Is the Cost of Living and Inflation Higher in Washington-Baltimore Area?

by Anirban Basu 18. July 2011

The Difference between Inflation and Cost of Living

Inflation is defined as an increase or change in the general price level. Generally, inflation is viewed negatively since (all things being equal) an increase in prices reduces purchasing power. The cost of living can be understood as the general price level itself. In other words, a place that is terribly inexpensive to live in can be associated with high inflation, though if that high inflation persists, that place will not remain inexpensive. Conversely, an area that is expensive can be associated with low inflation.

  • Maryland is an Expensive Proposition

Data indicates that Maryland and the Washington-Baltimore area are associated with both a high cost of living and higher rates of inflation than national averages. For instance, 43 states were associated with a lower cost of living than Maryland during the final quarter of 2010 according to the Council for Community and Economic Research (Exhibit 1). Maryland’s overall cost of living is roughly 25 percent higher than the national average, housing is 69 percent more expensive and utility costs are 17 percent higher. Transportation and grocery costs are also higher in Maryland by 8 and 10 percent, respectively.

Exhibit 1. State Cost of Living Rankings, Fourth Quarter 2010
State Cost of Living 2010The recent housing downturn, which has been disproportionately felt on the coasts, has both reduced inflation and diminished the difference in cost of living with the balance of the nation more recently. Consumer prices excluding food and energy expanded 1.9 percent in 2009 in the Washington-Baltimore region and just 1.4 percent in 2010. According to the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond, the average value of homes in Maryland has declined 21.4 percent since 2007. This has reduced the overall pace of inflation.

However, inflation ran at more than a 2 percent pace during the first three months of 2011 locally, in part a reflection of growing pricing power among area businesses. Between May 2010 and May 2011, core prices in the Washington-Baltimore area climbed 2.3 percent compared with 1.5 percent nationally.

Exhibit 2. Core CPI Growth by Select Metropolitan Area, 2000 v. 2010
]Bureau of Labor Statistic
Implications

Despite the recent and ongoing housing downturn, Maryland remains an expensive proposition. Like other Americans, Marylanders have had to deal with a host of rising costs, including food and energy prices.

Indeed, Moody’s Analytics cites high business costs as being one of Maryland’s biggest obstacles to recovery. Operating costs are higher in Maryland because businesses consume pricey energy and transportation. Moreover, the overall higher cost of living necessitates higher wages, which creates further operating cost disadvantages.

This may help explain Maryland’s lackluster job creation in recent months, which has significantly underperformed the nation. One of the questions for state and local policymakers is whether or not there are possible shifts in policy that would help reduce business operating costs without generating substantial harm to quality of life.

1st Mariner Bank - Keeping up with The Joneses

by Kevin Lynch 13. June 2011

I recently attended the Net.Finance conference in Chicago . It is, by far, one of the best conferences for those of us focused on the digital channels of financial services. Over the two and half days, there were three topics that dominated the event: Mobile, Personal Financial Management (PFM) tools, and Social Media. I'm going to specifically talk about the first two topics.

The first day of the conference focused on Mobile Banking services for  customers. Jeff Dennes, SVP Chief Digital Officer of Huntington National Bank (and formerly with USAA), gave the Keynote address. His presentation was full of interesting observations including:

  • There are over 285 million mobile subscribers in the US, a 91% penetration rate.

  • 13.2 million people accessed their bank accounts through mobile sites, up 70% from a year ago.

  • The expansion of the 4G network over the next 2 years will increase bandwidth equal to a cable modem at home.

  • Mobility is driving convergence. The gap between the traditional web and related services is closing, with the increase in smart phones and the movement of the Gen Y's into the workforce.

Jennifer Wilson, SVP Internet Channel Director, BBVA Compass shared her experience with the introduction of ZashPay, a Person to Person payments service from Fiserv. From an adoption perspective, they found that building a web page with a simple enrollment process was key. When they looked at the user base, they found a surprising number of small business customers who were using as an alternative to more expensive ACH services. Given these pilot results, they may develop a mobile invoicing service for their business customers.

We rolled out our Mobile Money offering in August, 2010 and have seen a significant adoption rate. Mobile continues to be a hot topic among financial services providers and may prove to be the most signficant game changer in the next couple of years.

