Five reasons to feel better about 2011

Unless you stocked up on stocks, 2010 was a year to forget for your money. The much-anticipated recovery in real estate never arrived, and about 6.3 million people have been unemployed for at least six months.

So we look to 2011 warily. But there are five reasons to feel better about your money in the New Year.

1. Bank lending is likely to improve. Surveys from the Federal Reserve and Moody’s show commercial and industrial lending should pick up this year. Businesses are more likely to get loans to expand, and that in turn could mean expansion and more jobs. The economic recovery until now has been barely self-sustaining. Better business lending, economists say, is critical to getting the recovery onto more solid ground.

2. The mass layoffs are over. A recent report shows weekly jobless claims falling below 400,000 new filers for the first time since July 2008, a sign that layoffs are slowing. It may not feel like it, but the economy created almost a million new jobs in 2010. This year, the wait to find a job will probably get a little shorter for people newly laid off.

3. It’s time to move up at work. Already, there are bidding wars for top talent in most fields and great opportunities in the so-called STEM careers (science, technology, engineering, math). At the same time, employees everywhere are restless. A report from outplacement firm Manpower found that more than 80 percent of workers are itching to switch jobs as soon as they can.

“No doubt that is a reaction to the amount of work that’s being done by each individual in every single company,” Manpower CEO Jeffrey Joerres said.

So 2011 might well be your year to ask for more responsibility, a bigger title, maybe even a raise. If you are a top performer, your boss does not want to lose you.

4. Interest rates are low. Rates on a 30-year fixed mortgage are still historically low, even after ticking up in the past few weeks. The Federal Reserve is working hard to keep rates low to stimulate the economy. That means first-time homebuyers have a rare convergence of super-low interest rates and depressed home prices.

5. The debt purge continues. Throughout 2010, Americans shed all kinds of debt (except for student loan debt), and as the debt load lightens, so does a family’s financial flexibility.

“You can’t move forward unless you’ve gone back and made sure you are paying off all of your debt,” said Stacy Francis, a certified financial planner and president of Francis Financial. “The most important thing you can do is take a look at 2011 and get very clear about how much you need to be putting toward those credit cards … to make sure … you are free and clear.”

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