The prime rate is the interest rate that a commercial bank charges its best customers. These customers are usually large, stable, and highly credit-worthy entities, for which there is a minimal risk of default. A smaller organization can expect to pay several percentage points above the prime rate, since there is a higher risk of default. The rate is also used to adjust the rates charged on the following types of debt:
- Adjustable rate mortgages
- Credit card debt
- Home equity loans
- Student loans
The prime rate is based on the cost of money for banks, which is derived from the federal funds rate, which is set by the Federal Reserve Bank. Thus, if the federal funds rate changes, then so too will the prime rate. The difference between the federal funds rate and the prime rate is usually 3%. For example, if the federal funds rate is 2%, then the prime rate is likely to be about 5%.
There is typically little variation in the prime rates set by the major banks.
The prime rate is also known as the prime lending rate, prime interest rate, or base lending rate.