Dear Harry: When I was growing up, my parents gave me a silver dollar for birthdays and other important events. I'm now 74, and I could always use a few extra bucks. How can I find out what they're worth? I don't think I should just take them to a coin dealer and ask how much he'll give me.
What Harry says: Take one of the dollars to at least three coin dealers to get an idea of what you can get. Silver dollars are worth in the area of $15 each. The exact amount will vary because of the quality and age of the coins. Incidentally, the price has more than doubled in the last five years.
Dear Harry: We bought a new home earlier this year. We are happy with it except for a water problem in the basement. The first time, we chalked it up to the exceptionally high rainfall melting the snow of the previous week. Since that time, we have had furniture damage as well as damage to the rug. I was able to find out from neighbors that the previous owners had had the same problem during the years they lived there. We have a statement from the old owners that there were no "water problems" in the basement. They apparently lied to their insurance company in their claim, citing a leaky pipe which showed no signs of repair. We approached the broker, who referred us to the previous owners. The husband is a lawyer who works for the city. He warned us not to pursue him or he'd "set the whole city down on our heads." The cost to waterproof the area is about $3,000, which we just can't afford right now. Can we go after the home inspector who didn't warn us of the trouble? The real estate broker? The old owner?
What Harry says: That toad can't get the whole city down on your heads. He and his wife lied in their statement regarding the condition of the house. They are on the hook. It's also possible that the broker is hooked, too, if he had knowledge of the problem. The inspector is probably clean on this one. Not all water damage leaves a clear trail. The same may be true of the broker. It would be very helpful if you could get the names of anyone who helped them clean up the basement or gave them an estimate on the cost of waterproofing. A neighbor who knew of the previous damage firsthand would also be a plus. Don't delay. Go to Small Claims Court soon.
Dear Harry: I have never had a credit problem. Lately, I have noticed that I'm getting e-mail spam from companies offering me all kinds of credit-card deals. I decided to try to get one of those free credit-report deals on the Internet. The Web site I chose asked for all kinds of personal info, and then sent me back to the first page when I hit their "submit" button. I tried this merry-go-round three times before I logged off. I immediately called the company's 800 number to cancel anything that I may have inadvertently subscribed for. During the 12- minute wait for a human, I was subjected to a hard sell on tape for their monthly reporting service. I did get the name of the person I finally spoke with. Is there anything else I should do?
What Harry says: At this point, I think you're OK. Do hold on to the name of the person who confirmed your cancellation until you're sure there's no charge on your credit card. When I read your letter, I was curious enough to go to that Web site to see if I could get a credit report of my own. I got the same merry-go-round that you did. I tried again, this time subscribing to their monthly service (with right of cancellation at any time). I got my report with no trouble. I hope they'll follow through on my cancellation.
Dear Harry: Early last spring, my fiancé and I were planning an outdoor wedding at a relative's home. We went to see a highly recommended caterer and made all the arrangements. He insisted on a $2,000 deposit. That relative died shortly thereafter, so we had to change our plans and have the wedding at a hotel. Naturally, they had their own catering department. We went back to the original caterer to ask for the return of our deposit. He pointed out a paragraph in our agreement that said that any deposit would be treated as "liquidated damages" and would be forfeited if we breached the agreement. We tried to persuade him to give us back the money at that session and later on the phone, but he stood fast. Harry, we sure could use that $2,000. Is there a way to get it back?
What Harry says: One of my legal eagles came up with a possibility. If, indeed, the caterer was able to replace your reservation with another of equal or greater value, you could be made whole. Try writing to him with that proposition. If that doesn't move him, you can still try Small Claims Court where you'll be able to see if his records do show another job that replaced yours on the specified day. If he didn't, you're just out of luck.
Dear Harry: As part of a divorce settlement back in 1991, I was required to sign over half of our house to my ex. In return for my share, I got a second mortgage on the house for $8,000. The mortgage bears 8 percent interest, and it was to be an interest-only mortgage until my youngest child hit 18. He had the title changed to indicate that he owned the property as trustee for the children. He filed for bankruptcy in 2001, and he was recently discharged. Does this mean that my mortgage is worthless? I think he owes IRS a bushelful of bucks, too. I need your input.
What Harry says: I hope your lawyer had the foresight to record that mortgage. If so, you're still in the game as long as the holder of the first mortgage hasn't gone for foreclosure. Incidentally, you are probably still in the crosshairs of the first mortgage holder unless it agreed to remove you at the time of the title transfer. Also, you'll be ahead of IRS if the mortgage recording predates the tax assessments. Good luck!
Dear Harry: Every summer, one of our company's honchos has a pool party at his home. We had our party in early August. I was asked to buy some supplies for this year's party. I spent exactly $87.36. I submitted the bills to our finance department for reimbursement. The next day, a bookkeeper called to tell me that I have to fill out a form W-9. She seemed to indicate that I was going to have to pay income taxes on what is merely a reimbursement. That never happened before when I spent on the company's behalf. Is this some new rule? If so, can I get the company to pay me for the income tax on the money?
What Harry says: A little knowledge is often a dangerous thing. The W-9 is a form to determine if the money paid is subject to backup withholding tax. It is primarily used to determine if interest or dividends are subject to the withholding tax. Your reimbursement is not. Fill in that form to indicate that there is to be no backup withholding tax. Sign it and return it. It would be best if you could convince the people in your finance department that this item is clearly not to be reported on your W-2 or 1099. However, if the amount does show up as income on your W-2 or 1099, show it also as a deduction on line 24 of your 1040. Cross out the printed words and substitute: Expense reimbursement erroneously included in W-2 (or 1099) income. *