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Edward E. Hodgson Jr.
1110 North Broad Street | Lansdale, PA 19446
Phone: 215-362-2260 | Office Phone: 215-362-2260 | Fax: 267-354-6844
Cell: 215-850-6973 | email: ed@edhodgsonrealtor.com

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Credit Card Scenario Brightens, Signals Economic Improvement

May 29, 2012 5:52 am

Consumers are continuing to do a better job of managing their credit as the economy gradually improves. As of April 2012, existing bank credit card balances were 28 percent below their peak, according to Equifax's May National Consumer Credit Trends Report.

Balances were $531 billion in April 2012 compared to slightly more than $730 billion in January 2009. Retail card balances have not trended up or down, remaining even with seasonally adjusted pre-recession levels, however, the number of retail card accounts fell sharply. Over the 28 months ending December 2010, card accounts fell by 22 percent. They have since grown by 4.7 percent, now reaching 173 million accounts. In April 2012, available credit for retail credit cards (the difference between total credit limits and balances) increased approximately $5 billion after bottoming out in Q4 2011, driven primarily by rising credit limits.

"The combination of increased available credit and more timely payments among card borrowers has led to the recent growth in card lending," explains Equifax Chief Economist Amy Crews Cutts. "Consumers are starting to respond to increased credit availability both in cards and other tradelines, a signal of both their financial confidence and improving economic conditions. In turn, this increased consumer credit activity bodes well for U.S. economic growth through the second half of 2012."

Other highlights of the data include:
  • Aggregated bank card credit limits have held steady for the past six months at $2.4 trillion, roughly 6.6 percent higher than the low point set in February 2011.
  • New bank card issuance rose almost 37 percent in February 2012 relative to the same month a year ago.
  • The credit limit on new cards averaged $4,784 in February 2012, a 17 percent increase from the February 2011 average of $4,008.
  • Utilization (the ratio of balances to credit limits) was slightly more than 22 percent in April 2012, nearly equaling November 2007 lows.
  • As of March 2012, roll rates (the rate at which consumers progress from the "current" stage in payments to 30 days past due) have remained below 1 percent since February. This marks the first instance in more than five years roll rates have remained at this level for more than two months.
  • Retail card credit limits are stabilizing after falling 15 percent in early 2010 and another 7 percent in mid 2011 (currently at $299 billion).

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Why Debt Can Be a Good Thing

May 25, 2012 5:48 am

When it comes to the best ways to use money, too many Americans operate under a key misconception, says investment adviser and financial planner Ike Ikokwu.

“Money is opportunity, and having a blind spot for maximizing investment can drastically reduce one’s future options,” says Ikokwu, author of “Winning the Money Game: Separating the Myths from the Truth.” That blind spot is debt, he says. Just as Americans have learned there are such things as good fats and good cholesterol, so too is there good debt for a prosperous financial future.

As Ikokwu explains, the three most common ways of becoming wealthy involve debt: “They use it to launch businesses, invest in real estate, or pay for advanced degrees in order to become high-income earners.”

Ikokwu also outlines the following myths concerning debt:
  • Paying off your home mortgage provides financial security.
  • A 15-year mortgage is always the quickest way to pay off your home.
  • Putting money in your 401K or other qualified plan saves you taxes.
  • The stock market is the only place to generate high, double-digit returns.
Admonishments to “stay out of debt” prevent people from gaining financial independence, Ikokwu says. Investing in education, a new career in another state or a new business may be more lucrative than paying down a mortgage.

“My definition of being ‘debt-free’ is to have enough money so that you can pay off your debt at any time – if you need to,’’ he says. “But you don’t necessarily want to do that. Good debt can save you money on taxes, increase your investment gains and allow you to take advantage of wealth-building opportunities. Bad debt, on the other hand, is like having a big hole in your money bucket.”

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Family Vacations Unplug and Move Outdoors

May 25, 2012 5:48 am

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, gas is estimated to average $3.79 a gallon this summer, less than in 2008. That’s good news for families considering reviving the tradition of a road trip vacation.

