Bankrate.com Tracks Economic Health

By: Charles Bowen

The health of our bodies can be analyzed through the readings of dozens of lab reports, our economy’s vitality is reflected in mortgage rates, car loans, certificates of deposit, money markets, IRAs and credit cards, and saving and checking accounts. In the pre-Web days of a decade ago, only bankers and brokers could easily keep daily tabs on these economic vital signs. I remember a young business reporter on my staff who was thrilled to have worked out a system for routinely getting just a half dozen locally generated rates to be available for publishing in our business section once a week or so.

By contrast, nowadays anyone can use Internet access to retrieve the latest bank rates nationally and locally for any state in the union. Not only that, a powerful, free, data-rich Web also provides background that most of us need to understand how to interpret all this information. Bankrate.com provides information on more than 100 financial products ranging from mortgages, credit cards, and automobile loans to money market accounts, CDs, checking and ATM fees, home equity loans, and online banking fees.

The site, operated by Bankrate Inc. of North Palm Beach, Fla., calculates two averages:

1. The National Index is based on a weekly survey of the 50 largest banks and the 50 largest thrifts in the 10 largest metropolitan areas. Collected for past 15 years, the rates are intended to provide a broad historical perspective on trends.

2. The Overnight Averages (which also appear online under the title “Today’s Averages”) are the more volatile numbers depending on which institutions report that day. The nightly averages can pick up day-to-day fluctuations in rates. Some 4,000 banks are surveyed for these figures each week in 173 markets in 50 states and the District of Columbia.

To use the resource, visit the site at http://www.bankrate.com/brm/default.asp, where the introductory page is topped with a box displaying the Overnight Averages for financial products such as 30-year fixed mortgages, home equity loans, 48-month car loans, and 1-year CDs. For a historical view of any of these rates, click its associated “Graph” link to view a line graph covering the past three or four months. That resulting screen also offers options for additional graphs for other financial products and for specific states.

At the top of the screen are drop-down menus enabling you to search for either specific products or summaries for a specific state. Select an item or a state from the appropriate menu and click the adjacent Go button to continue. The introductory page also provides hyperlinked headlines to current news about assorted rates, taxes and savings, and related topics.

Other considerations for using Bankrate.com in your writing and editing:

1. If you write about this site in your news columns, you might want to alert your readers to some of its special tools, such as its calculators. These enable users to determine how much house they can afford based on a specific income and what kind of investment is needed to reach a specific goal.

2. The site also offers featured stories and columns on credit cards, taxes, small businesses, IRAs, credit unions, and automobile loans.

3. The Learn link at the top of the introductory page offers backgrounders on how to get a home equity loan, how to get a better mortgage, how to choose a car loan, how to find a better credit card, and how to start a business.

To see Bowen’s last 10 columns, click here. Previous columns may be purchased in our paid archives. Search for “Bowen” in the “Author” field.

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