Is it smart to borrow money during a recession?


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Figuring out how to manage money during a recession — or any crisis — can be difficult. When facing a potential recession, financial decisions take on a new weight. After all, financial policy may change during a recession, which can leave consumers with questions. For example, if the Federal Reserve lowers interest rates, should you borrow money during a recession?


While lower recession interest rates might sound appealing, there are lots of things to consider before borrowing money during a recession.

Understanding Recessions

A recession is a period of time when economic activity significantly declines. In the U.S., the National Bureau of Economic Research defines a recession as more than a few months of significant decline across different sectors of the economy. We see this decline in changes to the gross domestic product, unemployment rates, and incomes.


In essence, a recession is a period of time when spending drops. As a result, businesses ramp down production, lay off staff, and/or close altogether, which in turn causes a continued decrease in spending.


There are many possible causes of the recession. Usually, recessions are caused by a wide variety of factors — including economic, geopolitical, and even psychological — all coinciding to create the conditions for a recession.


For example, a recession could be caused by a major disruption in oil access due to global conflict, or by the bursting of a financial bubble created by artificially depressed interest rates on home loans during a financial boom (as was partially the case with the 2008 financial crisis in the U.S.). A recession also could be caused in part by something like a pandemic, which could create supply chain disruptions, force businesses into failure, and change spending habits.


As for how psychology plays a role in recessions, financial actors might be more likely to invest in a new business or home renovation during boom years when the market seems infallible. But when an economic downturn or recession starts, gloomy economic forecasts could make people more likely to put off big purchases or financial plans out of fear. In aggregate, these psychological decisions may help control the market.


In the case of a recession, for example, many people choosing not to spend out of fear could cause a further contraction of the market, and consequently further a recession.


Recommended: Find more recession resources in our Recession Survival Guide and Help Center.

How Does Financial Policy Change During a Recession?

Economic policy might temporarily change in an effort to keep the market relatively stable amid the destabilization a recession can bring. The Federal Reserve, which controls monetary policy in the U.S., often takes steps to attempt to curb unemployment and stabilize prices during a recession.


The Federal Reserve’s first line of defense when it comes to managing a recession is often to lower interest rates. The Fed accomplishes this by lowering the interest rates for banks lending to other banks. That lowered rate then ripples throughout the rest of the financial system, culminating in reduced interest rates for businesses and individuals.


Lowering the interest rate could help to stem a recession by decreasing costs for businesses and allowing consumers to take advantage of low-interest rates to buy things using credit. The increase in business and purchasing might in turn help to offset a recession.


The Federal Reserve also may take other monetary policy actions to attempt to curb a recession, like quantitative easing. Quantitative easing, also known as QE, is when the Federal Reserve creates new money and then uses that money to purchase assets like government bonds in order to stimulate the economy.


The manufacturing of new money under QE may help to fight deflation because the increase in available money lowers the value of the dollar. Additionally, QE can push interest rates down because federal purchasing of securities lowers the risks to lending institutions. Lower risks can translate to lower rates.

Downsides to Borrowing Money During a Recession

While it might seem smart to borrow during a recession thanks to those sweet recession interest rates, there are other considerations that are important when deciding whether borrowing during a recession is the right move. Keep in mind the following potential downsides of borrowing in a recession:

  • There’s a heightened risk of borrowing during a recession thanks to other difficult financial conditions. Difficult financial conditions like furloughs or layoffs could make it more difficult to make monthly payments on loans. After all, regular monthly expenses don’t go away during a recession, so borrowers could be in a tough position if they take on a new loan and then are unable to make payments after losing a job.
  • It may be harder to find a bank willing to lend during a recession. Lower interest rates may mean that a bank or lending institution isn’t able to make as much money from loans. This may make lending institutions more hesitant.
  • Lenders could be reluctant to lend to borrowers who may be unable to pay due to changes in the economy. Most forms of borrowing require borrowers to meet certain personal loan requirements in order to take out a loan. If a borrower’s financial situation is more unstable due to a recession, lenders may be less willing to lend.

