Credit cents

pennypenny

Do you find credit ratings and debt management baffling? Start the new year out right by taking a three part class on Making Sense of Credit and Debt taught by the Michigan State University Extension. Classes begin on January 14 at the Washtenaw County Library Learning Resource Center. Pre-registration is required. Call 734-222-3943 before January 10 to register.

If going to a class doesn’t fit into your schedule, check out a book from the library's collection on credit and debt management like Starting Out by Sheryl Garrett. Start out 2008 with financial knowledge.

Ron Paul's curious economics

As always, the 2008 presidential election brings us some, shall we say, interesting characters. When it comes to economics, though, few are quite as interesting as Republican Ron Paul. In addition to abolishing the IRS, Mr. Paul hopes to bring back the gold standard as the basis for U.S monetary policy. Ben Bernanke is indubitably shaking in his boots.

Currently, our money is basically as good as our word; other countries accept dollars because they trust that we're willing to trade it for other goods & services. The gold standard, however, makes each one of those dollars equivalent to a specified amount of gold. Paul argues that, in the era of the declining dollar, perhaps we need that gold standard back.

Of course, there are plenty of good reasons why we abandoned the gold standard. But one has to give Paul some props for some unconventional economic thinking. Of course, recent economic news may have people clamoring for someone unconventional, just not quite as unconventional as Ron Paul.

Value Line and Morningstar: Research Stocks and Mutual Funds

Value Line LogoValue Line Logo

Value Line has finally decided to allow libraries to provide their patrons’ access to Value Line from home and work. AADL cardholders can now research stocks and mutual funds using Value Line from home, work, or at the library.

All branches of the library have the Value Line Investment Survey, the Value Line Investment Survey: Small and Mid-cap Edition and the Morningstar Mutual Funds in paper form. Downtown also has the Value Line Mutual Fund Survey.

Now both Value Line and Morningstar are also available online remotely through the AADL’s Research page.

These two premier investment services will help you make informed investment decisions based on analyst’s reports, investment objectives, risk, return, and the overall rank of particular stocks and mutual funds.

Saving for Retirement

According to the October 2007 AARP Bulletin, People 55+ are somewhat clueless about financial matters, even as retirement looms. Jane Bryant Quinn writes that health insurance and a part-time job after retirement will be necessary hedges to Social Security for boomers with diminishing pensions and negligible personal savings. AADL subscribes to several periodicals that address financial planning for the second half of life, such as Money, Smart Money, Better Investing. We also have a big selection of books and other materials on personal finance, like Making Bread. Please come in and browse our shelves.

Canadian money - Not just for Monopoly anymore

Ever made fun of that weird-colored Canadian money? If you have, Canadians may be getting the last laugh. Yesterday, the loonie was worth as much as a U.S. dollar.

What does this mean for you? Well, if you're Canadian, it means that U.S. stuff is a lot cheaper. If you're from the United States and want some Canadian swag, though, you might not be so happy. It might even mean that Big Macs in Canada won't seem as cheap anymore.

Still wondering why you should care about Canadian money? Why not check out some of these books on exchange rates and other numbers economists worry about? Of course, maybe you'd just rather plan your next Canadian vacation, even if the prices are a bit higher.

1854 Bank of Washtenaw Five Dollar Note

1854 Five Dollar Bill
(Click image for larger view.)

Other images of early Washtenaw County bank notes are available here

submitted by Wystan Stevens

Alan Greenspan - Economist, Fed Chairman, Blogger?

He's a legend. A veritable deity in the business pantheon. A man whose words were scripture for bankers and the financial warriors of Wall Street. And now, the venerable former Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan is blogging.

Well, sort of, anyway. Greenspan's only actually made one entry, and it seems to be primarily to promote his new book. But it not unprecedented for economists to turn books into blogs. Or in some cases, even blogs into books.

Why the credit hoopla matters to you

The business world has been abuzz lately about the growing credit crisis. Several large subprime lenders have been finding it increasingly difficult to stay afloat, as investors are becoming less willing to take on extra risk. And as the Financial Times demonstrates in this nifty interactive map, the problem isn't just in the United States.

So what does this mean for mere mortals like us? Well, if you're planning on buying a home, watch out. People are finding it increasingly difficult to secure mortgages, particularly if they are what the credit industry considers subprime borrowers, i.e. those who might be a bit less likely to pay back their loans. Those of you who already have homes with adjustable rate mortgages may find your rates creeping up as lenders try to recoup their losses.

And what can be done about this? Well, major financial institutions from across the globe are trying to dampen the crisis. The U.S.'s own vaunted Fed is still concerned with inflation, though, so don't count on them to cut interest rates anytime soon. But you can always check out the what's available at your local AADL branch for help. Here are a few resources to help you traverse the increasingly stormy waters of credit and mortgages.

The Big Mac, a (nearly) perfect form of global currency

EconomistEconomist

Have you ever exchanged your dollars for a different currency? I don't know about you, but I'm always confused as to how much I'm actually getting. If I can trade one dollar for 0.75 euros, can I still get as much stuff as I would with a dollar (which, admittedly, is not that much)?

For over 20 years, The Economist has been giving a clever answer to this complex question: Big Macs. The Economist's Big Mac Index compares the prices of that beloved artery-clogger around the globe, and in the process helps show just how much you can get for your dollar. Or franc. Or rouble. In their latest index, you can get a burger in the U.S. for about $3.41. But in China, it will only cost you $1.45. If you're traveling to Norway, though, it will cost you a whopping (pun intended) $6.88!

The Big Mac isn't a perfect way to measure exchange rates and purchasing power. After all, you can't trade them across international borders (eww!). But they have the advantage of being made the same way no matter where you go, an elusive quality in international markets.

Want to find out more about the Big Mac index, or any number of other current events or international trade topics? As an AADL cardholder, you can actually access The Economist in its full-text glory in General OneFile, one of our great research databases. You will need to login to your aadl.org account to follow the database link.

Participatory . . . lending?

Prosper logoProsper logo

The Web 2.0 revolution has brought user participation to a new level. Thanks to sites such as Wikipedia, YouTube, and the newly announced Media Predict, mere mortals can create and judge content previously controlled by large media companies.

But according to a pair of segments on the July 4th episode of Marketplace, the participatory mantra is coming to an unlikely sector: banking.

Prosper.com and Kiva.org both connect borrowers directly with lenders, without bank intermediaries. Prosper allows users to solicit lenders by posting their need and fully explaining their situation. They can then borrow from (or lend to) multiple individuals, at various dollar amounts and interest rates. Taking a similar approach, Kiva puts a slightly more philanthropic spin on participatory lending: it facilitates microlending. You can make small loans to entrepreneurs in developing nations, where access to credit is difficult to come by.

What do you think? Would you borrow/lend on such a site? Should banks be afraid?

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