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'Don't panic' over interest rate hikes! Instead, here's how to get free financial help

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HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) — As interest rates rise, there’s help in Houston to navigate the rising costs that could still help you avoid financial freefall.

CREDIT CARDS, CARS, AND HOMES ARE COSTING CONSUMERS SIGNFICANTLY MORE THAN JUST A FEW MONTHS AGO

The cost of goods is at a 40-year high. To cool spending, the Federal Reserve raised rates again this week. It’s the fifth time this year.

This has made using a credit card or buying a home or car more expensive than only a few months ago. Here are some examples.

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RELATED: Federal Reserve escalates its inflation fight with another big interest rate hike

Credit card APR has gone from 16% to 19%. If you make a $100 monthly payment on $5,000 in credit card debt, it’ll cost $1,691 more in interest, and take 17 extra months to pay it off.

If you buy a new $35,000 car now, compared to earlier this year, you’ll pay $31 more per month for the loan. It’s much higher for homes.

Mortgage rates have risen from about 3% to 6%. Houston Association of Realtors said the average home price in the city is about $411,000.

Monthly mortgage payments on the average Houston home have gone from $1,723 a month to $2,308.

SEE ALSO: Less than half of Houston-area residents can afford a median-priced home

Bankrate.com Chief Financial Analyst Greg McBride said he isn’t sure how long the higher rates will last, or just how high the Federal Reserve will push them.

“Those are open-ended questions because inflation is really at the hub of this wheel,” McBride explained. “Until we see a material broad-based and sustained moderation in prices pressures, it’s really going to force the Fed’s hand to continue to be aggressive in raising interest rates.”

‘DON’T PANIC’: THERE’S FREE HELP IN HOUSTON TO MANAGE THE FINANCIAL PAIN CAUSED BY THE RATE HIKES

United Way THRIVE helps people reach financial stability for free. Once enrolled, you work with a financial coach. All you have to do is call 211 to get started.

“We have coaches that can help monitor your credit score,” United Way Financial Stability Sr. Manager Aaron Sturgeon said. “Take a look at your savings habits, your spending habits, and really put together a strategy that helps you reduce that debt.”

If you’re worried about buying a car, home, or using your credit card, Sturgeon said don’t panic. “One thing you’ve got to be mindful of is, as interest rates go higher, you want to make sure you’re selecting the right product if you’re going to purchase an automobile or a house,” Sturgeon explained.

There are other ways to beat the rate hikes. McBride said to consider balance transfer programs that offer zero to low-interest ways to pay off debt. “That is hugely helpful in this environment because it not only shields you from other rate hikes, but it gives you this runway where you can get that debt paid off once and for all,” McBride said.

McBride said there are three other steps you can take too. “Pay down on the high cost debt, particularly credit card debt,” McBride explained. “Second, boost your emergency savings. Nothing will help you better weather whatever happens economically than having some money tucked away. And third, keep making those retirement plan contributions.”

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