When to Consider Borrowing During a Recession

Of course, there are still situations where borrowing during a recession might make sense. One scenario where borrowing during a recession might be a good idea is if you’re consolidating other debts with a consolidation loan.


If you already have debt, perhaps from credit cards or personal loans, you may be able to consolidate your debt into a new loan with a lower interest rate, thanks to the changes in the Fed’s interest rates. Consolidation is a type of borrowing that doesn’t necessarily increase the amount of total money you owe. Rather, it’s the process by which a borrower takes out a new loan — with hopefully better interest rates and repayment terms — in order to pay off the prior underlying debts.


Why trade out one type of debt for another? Credit cards, for example, often have high-interest rates. So if a borrower has multiple credit card debts with high-interest rates, they may be able to refinance credit card debt with a consolidation loan with a lower interest rate. Trading in higher interest rates loans for a consolidation loan with potentially better terms could save borrowers money over the life of the loan.


Having one loan to pay off instead of many loans may be easier than managing multiple payments each month. When a borrower is paying off a variety of credit cards, they usually have to consider a number of different payment due dates, interest rates, and outstanding balances. Additionally, if the entire credit card balance isn’t paid in full by the end of the billing period, compounding interest accrues, increasing the amount owed.


When considering consolidation, borrowers may want to focus on consolidating only high-interest loans or otherwise comparing the interest rates between their current debts and a potential consolidation loan. Also note that interest rates on consolidation loans can be either fixed or variable. A fixed rate means a borrower may be able to lock in a lower interest rate during a recession. With a variable interest rate, the loan’s interest rate could go up as rates rise following a recession.


Additionally, just like many other types of loans, consolidation loans require that borrowers meet certain requirements. Available interest rates may depend on factors like credit score, income, and creditworthiness.

The Takeaway

Deciding whether or not to borrow during a recession, including taking out a personal loan, is a decision that depends on your specific circumstances. There are downsides to consider, such as the general economic uncertainty that can increase risk and heightened uncertainty from lenders. But if you have high-interest debt, or could secure a lower rate by consolidating, then taking out a consolidation loan during a recession could make sense.


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This article originally appeared on and was syndicated by


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Your complete guide to surviving a recession


Recession warnings are everywhere. With interest rates rising, inflation hitting the highest levels in 40 years, and stocks plunging into bear market territory, most people are more than a little worried. Let’s face it, many of us are feeling the pain of the current economy every time we fill the tank, stock the fridge, or check our 401(k) balance.


But the reality is that, whether or not they fit the technical definition of a recession, these types of downturns are a normal (albeit painful) reality of economic cycles. When they happen, one of the most productive responses is to turn worry into action. Building a fortress around your finances can protect against tough times and put you in a better position when the economy bounces back.


So exactly what to do in a recession? These five steps can help you prepare for any type of economic slowdown, now and in the future.


Recommended: What is a Recession and Why Do They Happen?


Dramatic price increases across the board have already forced many consumers to cut back on their budget for basic living expenses such as groceries and travel. Now is also a good time to review bank and credit card statements to find other cost-cutting opportunities.


Maybe those streaming services that were a lifeline during COVID aren’t necessary any more. Or, it might make sense to put off some of those home improvements you were considering, keeping the equity in your home intact should you need it during the slowdown.


Revamping your budget can help you handle today’s higher prices and also help free up a few dollars for steps 2 and 3 below.


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Hard as it may be to find extra cash right now, it’s important to make sure you are putting something aside for unexpected expenses. Don’t feel overwhelmed by the advice saying you should aim for three to six months’ worth of living expenses. Saving that much right now may sound more discouraging than helpful, especially for people who saw their emergency funds dwindle during the pandemic. Keep in mind, anything you can save (even $25 a month) is good, and even small weekly deposits add up over time. Whatever you can afford, know that it’s worthwhile to prioritize emergency funds.


