Benchmark Interest Rate – Definition

Cite this article as:"Benchmark Interest Rate – Definition," in The Business Professor, updated June 9, 2019, last accessed October 24, 2020,


Benchmark Interest Rate or Reference Rate Definition

A benchmark reference rate is an  interest rate that determines other interest rates. There are different interest rate benchmarks used for setting other interest rates. They determine the yield, returns or pay-offs attributable to other contracts.

Benchmark defense rates are used in financial contracts, mortgage contracts and even interest rates swap contracts. In the United States, there are few commonly used benchmark invest of reference rates, they include the prime rate, LIBOR, and the U.S treasury securities benchmarks.

A Little More on What is a a Reference Rate

Reference rates are linked to adjustable rate mortgage (ARM) in which the borrower’s interest rate often serve as the reference rate.

Since different benchmarks exist as reference rates, some might be difficult to understand. An interest rate in form of an inflation benchmark such as CPI (Consumer Price Index) might be difficult to understand due to its nature.

Nevertheless, reference rates serve a number of purposes and benefits. For instance, a reference rate which is the interest rate of a borrower (the prime rate, plus an additional fixed amount) benefits the lender in form of a spread. If a reference rate is in form of an interest rate swap, the floating interest rate of the financial contract is determined by the reference rate.

Below is an illustration of a reference rate works.

Assuming a borrower borrows $40,000 as a mortgage loan and the lender offers a variable interest rate loan at prime plus 1%. If the prime is 4%, the interest rate for the mortgage will be 5% which is prime (4%) and an additional (1%).

If there is fluctuation in the reference, the lender, usually a financial institution can adjust the interest rate. When there is an increase in prime rate, the interest rate increases and a decline in prime rate causes a decrease in interest rate.

Treasury Inflation-Protected Securities (TIPS) protect investors from counter effects of inflation. Interests are paid by TIPS in six months interval and they are paid based on the original or adjusted principal.

References for Benchmark Interest Rate

Academic Research on Benchmark Interest Rates

An empirical study on the choice of benchmark interest rate after interest rates liberalization in China, Bin, W. (2004). Studies of International Finance, 11, 54-60.

The robustness and efficiency of monetary policy rules as guidelines for interest rate setting by the European Central Bank, Taylor, J. B. (1999). Journal of Monetary Economics, 43(3), 655-679.

An empirical comparison of alternative models of the short‐term interest rate, Chan, K. C., Karolyi, G. A., Longstaff, F. A., & Sanders, A. B. (1992). The journal of finance, 47(3), 1209-1227.

Can SHIBOR become the benchmark interest rate of China’s monetary market?—Empirical analysis based on SHIBOR data during the period of Jan. 2007-Mar. 2008 …, Xianming, F., & Min, H. (2009). Economist, 1, 013.

Interest-rate smoothing and optimal monetary policy: a review of recent empirical evidence, Sack, B., & Wieland, V. (2000). Journal of Economics and Business, 52(1-2), 205-228.

The Taylor rule: a useful monetary policy benchmark for the Euro area?, Peersman, G., & Smets, F. (1999). International Finance, 2(1), 85-116.

The output, employment, and interest rate effects of government consumption, Aiyagari, S. R., Christiano, L. J., & Eichenbaum, M. (1992). Journal of Monetary Economics, 30(1), 73-86.

Monetary policy transparency and pass-through of retail interest rates, Liu, M. H., Margaritis, D., & Tourani-Rad, A. (2008). Journal of Banking & Finance, 32(4), 501-511.

Monetary policy committees and interest rate setting, Gerlach-Kristen, P. (2006). European Economic Review, 50(2), 487-507.

A quantitative analysis of oil-price shocks, systematic monetary policy, and economic downturns, Leduc, S., & Sill, K. (2004). Journal of Monetary Economics, 51(4), 781-808.

Candidates for the Benchmark Rates in the Financial Market of China [J], Yongdong, J. X. W. H. S. (2008). Journal of Financial Research, 10, 005.

Was this article helpful?