GAO Glossary of Terms and Definitions (September 2005)

Discount Rate

(Economics Term)

One of the following:

(1) The interest rate used to determine the present value of a future stream of receipts and outlays, or in cost-benefit analysis, of benefits and This use of the term is completely distinct from that in monetary policy, and the interest rates involved are generally not those charged by Federal Reserve Banks.

Discount rate policies of the three major oversight and budget agencies—the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), and the Congressional Budget Office (CBO)—are consistent with basic economic principles but vary significantly in their formulations for different analyses. GAO’s Discount Rate Policy (GAO/OCE-17.1.1), May 1991, describes different approaches and their applications.

In estimating net present values under credit reform, discount rate represents the average interest rate on marketable Treasury securities of similar maturity to the cash flows of the direct loan or loan guarantee for which the estimate is being made. (See Credit Subsidy Cost under Federal Credit.)

(2) The interest rate that a commercial bank pays when it borrows from a Federal Reserve Bank. The discount rate is one of the tools of monetary policy used by the Federal Reserve System. The Federal Reserve customarily raises or lowers the discount rate to signal a shift toward restraining or easing its monetary and credit policy. (See also Monetary Policy.)

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