Gasoline prices have never been higher this time of the year as crude oil prices reach a nine-month high.

At $3.53 a gallon, prices are already up 25 cents since Jan. 1. And experts say they could reach a record $4.25 by late April.

Crude oil prices jumped to a nine-month high near $105 a barrel after Iran said it halted crude exports to Britain and France in an escalation of a dispute over the Middle Eastern country’s nuclear program.

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The surge in gas prices follows an increase in the price of oil.

Higher gas prices could hurt consumer spending and curtail the recent improvement in the economy.

A 25-cent jump in gasoline prices, if sustained over a year, would cost the economy about $35 billion. Economists say it’s a meaningful amount, especially at a time when growth is only so-so.

(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)