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Gas prices keep dropping, but for how long?

  • AAA: Today's average price is lowest of the year
  • Prices still are where they were a year ago
  • Analyst: Prices tend to rise after Christmas
Gas prices keep dropping, but for how long?

Good news for the tens of millions of Americans who'll be hitting the road to visit family and friends over the holidays: gas prices are the lowest they've been this year.

AAA reports the average price for a gallon of regular unleaded is $3.24. That's a single-day low for 2012. One state, Missouri, has an average price less than $3, and several other states are close. GasBuddy reports the average price in 25 big cities is under $3 a gallon.

And the chief analyst at the Oil Price Information Service, which provides data to AAA, told CNNMoney he thinks prices will keep dropping, based on what's going on in the wholesale market.

This might have been hard to imagine in the spring, when the national average was pushing $4 and some analysts were predicting $5 gas was just around the corner. Here's a little perspective on where we are with gas prices today.

  • One year, no movement: While $3.24 a gallon might look good compared to $4, today's average price is just one cent lower than it was a year ago, according to AAA. So, for all the ups and downs at the pump this year, prices essentially haven't changed in the last 12 months.
  • 2012 will set a record: Because of the roller-coaster ride that took gas prices so high earlier in the year, 2012 will go down as the most expensive year ever for gas.
  • Post-Christmas crush: GasBuddy notes that gas prices tend to rise between Christmas and mid-January. Last year, prices went up 11 cents in the two weeks after Santa parked his sleigh. The year before, the rise was 15 cents. You have to go back six years to find the last time gas prices dropped between Christmas and January 15.

So, while falling prices may be a nice stocking stuffer for drivers, $3.24 a gallon isn't cheap by any means. There's still a long way to go before we see real relief at the pump.

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