Ask Karen Gibbs

Veteran business correspondent Karen Gibbs answers your personal money questions and addresses current topics that affect YOUR finances on a daily basis. Karen is the financial expert in your corner--no question is too basic or too small. Karen boils down the issues simply: here's what you need to know, and here's what you need to do. Send your money questions to and post your comments below.

Karen, I have a social security number.  What is a social security account and why would I need one?

- Yvette, Eldersburg

CalculatorGreat question Yvette!  It’s never too early or too late to start thinking about and planning for retirement.  We’re celebrating 81 years of social security – which provides a foundation for retirement security as well as protection against old age and unemployment.

Never designed to be a sole source of income for retirement, it is nonetheless the main source of income for most seniors.   For one third of all seniors, it is the only source of retirement funds.  Social security also provides for disabled workers and their families as well as pays survivor’s benefits to widows, widowers, divorced spouses and dependents.

Social security is an efficient way of providing benefits to seniors, but it only covers about 40% of pre-retirement income.  So you need to have some sort of company retirement benefit (either ...

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Spotlight on summer gas prices

Karen Gibbs

Karen, is it me or does it seem like gas prices always increase during the summer months, especially around holidays?  Why?

- Beltway Bob, Catonsville

Gas Prices
Bob, you’ve hit upon one of the basic theories of economics, price theory and the laws of supply and demand.  When there is more demand for a product than supply, prices tend to rise.  When there is more supply than demand, prices tend to fall.

Seasonally, more people are out and about during the summer months, increasing demand for gasoline.  Gasoline is a derivative of crude oil, as is heating oil. Through the refinery process, one barrel of crude (42 gallons) will make 11 gallons of heating oil and 19 gallons of gasoline.  The rest is used for diesel and jet fuels. During the winter months, refineries pump out more heating oil; during the summer, gasoline is the dominant product.

When the global marketplace is awash in crude oil (as it is now), the price of a barrel of crude will fall.  Crude oil ...

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