Why did the Fed halt interest rate hikes? Now we have more insight.

Fed Chairman Jerome Powell speaking at a news conference Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images News/Getty Images Fed Chairman Jerome Powell speaking at a news conference Image:

If you’re struggling to repair your finances following the government shutdown, trying to figure out how to afford a home or just worried about the economy generally, take heart: The Federal Reserve is paying attention.

On Tuesday, the Fed published notes from its January meeting, shedding light on its decision to stop raising interest rates for now. Those notes reveal the Fed’s concerns about things like a rocky stock market, a slower global economy — and tough times at home for many Americans.

The Fed committee “observed that the recent partial federal government shutdown had presented a significant hardship for many families,” the notes say. In addition, the committee discussed how affordability issues were contributing to weakness in the housing sector.

Want to know more?

What’s the background?

Until last month, the Fed had steadily increased interest rates for five straight quarters.

After its meeting at the end of January, however, Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell cited slowing global economic growth along with growing uncertainty in domestic policy as reasons to pump the brakes on interest rate hikes.

The minutes from that meeting confirm the Fed’s concerns that the five-week U.S. government shutdown, market uncertainty and other global issues — including trade disputes and slowing growth in China and Europe — are putting significant pressure on the U.S. economy.

Why does this matter?

No increase in interest rates means that, in the short term, consumers may see variable APRs for credit cards, some car loans and other lines of credit stay at current levels.

You can look at that as a nice break from the steady increases seen over the past five quarters — and it may be good news for many concerned that another increase in interest rates would be hard to keep up with financially.

What’s next?

March 19 is the next date set for the Fed to meet and discuss the economy and any action on interest rates, but some observers say the committee will likely continue to hold off on any hikes through mid-2019.

That doesn’t mean the Fed’s outlook on the economy is all gloomy. The meeting notes actually revealed that the committee overall is still pretty optimistic that the U.S. economy will continue to grow over the next few years, though perhaps at a slower rate. In the meantime, the Fed’s role is to keep a close eye on factors at home and globally in evaluating further rate hikes.

If you want to keep up with the latest on the Fed, you can follow its online meeting calendar and statement releases here.