Michael DiLorenzo, author of “Adventures with Jonny: Road Trip to the Parks!” believes a road trip is one of the best experiences a family can share. “This is a shared experience, and one that will be talked about during family gatherings for years to come,” says DiLorenzo, a father of three. “For busy parents, this is a time to savor their children’s youth. As moms and dads eventually find out, they grow up fast.”
It’s also a chance to get children outside and away from their computers, says DiLorenzo. Children today already have a deep-rooted interest in technology, which is why a road trip to a natural, outdoor destination is an opportunity to “give your child the gift of the outdoors, which is a gift for life,” he explains.

DiLorenzo offers these helpful tips for the road:
  • Games, games, games: Yes, there is ample entertainment for both drivers and riders in cars these days. But the goal is to bond with the family, so consider a fun game.
  • Beware of dairy drinks (and other smelly snacks): A spill in the backseat can eventually create quite a stink during a summer road trip. But do pack plenty of healthy snacks to save on pricey pit stops and avoid all the sugar and salt in junk food.
  • Avoid big-city rush hours: When traveling through metropolitan areas, consider the busiest traffic periods. Whether you plan to stop and check out the city or simply zip through it, bumper-to-bumper traffic is something to avoid. A bit of consideration can save your family hours of grid-locked misery.
  • Tech help: Various apps and websites can help drivers find the cheapest gas prices, food options, hotel rates and travel routes. Also, don’t forget a music mix that appeals to the entire family on one of these devices.
  • Schedule pit stops: Being in a hurry should be left for the morning commute; vacation should be different. When traveling across states and provinces, consider local culture. For example, barbecue in South Carolina is very different from Missouri’s version. Enjoy diners and unique attractions, and don’t be afraid to take notes.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Housing Recovery Gains Steam

May 25, 2012 5:48 am

According to recently released statistics from the National Association of Realtors® (NAR), existing-home sales rose 3.4 percent in April and remain above a year ago, while at the same time, home prices continued to increase.

Total existing-home sales, which are completed transactions that include single-family homes, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops, increased 3.4 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.62 million in April; this is 10 percent higher than the 4.20 million-unit level in April 2011. Additionally, improvements in sales and prices were broad based across all regions.

According to NAR Chief Economist Lawrence Yun, the latest numbers indicate that a housing recovery is well underway. Yun stresses this recovery is not just being fueled by investors looking to profit from rental income, but also by individual occupant buyers.

“The general downtrend in both listed and shadow inventory has shifted from a buyers’ market to one that is much more balanced, but in some areas it has become a seller’s market,” adds Yun. Decreasing foreclosure inventory is helping home values stabilize and increase in some areas, sparking multiple-offer scenarios.

According to NAR, the national median existing-home price for all housing types jumped 10.1 percent in April from a year ago, following a 3.1 percent increase in March. This marks the first back-to-back price increase since June and July of 2010 when the gains were less than one percent.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Consumers Prefer Online Banking to Traditional Branch Banking

May 24, 2012 5:46 am

More than half of consumers prefer to do their banking online and nearly half would do all of their banking online if they could. This was a key finding of the national consumer survey on retail banking trends conducted by Rosetta one of the nation's largest digital and direct interactive agencies.

Fifty-two percent of respondents said their bank's website is their primary method of banking, while only 32 percent said the branch was their primary method of banking. Forty-eight percent of respondents said they would do all banking online if they could.

The survey found that consumers use online banking most frequently to:

  • check account balances and recent activity
  • make an individual bill payment to another account
  • transfer money between accounts
  • obtain financial information
  • mobile banking capabilities may further reduce the need for consumers to visit a retail branch

The survey also found that the digital banking experience lags traditional retail banking in security, usability and rewards. Sixty-four percent of respondents cited a need for stronger online security and privacy features; 57 percent of respondents cited a need for “clear and easy-to-follow” online layouts; and 58 percent of respondents expressed interest in rewards/points programs for online banking.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Survey Says, There is a Little Geek in All of Us

May 24, 2012 5:46 am

Being a "geek" has never been cooler—or more respected. According to a recent survey by information technology staffing firm Modis, 54 percent of Americans rated geeks to be extremely intelligent, an increase from 45 percent in 2011. In addition, 71 percent of survey respondents identified geeks as the go-to people for technology advice vs. 56 percent last year. Perhaps most impressive is that more than half of Americans (51 percent) define geeks as professionally successful, a significant jump from 31 percent in 2011.

