Hurricanes and Halloween. Happy Weekend, Baltimore!

by Stacy Tharp 26. October 2012

Hurricane Sandy Path

Source: National Weather Service National Hurricane Center

As I’m sure you’ve heard by now, we have an angry storm headed our way. Invited or not, Hurricane Sandy is coming to a town near you. According to a recent report issued by WBAL TV-11, Hurricane Sandy’s path is making it a near certainty that it will make landfall anywhere between the Outer Banks and New England. If you know your geography, you’ve probably realized that Baltimore is pretty close to the direct center of that range. According to the article, BGE is preparing for what it expects to be hundreds of thousands of potential power outages.

Luckily, I’m confident that you all read my article from last summer, Heat, Storms and Power Outages: Were You Prepared? So everyone should be prepared as the lovely and talented Hurricane Sandy makes her way towards us.

If we simply MUST be put right smack in the middle of Hurricane Sandy’s path, depending on your thought process, she’s either coming at an awful time, or at a fantastic time. You might be thinking that Ms. Hurricane Sandy will ruin your Halloween in Baltimore! You had the perfect costume ready and were so excited to celebrate Halloween in Fells Point, take your children trick-or-treating in your Baltimore neighborhood and attend the 2012 Halloween Lantern Parade and Festival in Patterson Park.

I, however, say don't let Hurricane Sandy ruin your Halloween; instead, embrace her presence! If you are stuck in your house on Halloween, have some neighbors over and play some Halloween games. If your power goes out, that will only make the games more fun!

As far as your banking needs go, be sure you look into all of your different banking options ahead of time - from being aware of the nearest branches and ATMs to enrolling in Online Banking and Mobile Banking. Using Online or Mobile Banking, you can set up future-dated bill payments and transfers before the storm hits in case you lose your power and are unable to log in to your accounts after Hurricane Sandy hits. You never know where or for how long power outages will occur, so the more banking options you have, the less likely you will be inconvenienced. If you are planning on heading to one of our branches after the storm hits, be sure to first check our News and Updates page to check for any branch closures due to power outages.

Most importantly, make smart decisions and stay safe!

SpOOky Facts Credit Unions Don't Want You to Know

by Stacy Tharp 24. October 2012

People have been complaining about the big banks for years now. When people get fed up and begin to look for other places to put their money, the same two choices are always suggested: a community bank, or a credit union.

So it’s great to know that there are other options, but with community banks and credit unions always being lumped together into one suggestion, it almost seems like they are interchangeable, when really, they are two quite different options. So how do you differentiate between the two?

Of course you know our vote…*coughcommunitybankcough*…but our choice isn’t completely biased. We know some spOOky facts about credit unions that we would like to share with you.

They might not let you in...or out.

Okay, fine…you are always free to leave a credit union, but you have to admit, that added a spooky twist to the heading! Credit unions are, however, selective about who they allow to join. You generally must meet a specific requirement in order to become a member. So maybe once you’re in, you will be reluctant to leave, even if you have a good reason.

They offer low credit card rates...but there's a catch.

Credit unions often advertise low credit card rates. What they don’t tell you is that with these great rates come not-so-great rewards programs. If you are working on paying off credit card debt, then a low interest rate may be all that matters to you. However, if you always pay your bill in full, the interest rate really shouldn’t matter, and your focus should be on what your credit card provider can do for you.

Fees are on the rise.

One of the biggest complaints about the big banks is their constant seemingly exponential increases in fees. Credit unions pride themselves in having lower fees than banks, but what they don’t tell you is their fees are on the rise as well. It is important to note that with both banks and credit unions, fees will never stay constant, for many reasons. Your safest bet for minimizing fees, wherever you put your money, is to make sure you have accounts that are right for you. This may require you to switch account types every so often. Switching to a credit union simply because their fees are lower right now is not a safe bet in the long run.

Your accounts are all tied together.

To protect themselves against risk, credit unions often have cross-collateralization clauses. What does this mean? Any item being financed or pledged as security will also secure any other debts you have or may have in the future with the credit union. For example, if you have both a credit card and a car loan through your credit union, your car will be used to not only secure your car loan, it will also be used to secure your credit card debt. Legally, credit unions must disclose this to you, but don’t expect to find this information on a flashing neon sign. It will likely be disclosed to you somewhere in fine print, so this cross-collateralization clause often comes as an unpleasant surprise to the people it affects.

