Happy New Year!
If you thought 2010 was the worst of the recession, think again—while no one knows exactly what 2011 has in store, it's fair to speculate that it will be a costly year for consumers. From travel to health care to gas, MainStreet ticks off the list of reasons why 2011 will make a bigger dent on your wallet than 2010.
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Prospective retirees probably weren't happy to hear this soundbyte from the Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI) in December: The cost of health care in retirement exceeds $200,000 in many cases. As Brian O'Connell writes, the "EBRI says that there's really no way to avoid saving for added health care costs, given the economic terrain now and in the future 'because employers are continuing to scale back retiree health benefits.'" Most aging Americans don't get employee-sponsored coverage anyway (only 20% really do), and EBRI estimated that both men and women would need a nest egg anywhere between $111,000 to $406,000 to cover their future health care expenses. With so much to pay for, it's no wonder so many Americans are waiting to retire.
Three economists, one psychic and a Coke Bottle app can't be wrong: Deflation's going to have a huge impact on consumer spending and saving next year.
"Retailers will remain reluctant to raise prices," says Mark Lieberman, a private economic consultant and former senior economist for Fox Business Network. And as MainStreet's Jeff Brown wrote in October, "company revenues and profits then fall, causing employers to lay off workers. The unemployed, or those who worry they might soon be, spend less, perpetuating the downward spiral."
Consumers will also likely be reluctant to invest in long-term commitments like mortgages or personal loans.
"The most hard hit in this scenario are borrowers who must continue making payments while their incomes fall and their assets, such as homes lose value," says Brown.
Consumer Price Index
We've already discussed the risks of deflation for loan borrowers, but consumers could feel the impact as well. As Jeanine Skowronski reported back in November, "falling prices can actually hurt an already shaky economy by actually discouraging spending as consumers wait for prices to fall even lower." That's a recipe for a toxic cocktail of massive layoffs, company cutbacks and a possible double-dip recession.
If interest rates shoot up the way economists and market experts expect them to, mortgage shoppers won't be pleased. As Jeff Brown wrote earlier this month, the current "rates are still so low there's a better chance they'll go up than down," and "while [home shoppers] might get a cheaper mortgage today than in six or eight months, the housing market is still pretty risky. Prices are continuing to fall … so a home bought today could be worth less later." Of course, whether buying a home makes sense depends entirely on the local market. Remember to do your homework.
Bank of America (NYSE: BAC - News) dropped its free checking this year and thanks to financial reform, more big banks could follow suit. To avoid the extra charges but still receive solid service, follow Brian O'Connell's tips to survive the demise of free checking.
No one was surprised by October 2010's news that home prices had weakened, but fears of a double-dip recession remain palpable. Experts predict another drop in U.S. home prices, while some are speculating that the market won't regain its footing until 2014. Thanks to the "human emotion" factor, writes O'Connell, "homeowners slide from caution to euphoria (and back again)," and "now with the credit spigots tightened and Americans in full retrenchment mode, there's no impetus to spend the kind of money to drive the economy forward … lack of demand for big-ticket items (like a new home) keeps housing prices low."
Lenders might be loosening their tight grip on cash for auto loans, but that doesn't mean those loans will cost any less in 2011. Interest rates are set to rise and with that comes larger fees down the line. Now might be the time to consider refinancing if you already have a loan.
The high cost of gas didn't deter Americans from their annual holiday shopping spree, but next year it might. As reported on our sister site, TheStreet.com, "Over the course of the calendar year the price has increased a relatively modest 13%; however, some analysts are concerned that prices have jumped almost 30% since September which could fuel inflation and impede further global economic growth."
The airlines will hate us for this, but it's true. Until a sweeping package of consumer rights is passed, there's just no getting around the stupid baggage, peanut, leg room, headphone, blanket, carry-on and coach fees they love to charge.