make sure you understand all the details.

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