Economics and Personal Finance Glossary (A-B)


Ability-to-pay principle- The idea that taxes should be levied on a person according to how well that person can shoulder that burden.

Absolute advantage- The ability to produce more of a good or service than another producer using the same amount of resources as that producer.

Absolute good- A value that cannot be traded off against other things that are highly valued by individuals. Many moral or ethical laws are considered to be absolute goods by the supporters (or advocates) of such laws.

Actual output (real GDP)- The amount that an economy actually produces, as measured by real GDP.

Adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) A mortgage that permits the lender to periodically adjust the interest rate on the basis of changes in a specified index.

Adjusted gross incomeGross income minus specific adjustments.

Adverse selectionThe tendency of insurance to be purchased by those most likely to make claims.

AdvertisingCommunication used by businesses to persuade consumers to buy a good or service.

Agency debtDirect debt obligations issued by Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and the Federal Home Loan Banks, which are government-sponsored enterprises (GSEs).

Aggregate demand curveA graphical depiction of the amounts of real output (gross domestic product [GDP]) that buyers collectively desire to purchase at each possible price level.

Aggregate supply curveA graphical depiction of the amounts of real output (gross domestic product [GDP]) that businesses will choose to produce at each possible price level.

AlgorithmA process or set of rules to be followed in calculations or other problem-solving operations, especially by a computer.

Alt-A (Alternative A) mortgageA non-standard mortgage owed by a borrower characterized by a strong credit history but with fewer traditional features–for example, reduced documentation, low down payment, or non-owner occupier.

AlternativesThe different possibilities to choose from in a given situation.

Annual percentage rate (APR)The percentage cost of credit on an annual basis and the total cost of credit to the consumer. APR combines the interest paid over the life of the loan and all fees that are paid up front.

AnnuityA series of fixed payments of the same amount paid at regular intervals (i.e., every week, month, or pay period) over a specified period of time.

Annuity equation
FV = (A/i)[(1+i)n – 1], where:

FV = Future value is the amount that’s not known but will be solved in the calculation. It’s the amount wanted in the future.

A = Annuity; annuities are the initial and subsequent payments (which must be the same amount).

i = Interest rate, which has a great effect on future value. The interest rate in the formula must be written in decimal form, such as 0.03 instead of 3%.

n = This is the number of periods, where “n” is the number of equal deposits that will be made.

AppreciationAn increase in value. Currency appreciation is an increase in the value of one currency relative to another.

Appropriation actA law allowing federal programs or agencies to borrow money and make payments from the Treasury. Congress considers regular appropriation acts annually. These acts fund federal government operations for the coming fiscal year.

AppropriationsLegal authority provided by Congress to federal agencies to spend funds from the U.S. Treasury.

ArbitrageThe simultaneous purchase and sale of a good in order to profit from a difference in price.

AssetA resource with economic value that an individual, corporation, or country owns with the expectation that it will provide future benefits.

Asset-backed commercial paper (ABCP)Short-term debt that is typically limited to a fixed maturity of between 1 and 270 days. The proceeds of ABCP issuance are used primarily to purchase various assets, such as trade receivables, consumer debt receivables, auto and equipment loan leases, and collateralized debt obligations. (See also: Commercial paper.)

Asset-Backed Commercial Paper Money Market Mutual Fund Liquidity Facility (AMLF)A Federal Reserve lending facility that provides funding to U.S. depository institutions and bank holding companies to finance their purchases of high-quality asset-backed commercial paper (ABCP) from money market mutual funds under certain conditions. The AMLF was closed on February 1, 2010.

Asset-backed security (ABS)In general, a money or capital market instrument, usually marketable (that is, transferable to third-parties in market transactions), that has specific financial assets generating the cash flow from which the instrument will be paid. (See also: Commercial mortgage-backed security and Residential mortgage-backed security.)

Asymmetric informationA situation in which one party to an economic transaction has less information than the other party .

AuctionA sale of property to the highest bidder.

Automated teller machine (ATM) cardA form of debit card used in a cash machine to access an account by using a code or personal identification number.

Automatic stabilizersA standing policy that activates automatically without intervention, usually during a recession.

Automatic transferAn online payment that is automatically deducted from the account balance on a recurring basis.



Balance of paymentsA summary of all the transactions involving goods and services and investment that all individuals, firms, and the government of one nation makes with all of those in all other nations in a given time period.

Balance of tradeThe difference between a country’s total exports and total imports. Also known as “net exports.”

Balanced budgetOccurs when the federal government’s expenditures on programs equal the amount of tax revenue collected.

Bank account registerA tool in which an account holder lists his or her initial balance in an account and then records all debits and credits in order to maintain an accurate record of account activity and an accurate balance.

Bank failureOccurs when banks are unable to meet depositors’ demands for their money.

Bank holding companyA company that owns, or has controlling interest in, one or more banks. The Federal Reserve is responsible for regulating and supervising bank holding companies, even if the bank owned by the holding company is under the primary supervision of a different federal agency.

Bank panicOccurs when a bank run begins at one bank and spreads to others, causing people to lose confidence in banks.

Bank reservesThe amount of deposits not loaned out by banks.

Bank runOccurs when many depositors rush to the bank to withdraw their money at the same time.

Bank statementA statement given to account holders by a bank or credit union to keep them informed of all transactions they made during the statement period. These statements are sent on a regular basis or posted online.

Bank suspensionsBanks closed to the public because of financial difficulties.

BankruptcyA legal process for declaring that a person is unable to pay his or her debts. The process may involve a court-supervised process of selling the bankrupt person’s belongings to pay part of the debts owed to creditors.

BanksBusinesses that accept deposits and make loans.

BarterTrading goods and services for other goods and services without using money.

BeneficiaryThe person designated in the policy to receive benefits.

BenefitsThings favorable to a decision-maker.

Binary mapA map with regions divided into two classes.

Board of GovernorsA federal government agency that is the centralized component of the Federal Reserve System. These governors guide the policy actions of the Federal Reserve System.

BondA certificate of indebtedness issued by a government or corporation.

BorrowingTaking money with a promise to repay the money in the future.

BoycottA method of protest where people show a business that they are angry by refusing to buy the goods or services it produces.

BudgetAn itemized summary of probable income and expenses for a given period. A budget is a plan for managing income, spending, and saving during a given period of time.

Budget deficitGovernment expenditures exceed revenues.

Budget functionsA spending classifications system used for federal budgeting that identifies a specific national need (e.g., national defense or health); includes sub functions.

Budget surplusGovernment collections (taxes and fees) exceed government spending (expenditures) for a given period, usually a fiscal year.

Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)A research agency of the U.S. Department of Labor that compiles statistics on employment, unemployment, and other economic data.

Business cycleThe fluctuating levels of economic activity in an economy over a period of time measured from the beginning of one recession to the beginning of the next.