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Personal Finance

Where costs may rise in '05
Inflation may be at 3%, but several of your expenses are likely to go up more.
September 16, 2004: 10:19 AM EDT
By Jeanne Sahadi, CNN/Money senior writer

NEW YORK (CNN/Money) No one's fussing about the threat of runaway inflation this presidential election season and with good reason. There really isn't a threat.

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The annual inflation rate, as measured by the consumer price index, is currently around 3 percent. While that's higher than the 1.9 percent measured in December 2003, it is still at a relatively modest level historically.

And on Thursday, the government reported that the consumer price index in August edged up a lower-than-expected 0.1 percent.

But when it comes to a lot of the recurrent and critical costs in your life, the price hikes are often steeper than inflation. And even when they're not, taken together, the hikes can take a notable bite out of your bottom line .

From health insurance to heating bills to college tuition to new homes, below are six areas where you're likely to see costs rise in 2005.

Health insurance

For the fourth year in a row, the average premium in employer-sponsored health insurance plans has seen double-digit growth. In 2004, the average rose 11.2 percent, according to a recent report from the Kaiser Family Foundation.

And even though the percentage of the premium paid by employees remained about the same, the dollar amounts rose. Employee contributions for single coverage rose a small amount from last year, but workers' contributions for family coverage rose about 10 percent. Compared with premium costs in 2000, families are paying $1,000 more this year, Kaiser reported.

Looking ahead, 52 percent of the large firms that were surveyed said they were "very likely" to raise employee contributions in 2005. Another 31 percent said they were "somewhat likely" to do so.

Fifty-two percent also said they were "very likely" (14 percent) or "somewhat likely" (38 percent) to increase deductibles and co-payments.

And 55 percent said they were "very likely" (18 percent) or "somewhat likely" (37 percent) to increase what employees pay for prescription drugs.

Heating costs

The soaring price of oil has been one of the top business stories this year, so it's little surprise that the cost of heating oil (the heating fuel common in the Northeast), as well as natural gas and propane (both used for heat mostly in the Midwest) are projected to rise this winter.

The Department of Energy in its September 2004 Short-Term Energy Outlook forecasts a 12.4 percent jump in the average Northeasterner's heating costs, for a total of $1,114, up from $991 last year.

In the Midwest, the cost of heating a home using natural gas is projected to spike 17 percent, for a total of $1,010, up from $863 last year.

And for Midwesterners using propane, the DOE predicts a 17.4 percent jump, to $1,335 from $1,137 last year.

College costs

Unless you've been asleep since about 1980, when private college tuition costs began rising significantly, you won't be surprised to hear that they're likely to do so again in 2005, although the average growth rate may not be as high as it's been in recent years.

The College Board has yet to publish the average costs for the 2004-05 academic year. But CNN/Money checked with 15 well-regarded private and public schools across the country. We found that tuition hikes ranged from 4.5 percent to 11.1 percent, with most schools raising the cost of attending class by between 5 percent and 6 percent. (For more, click here.)

And that doesn't factor in the cost of room, board and other living expenses.

Homeowners and auto insurance

Although the Insurance Information Institute hasn't finalized its projections for the cost of the average home insurance premium in 2005, a moderate increase is likely, said spokeswoman Jeanne Salvatore.

In the past few years, homeowners' premiums have seen big increases in 2004, for instance, the average jump was 8 percent. But the Institute's economists expect that the growth rate in premiums will slow.

"We're expecting premiums to moderate ... and (the growth rate) will probably continue to slow except in some parts of the country," Salvatore said.

For instance, that could mean some normally placid inland areas that got unexpectedly hammered by one of the major hurricanes this summer.

Institute economists also expect moderate increases for auto insurance premiums. But the best drivers may see their premiums go down because risk assessment methods have become more precise, Salvatore said. And driving records are a big factor in assessing risk and pricing premiums.

Interest rates

So far this year, the Fed's Open Market Committee has raised its Fed funds rate which is the overnight lending rate between banks by half a percentage point, and it's expected they may raise rates another half a percentage point before the year's out.

The Fed funds rate can influence a host of interest rates consumers pay on various loan products, such as mortgages, home equity lines of credit, home equity loans, auto loans and credit cards. (For more on why, click here.)

This year, "the cost of credit has risen mildly," said Keith Gumbinger, vice president of mortgage information publisher HSH Associates. And while it's impossible to predict exactly where consumer interest rates will be next year, "they're more likely to rise than to fall because we're still at extraordinarily low levels," Gumbinger said.

Loans with short-term rates are particularly vulnerable to increases. Take the 1-year adjustable rate mortgage (ARM), which currently has a rate of about 4.1 percent, Gumbinger said.

If the Fed raises the Fed funds rate another half percentage point this year and the rate on the 1-year Treasury, which is the benchmark for the 1-year ARM, also rises half a percentage point, the homeowner (or home buyer's) ARM rate would go to 5.27 percent next year, he estimated. On a $200,000 loan, that means you'd pay an additional $137 a month in payments.

New homes

Speaking of homes, building your own is likely to cost you more starting this fall and into next year.

The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) estimates that building a new home will cost between $5,000 to $7,000 more starting this fall as a result of nationwide shortages of cement and other building materials such as steel frames, insulation and gypsum wall board.

The median cost of building a new home is $210,000, according to NAHB.  Top of page

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