It's been a tumultuous 2016 — both financially and politically. The year may have left some people wondering, what's next? And, how will it affect me?
Lacking a crystal ball, we asked a few economic experts what they think 2017 may hold in store for Americans' personal finances. Here's their take on what to expect in the year ahead:
Q. What's the job market going to look like?
A. "The job market in 2017 will be about as good as it gets," said Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody's Analytics. "There are currently a record number of job openings and layoffs are at record lows."
Job growth should be strong next year, with more jobs across all pay scales, Zandi said. With the economy at full-employment, pay increases should also be as large as they've been in a decade, and well above the rate of inflation.
The only soft spots Zandi sees will be in energy and other commodity-related industries, manufacturing that is sensitive to global trade, and industries being disrupted by technology, such as print media or brick-and-mortar retailing.
"2017 will be a great year if you're looking for a new job or a better one," he said.
However, while the job market is good, it's taking longer than ever to get hired, said Andrew Chamberlain, chief economist at Glassdoor. The interview process now takes 22.9 days on average to complete in the U.S. as employers conduct additional screenings to find the right candidate, Chamberlain noted in a recent report.
Don't expect jobs to look the same once you land them, either. Chamberlain predicts that automation will change every job. There may also be a shift away from flashy benefits packages in some industries in 2017. In the tech industry particularly, where fun perks are the norm, employers may be looking at which benefits give them the most bang for their buck. He also predicts employers may finally take action to level the gender pay gap, thanks to greater awareness, data availability and pay transparency.
Q. Will gas prices go up?
A. 2017 will likely be another cheap year to fuel your car, but not quite as good as 2016, several energy experts said.
A huge global glut in the oil supply has driven down prices in recent years, meaning consumers pay less at the pump. As of mid-December, gasoline is averaging $2.115 a gallon in the U.S., said Tom Kloza, global head of energy analysis at the Oil Price Information Service. He expects 2016 will be the cheapest year for American motorists since 2004, when the average price was $2.265 a gallon.
But recently OPEC — short for the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries — recently agreed to cut production beginning in January to restore some stability to the market. If the cartel's members follow through, global oil production will slow, but not by much.
And while there is a likelihood that supply and demand will rebalance in 2017 under the OPEC agreement, Kloza said it's also possible that various countries will cheat on production pledges. That could mess with oil and gasoline prices. He expects prices will range from $2.10-$2.75 a gallon nationwide over the course of 2017, with seasonal and regional fluctuations.
Patrick DeHaan at GasBuddy.com said he expects the national yearly average will be 20 to 30 cents a gallon higher than this year. With Americans driving an average of 15,000 miles a year each, using about 600 gallons of gasoline, that means someone driving a normal passenger vehicle will pay about $120 more on gas in 2017 than this year, DeHaan said.
Q. What should I expect from interest rates?
A. The Federal Reserve slightly raised its key interest rate this month and said it may raise rates up to three more times in 2017. But that doesn't spell disaster for borrowing in the year ahead.
The Fed move will likely lead to higher rates for credit cards, home equity loans and adjustable-rate mortgages first. That means this is the time to pay down high interest rate debt and insulate yourself from variable rate debts, said Greg McBride, chief financial analyst at Bankrate.com.
Don't lose sleep over auto loans if you are in need of a new set of wheels, as a rate hike of this size has an inconsequential effect on affordability. And most student loans are federal and charge fixed rates. But if you have private loans, you may want to look at your financing options as these often charge variable rates and may be impacted.
House shopping? That's a mixed bag — mortgage rates were already volatile before the rate hike and that's likely to continue. McBride said that even with hikes, mortgage rates will likely stay closer to 4 percent than 5 percent in 2017. That's still low by historical standards.
Savers may finally begin see some improvement in rates for savings and CDs. But it may take a while for that to play out, McBride warned.
And keep in mind that three potential hikes are just a prediction. This time last year the Fed said it would raise interest rates four times in 2016, but it has done so only once.
"I'll believe it when I see it," McBride said.
Q. And what about my taxes, will they really change?
A. There's potential for some major changes to the tax system next year under president-elect Donald Trump's proposals.
According to his action plan, Trump will simplify the tax system and lower the tax burden on Americans, primarily the middle class. He aims to reduce the number of tax brackets from seven to three. And he says Americans will be able to deduct their childcare and eldercare expenses from their taxes, among other changes.
The average family could see a 3 to 5 percent reduction in their tax bill under Trump's proposals, said David Prokupek, CEO of Jackson Hewitt. While these are just proposals, Prokupek suspects they will move forward given their priority in Trump's agenda and for the Republican-led Congress in place. Even if it takes time, tax law changes such as these are almost always retroactive. So even if it's passed later in the year, it will apply to all of 2017.
The proposal is not without some controversy, however. An analysis by the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center found that about 8 million families, including a majority of single-parent households, would actually see higher tax bills under Trump's proposals. But Trump's advisers deny that he will raise taxes on middle-income Americans and say the president-elect would instruct Congress to avoid such hikes.
As for the taxes you owe or the refund you're due come April — that falls under existing law.
AP Writer Christopher S. Rugaber contributed to this report