With emergency savings, you may get to take advantage of one of the few benefits of rising interest rates. Savings accounts may begin to pay more interest soon. What kind of savings account should you get? You might look for high-interest accounts offered by online banks as they often pay more than bricks-and-mortar financial institutions. Your goal, of course, is to get the best rate. If you are employed full time, check with your benefits department to see if any emergency savings programs are available through your work. Having some cash in the bank can be a key step when you are wondering how to handle a recession. It can be a hugely helpful safety net.


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Here’s the bad news about higher interest rates. The national average credit card rate rose above 17% for the first time in more than two years, according to a recent weekly rate report. The jump happened after the Federal Reserve increased interest rates. More rate hikes are expected throughout the year.


Check rates on all of your credit cards and other debts. Any variable rates may have already gone up. Next step? Pay as much as you can on your highest interest rate balances first to whittle down that debt; it’s the kind that can unfortunately snowball during tough economic times.


You might also look into balance transfer credit card offers. They can offer a period of no or low interest, during which you can pay down that debt. Another option is finding out how debt consolidation programs work.




The current economic turmoil hits just as federal student loan repayments are set to begin again in September, after a more than two-year reprieve during the COVID-19 pandemic. Another extension is expected (and hoped for by many) but has not been announced. Nonetheless, payments are likely to start again sometime.


If you’ve taken advantage of the pause, this is the time to get ready for repayment, whenever it comes. Contact the servicers of your federal student loans to make sure you know the monthly payment due date and other details that you may have forgotten or that may have changed during the pause.


If you’re worried about affording repayments, look into alternatives. Forbearance, for example, allows a qualified borrower to suspend federal student debt payments for a period of time, although interest continues to accrue. Government-sponsored income-driven repayment programs are another option. They cap monthly loan payments at a percentage of what is defined as discretionary income. Still other borrowers may find refinancing student loans through a private lender can be an affordable option. It can be worthwhile to do the research to find out what exactly your options are to stay current on your loans.


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When it comes to your long-term investments such as 401(k)s and other retirement accounts, the key to surviving a down market is simple: Hold tight. Nothing good is likely to happen when you sell in a panic. Not only do you risk selling at a loss, but you’ll miss out when the market rebounds, as it inevitably does.


Take a look at the most recent downturn. The Standard & Poor’s stock market index plunged almost 31% in March 2020 when Covid first hit. Then the index almost doubled just a year later. Investors who sold in a panic didn’t see any of those record-breaking returns.


If rising expenses are making it impossible for you to keep up with 401(k) contributions, you may want to try to deposit the minimum necessary to get any matching funds your employer offers. That’s free money, and you don’t want to miss out.


Also try to avoid making any withdrawals from your retirement accounts. In most cases, if you’re younger than 59 ½, you’ll pay a 10% penalty plus taxes.


Even more important, a chunk of your money won’t be there to see the growth in your long-term savings account when the market rebounds.




Most recessions include high unemployment and mass layoffs. This slowdown is a little different. So far, the unusually strong labor market has protected the U.S. from rising unemployment, contributing to the one bright spot in the U.S. economy. Wages have also increased, but generally not enough to offset the current record inflation.


Economists warn the strong employment market may not last. That’s something to be ready for, especially if you work in an industry that typically suffers downturns in a recession. And employees who may be counting on finding a higher-paying position in this strong job market may find their window for doing so is closing. What’s more, in a worst-case scenario, some people could find themselves figuring out how to apply for unemployment.


Reducing debt and building emergency savings, as mentioned above, are two important steps you can take to prepare for the financial shock of a layoff. In addition, this is a good time to work to recession-proof your career: Update your resume, boost your network, and get the extra education, skills or training you may need to protect your livelihood.


Check out our Recession Survival Guide to learn more about living through a recession.


Economic downturns are never pleasant and often painful. But with some thoughtful planning and the steps outlined above, you can protect your finances and better position yourself when the economy bounces back.


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This article originally appeared on and was syndicated by


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