by Mardee Handler, managing editor
We’ve come a long way from the abacus.
The online world is not flat, which continues to increase the power of the Internet. Certainly, we can access vast amounts of information online. We can also, in a growing number of examples, interact with that information, through tools or calculators that allow us to change variables and see the impact of those changes.
At what rate are these calculators cropping up and changing the online experience? Well, we don’t have a calculator for that. (Not yet, at least.) But we can point you to five powerful online tools that can help with your municipal-related research.
1. Atlanta FRB Jobs Calculator: Employment trends can influence – and be influenced by – other economic factors. The Center for Human Capital Studies at the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta provides a Jobs Calculator that can identify the net employment change needed to reach a target unemployment rate in a defined time period. To take the calculator on a test drive, I used the Golden State as my sample state. With a current unemployment rate of 8.1 percent, California need to add 27,976 would an average monthly change in payroll employment of 27,976 jobs to its monthly average payroll employment in order to lower its rate to 7.1 percent in 12 months. Average monthly change in payroll employment
2. Issuers, investors, policymakers, and other municipal aficionados, take note: you will want to keep this one handy! The National League of Cities offers a tool that can calculate the amount of interest on a municipal bond issue – under current laws governing tax-exemption of muni bonds, and if that legislation should change. By factoring in the dollar amount of the project financing cost, interest rate, and length to bond maturity, the Municipal Bonds Calculator can determine the full cost of the project under three scenarios: a. if interest remains fully tax-exempt; b. if interest is capped at 28 percent; and c. if the tax exemption of municipal bonds were to be repealed. The tool was developed as part of an advocacy effort to ensure the continued tax exemption of muni bonds.
3. Informed municipal bond investors may want to know more than the yield and maturity date on a prospective purchase or current holdings. They can – thanks to a Bond Calculator provided by InvestinginBonds.com, a website hosted by the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association (SIFMA). The tool allows users to enter security and trade information for a specific bond (price or yield, trade date, settlement date, coupon, etc.). A click on the “calculate” box returns detailed yield information, as well as cash flow amounts based on coupon frequency.
4. Remember when it used to cost 10 cents to mail a letter? Me either, but so often, people who lament about how little things used to cost forget about how little they used to bring home in their paychecks. Here is a tool that can help add perspective. Using the average Consumer Price Index (CPI) for a given calendar year, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) CPI Inflation Calculator can provide a comparison between the relative value of $100 dollars today versus $100 dollars in any given year going back to 1913. Taking a trip back in time, $100 in 1964 – fifty years ago – is now worth $757.36 in buying power today.
Cost of Living
5. Bankrate offers a complete library of personal finance calculators, but here’s one that rises to the top for the municipal minded: The Cost of Living Comparison Calculator allows users to measure the true economic impact of moving across country – or across a state. Let’s say a Minneapolis metro area resident earning $150,000/year decided to trade in the snow shovels and parkas for year-round flip-flops in Scottsdale. The equivalent income, according to the calculator, would be $158,255.09, a 5.5 percent increase in order to maintain the same standard of living. But this calculator doesn’t stop here. It provides a detailed list comparing the average home price to the cost of a dental visit.