Your deposits may be at risk.

Unlike banks, credit unions are not regulated by the FDIC. Less regulation means credit unions are able to use your deposits more freely and take more risks than banks. The majority of credit unions are insured by the National Credit Union Administration, but this is not a requirement for state-chartered credit unions. Before throwing all your money into a credit union, make sure your deposits will be insured, and check the insurance limits.

You won't get as many bells and whistles.

In general, when it comes to account features, credit union accounts give you the bare minimum. Simple. Boring. Raise your hand if this was you five years ago: “Internet? On my PHONE? I don’t need all that, I just want a simple, practical phone that allows me to make simple phone calls.” Now, if you are like most people, you look back and laugh at your old credo. You may be thinking along those same lines when it comes to your bank account. You don’t need any fancy additions - you just simply want a safe place to put your money. But why settle for that when you could get more features and benefits out of your accounts?

No matter where you put your money, it is important that you research the facts of the financial institution, and compare these facts with your current financial situation. The right financial institution for your neighbor might not be the right one for you.

If you found this article useful, be sure to check out these related articles:

One Size Fits for Life: Is Your Business in the Right Checking Account?

Top Three Myths About Online Banking Revealed

True or False? Five Myths About Credit Scores Unveiled

Housing Market Slowly Reviving

by Anirban Basu 24. October 2012

Home Sales Prices on the Rise in Maryland


A recent survey indicates that America’s optimism regarding the housing market’s recovery has improved significantly. According to Fannie Mae’s September 2012 National Housing Survey, a monthly poll of 1,000 homeowners and renters, more respondents expect home prices to rise in the next year (37 percent) and the share anticipating declining home prices is down to 11 percent. It is worth noting that such attitudes tend to become self-fulfilling prophecies. People are generally willing to pay more for an asset that they expect to appreciate in value. Importantly, 19 percent of those surveyed say now is a good time to sell, the highest level since the survey began in June 2010. More buyers and sellers translates into a more active market, and that’s good for realtors, title companies and of course, the buyers and sellers themselves.

Already, that renewed confidence working in conjunction with record low or near-record low mortgage rates is having an impact. According to the National Association of Realtors, national existing home sales rose 7.8 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.82 million in August, up from 4.47 million in July. The number of existing home sales is now 9.3 percent higher than year-ago levels. The national median existing home price for all housing types was $187,400 in August, up 9.5 percent from one year ago.

Maryland’s housing market is also improving. According to data supplied by MRIS and the Coastal Association of Realtors, home sales rose 3.5 percent in July on a year-over-year basis, 9.6 percent in August and 6.1 percent in September. Average and median prices have expanded in Maryland for seven consecutive months through September. Statewide, average sales prices were up 6.1 percent since September 2011 while median prices increased 6.8 percent.

Looking Ahead


Many economists believe that the housing market bottomed toward the end of 2011. This year has been one of improvement, as low mortgage rates, ongoing job creation and growing confidence have ushered forth welcome market dynamics. Unit sales and prices are up and forward looking indicators are also promising. Pending sales in Maryland were up on a year-over-year basis in both August and September. Statewide, pending units were up from 4,986 in September 2011 to 5,609 in September 2012, an improvement of 12 percent. Increasingly, realtors can credibly claim that the best time to buy is now and that if prospective buyers wait too long, they may miss out on highly advantageous mortgage rates and will end up paying more for the dream.

They may also have fewer choices from which to select. The active inventory of unsold homes in Maryland continues to decline. In September 2011, months of inventory stood at 8.5 months. One year later, inventory had dropped to 6 months, which means that market equilibrium has been achieved at last. Presently, seven Maryland jurisdictions have months of inventory below this level. Based on pending sales, inventory is likely to continue to fall, increasing prospects for additional home price appreciation.

 

Anirban Basu is Chairman & CEO of Sage Policy Group, Inc., an economic and policy consulting firm in Baltimore, Maryland. Basu is one of the Mid-Atlantic region's most recognizable economists, in part because of his consulting work on behalf of numerous clients, including prominent developers, bankers, brokerage houses, energy suppliers and law firms. On behalf of government agencies and non-profit organizations, Basu has written several high-profile economic development strategies, including co-authoring Baltimore City's economic growth strategy. His opinions do not necessarily reflect the opinions and beliefs of 1st Mariner Bank.



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