"The past year has seen a lot of very public coverage of high-profile, extremely successful 'rock star' technology executives – it would seem the high public profile of these tech 'celebrities' has really boosted public perception of geeks in the US," said Jack Cullen, president of Modis. "Geeks have essentially taken their place in the mainstream. And rightly so!"

Being the go-to people for technology advice also comes with an attachment to technology that seems greater than their non-geek counterparts. More than 60 percent of geeks said they would be very stressed out by losing the files on their computer's hard drive, yet only 49 percent would feel the same about going through a relationship breakup.

Yet geeks aren't the only ones obsessed with technology. Though 69 percent of non-geeks are quick to label geeks as addicted to tech, they themselves are attached, as well. Of those surveyed, 67 percent of non-geeks said they would have a difficult time living without at least one tech accessory for the day, of a list of devices including computers, smartphones, or MP3 player. That's only slightly lower than the 69 percent of geeks that said the same.

And both geeks and non-geeks are guilty of socially inappropriate use of technology. A shocking 5 percent of all respondents confessed to having used a device such as a smartphone during a funeral and 9 percent have used a tech device during a religious service. In addition, nearly one-fifth (19 percent) of those surveyed—geek and non-geek—have used a device during a date and 18 percent have used one during a business meeting.

Other findings include:

- Geeks are still old-fashioned when it comes to communication. When asked from a list of items which would be the most difficult to live without, 71 percent of geeks chose pen and paper over devices such as a computer (58 percent), smartphone (41 percent), and MP3 player (25 percent). 
- Technology can be dangerous for geeks and non-geeks. According to the survey, 32 percent of Americans admit to using their personal devices while driving a car, despite state laws banning it for safety reasons. However, geeks are the biggest culprits, with 45 percent of geeks admitting to using their device while driving, compared to 30 percent of non-geeks. 
- Men are more tech obsessed than women. According to the survey, men are more likely than women to be told that they use technological devices too often, including their desktop PC (17 percent v 9 percent), portable music player (10 percent v. 5 percent), and gaming console (16 percent v. 2 percent). Men are also more likely to use a device at the dinner table (36 percent v. 27 percent).

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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May 2012 U.S. Economic and Housing Market Outlook

May 24, 2012 5:46 am

Freddie Mac released recently its U.S. Economic and Housing Market Outlook for May showing for the most part encouraging signs with the release of several first-quarter 2012 economic indicators.

Outlook Highlights

  • Initial estimates for first-quarter 2012 economic growth was 2.2 percent, slower than the previous quarter, but better than three of the past four quarters.
  • Personal consumption expenditures grew at a 15.3 percent annual rate reflecting continuing strength in consumer durables such as cars and kitchen appliances.
  • Residential fixed investment like new housing construction and remodeling expenses have been a net positive contributor to growth for four straight quarters; however, it remains weak for this stage of the economic recovery compared with previous business cycles.
  • Home prices at or near a trough in many markets bodes well for further declines in delinquency rates.
  • Fixed-rate mortgage rates are the lowest in more than 60 years, providing extraordinary home-buyer affordability in many areas and likely translating into a sales pickup relative to last year.

According to Frank Nothaft, Freddie Mac, vice president and chief economist, "Taken together, the first-quarter data releases provide an encouraging sign for both the macroeconomy and the housing recovery. While not uniformly positive, for the most part the data trend in the right direction."

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Consumer Spending Index Moves Upward, Declining Home Prices Slows

May 23, 2012 5:46 am

The Deloitte Consumer Spending Index (Index) posted another monthly increase in April as the pace of falling new home prices slowed. The Index tracks consumer cash flow as an indicator of future consumer spending.

"The Index has been undergoing a mix of changes as housing, energy prices and unemployment tip back and forth each month," explains Carl Steidtmann, Deloitte's chief economist and author of the monthly Index. "On the positive side, some stability in home prices over the last two months helped the Index move upward. However, with a jobless recovery, falling incomes and rising savings rates, consumer spending growth may turn sluggish."