On the second day of the conference, I was fortunate enough to be part of a panel discussion on Personal Financial Management (PFM) along with Patrick Smith of Wells Fargo, Eric Connors of Yodlee, and Edward Chang of Strands. We had a lively discussion about the benefits of PFM for our customers, the challenges of getting people to use it, and the pros and con's of aggregation services. While the benefits are pretty clear (better financial management) the biggest challenge, as noted by Patrick, is inertia. Managing your finances is certainly important, but not critical. Setting up goals and budgets falls somewhere around cleaning out the gutters on the "to do" list. The key, perhaps, is to help educate the consumers about the benefits to make it move up that list.

One of the classic differences between 1st Mariner and Wells is the approach to aggregation. Wells provides tools that help manage those accounts that are with Wells while we offer a service (Mariner360) to add all your accounts, even from other institutions. Perhaps this highlights the major difference between big and small banks. We see this as a service that is the right thing for the customer, while they look at it from an internal perspective of what is right for the organization. We (of course) think ours is the better approach.

Credit Scores: GPAs for Adults

by Wade Barnes 10. May 2011

Improving Credit Score

Your credit score impacts every major (and some minor) purchase that you'll make during your lifetime. In regards to making a purchase that requires financing, (i.e. a house or car) your credit score can dictate the applied interest rate and in some occurrences, can prevent you from being eligible to receive financing at all. How about the impact on your career? Nowadays, many employers run credit checks before hiring.

Do you want to own a car, buy a house, have a career and be an all-around self sufficient individual? Mmm. Not much thought required there, huh? Of course you do!

So what is the best way to tackle this overly-exciting subject matter?

We asked our very own Wade Barnes, Vice President of Consumer Lending, to run through the ins and outs of a credit score with a word that we think will be all too familiar to you - the dreaded GPA.

"Professor" Barnes, meet the world.

The world, meet "Professor" Barnes.

700 - or above- is the score (or grade) that will get you on the honor roll of society. Like GPAs, credit scores are simply a numerical ranking of your credit performance.  The best way to think of a credit score is like a grade in school.  There are many parts to this grade like tests, quizzes, homework, participation, and attendance.  The teacher then weighs each factor in accordance with its importance and determines a final grade or score.  Credit scores are no different and look to the following factors. 

Not everything is treated equal - the return of "weighted averages."

35% of your overall credit score is determined by your Payment History, which is the single most impactful factor of your credit score. Be sure to make your payments on time every month. If you’re having issues paying your bills talk to your lender. Many lenders will work with you to help establish favorable terms for both you and the lender.

Next on the list is outstanding debt, holding a 30% weight.  It is important that you don’t carry high balances on your credit cards.  Carrying balances of less than 35% of your available credit limit is ideal.  Balances using 70% of your credit limit or greater are having a negative impact your score.

Weighing in at 15% is the length of time the accounts have been established.  It is helpful to have accounts with a long history reporting to the credit bureaus established.  For revolving accounts that have been managed well, consider keeping these accounts open so they continue to build history.

At 10% each, inquires and credit diversity are the least impactful but are nonetheless important to consider.  Be sure you aren't authorizing lenders to pull your credit report needlessly – keep this in mind when you’re checking out at your favorite retail store where they offer a discount for opening a store credit card.  With regards to diversity, be sure your debt instruments are spread amongst various loan products.  An individual who has a car loan, credit cards, and a mortgage will rate better than an individual who simply has multiple credit cards.

Is the test going to be graded on a curve?

Yep. Just like finals, these factors are scored on a curve type system where your performance is compared directly to other individuals.  Scores range from 350 – 850 where anything over 700 is good and anything under 600 needs improvement.

Be Aware

Perhaps the most important tip is to be aware of what’s on your credit report.  With over 290 million reports, mistakes are bound to happen.  You are entitled to receive a free copy of your credit report from each of the reporting bureaus every year.  To obtain your credit report, visit www.annualcreditreport.com , an official site sanctioned by the bureaus to allow you free access to your report.  Put this on your calendar and make it an annual practice.

As always, feel free to reach out with any questions you have about your credit score or any other credit question.



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