HANDLING THE RATE HIKE

Alan Greenspan made his move last week; now it's your turn. Oh, sure, you could just sit back and watch the rates rise on your home-equity line and your credit cards while your 401(k) slides sideways. Or you could get busy, preparing your finances for the more inflationary, higher-interest-rate environment that's likely to be around for years to come. Here's what to do:

Lock in your loans. Got a home-equity line that's floating above the prime rate? If you've taken out a chunk to redo a kitchen or buy a car, you might want to convert it to a fixed-rate, fixed-term loan now. The same goes for your mortgage. You missed the rock bottom of the market, but if you're planning to stay in your home for a while, you can still save money with a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage at 6.35 percent. If you think you'll move within five years, however, go for a variable-rate loan. You can get a one-year adjustable at 4.41 percent, according to HSH Associates, a mortgage-research firm.

Pay off your plastic. If you're carrying big balances, consider a fixed-rate card; you can find one at cardtrak.com. But remember that even those aren't really fixed. Banks need give only 15 days' notice to change the interest rate on such a card.

Beware of bonds. Long-term-bond prices have already dropped in anticipation of Fed moves, but could stumble further if inflation is higher than expected. Keep your money short term, in bonds or funds that have average maturities under five years, suggests Mark Kiesel, a bond strategist at Pacific Investment Management Co.

Rediscover money-market funds. These funds react most rapidly to increases in rates, and while their yields are a paltry .59 percent now, that will change as quickly as Greenspan can say "up." When rates are on the rise, it's hard to find a better parking place for your cash.

Prepare for more inflation. Almost three years of easy money from the Fed, coupled with big budget deficits, means that heavier doses of inflation might already be baked into the recipe for the next few years. The antidote? Treasury Inflation Protected Securities (TIPS), which are indexed for inflation. Right now, these bonds are priced at levels that assume inflation will run 2.5 percent a year for the next five to 10 years, says Kiesel. If you think prices will rise faster than that, TIPS are a good investment for you. Some stocks do better in inflationary times, too. As recoveries age and prices rise, the companies likely to benefit most are those in the natural-resources, energy and industrial sectors, says Sam Stovall, chief investment strategist at Standard & Poor's.

Weed your portfolio. Some businesses, like utilities, real-estate investment trusts and telecom companies borrow a lot of money and are considered "interest-rate proxies" that can tank when rates start to travel north. Dump 'em, says Chris Casey, a portfolio manager with Boston Private Bank & Trust. Consumer stocks, like those of retailers, could suffer too as Americans start reading their bills and reining in their spending. Casey is using the extra cash to buy companies he thinks will do well with rising rates, like health-care companies, biotech firms and banks. Not everyone likes bank stocks when rates go up, but think about it. All those banks that raised their prime rate within moments after the Fed action last Wednesday--did you see them hiking their passbook savings rates too? Didn't think so.

HANDLING THE RATE HIKE | News