Deloitte's analysis of additional factors influencing consumer spending indicate:

- Real consumer spending posted a small rebound in the first quarter due to a rise in auto sales driven by a significant reduction in the quality of auto lending.
- A significant decline in driving may be having an impact on retailing. Over the past 12 months through February, miles driven are down 1.1 percent from a year ago. There have only been three periods of declining driving in the past 40 years: 1973 -- 1974; 2008 -- 2009 and now. Higher energy prices are one factor, but increased consumer spending over the Internet and more telecommuting must be playing a role as well.- Despite an improvement in the real price of new homes, it will likely be a long time before prices begin rising. Simultaneously, the steady decline in jobless claims has reversed.

The Index, which comprises four components — tax burden, initial unemployment claims, real wages and real home prices — rose to 2.07 from an upwardly revised reading of 1.88 the previous month.

Highlights of the Index include:

Tax Burden: The tax burden fell slightly this month. The significant rise in tax refunds has given a boost to household cash flow and temporarily pulled down the tax rate.
Initial Unemployment Claims: The decline in claims has stabilized and reversed in recent weeks, and initial unemployment claims are up more than 12 percent from a year ago. 
Real Wages: With energy prices rising, real wages continue to fall, and are down 0.9 percent from this time last year. 
Real Home Prices: Prices fell slightly in the most recent month, and are down 1.45 percent from a year ago. A slowdown in the pace of real home prices is a positive as it becomes less of a drag on the Index.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Spring Activity Cools But Housing Shows Improvement

May 23, 2012 5:46 am

Housing activity indicated a promising start for the first quarter of 2012 that substantially outpaced performance during the same period last year. However, the monthly pattern suggests some loss of momentum late in the quarter. According to Fannie Mae's Economic & Strategic Research Group, a slowdown in momentum may be mirroring many economic indicators and may partly be the result of unusually warm weather at the start of the year that pulled some activity forward. 

"Despite the loss of momentum as we move through the spring months, we expect that home sales will rise slightly more than 7 percent during 2012," said Fannie Mae Chief Economist Doug Duncan. "Our outlook is bolstered by improvements in consumer sentiment seen in our National Housing Survey results, which show that consumer views of housing market conditions have become more supportive of home purchases and their outlook on home prices. Interestingly, we're seeing a pick up from depressed levels in the 'good time to sell' category, suggesting rising optimism about the housing market."


Economic growth slowed in the first quarter of 2012 to 2.2 percent at an annualized rate, down from 3.0 percent in the fourth quarter of 2011. While still modest, the recent pace of growth is stronger than the same time last year and accompanied by a better balance of upside and downside risks compared to a year ago. Consumer spending was the primary driver of growth, posting the best showing since the end of 2010. However, while the strength in consumer spending is encouraging, it will likely be unsustainable going into the current quarter due to the lack of income support. Overall, incoming data suggest that growth will continue to be sluggish in the current quarter, and the pace of activity should firm just slightly in the second half of the year. For all of 2012, Fannie Mae expects growth to come in at 2.3 percent—little changed from the view we have held since the beginning of the year.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Struggling Homeowners Have Concerns About Mortgage Relief Help

May 23, 2012 5:46 am

What would you do if you couldn’t make your mortgage payments? According to a recent survey, most homeowner would first turn to family for help.

Money Management International (MMI) recently conducted a national housing survey to learn how homeowners would act if they were struggling with mortgage payments. Survey respondents said they would first seek help from family or friends (50 percent) followed by their lender (26 percent) then from housing counseling or mortgage relief program (13 percent). 

When asked about concerns regarding available resources and options for mortgage assistance, survey respondents stated they were concerned about scams/fraudulent services (53 percent), that the services would cost them money that they couldn't afford to pay (51 percent), and that the process was confusing or they would choose a solution they did not fully understand (45 percent).

Additional findings from the study include:

  • 25 percent reported they or someone they know needed assistance making mortgage payments during the last four years.
  • 57 percent would seek help only after a job loss, 35 percent if they knew they would miss at least one mortgage payment, and 27 percent if they had missed one mortgage payment
  • 63 percent of respondents who sought help did so when they were 1 to 3 months behind on their mortgage payments. 22 percent were 4 to 6 months behind, and 4 percent were 7 or more months behind before they sought help.

Free and safe foreclosure prevention help is available. Homeowners who have questions or concerns about their mortgage payment or loan should consider meeting with a HUD-certified housing counselor to discuss their options.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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