Dear Harry: I got a debit card about two years ago in the hope that I wouldn't get into hock as I did on a credit card. What a mistake! I found a new meaning for the word "hold." I didn't have any trouble until earlier this year, because I kept a pretty good balance in my checking account. Unfortunately, some unexpected expenses forced me to draw down my bank account to just under $200. Then I got a bank statement with overdraft charges even though my purchases were less than $150. It seems as though some merchants put a "hold" on the account that's for more than the actual purchase. That sent me into some theoretical overdraft that got me clobbered with extra charges. I thought that the bank would only deny payment for any overdraft, actual or theoretical. If I had used a credit card, these holds would merely have increased my theoretical total debt and not incurred any charges. In the course of my protests to the bank, I also discovered that I get hit with a service charge every time I use my PIN. I was told that I was fortunate that my bank didn't charge a regular monthly maintenance fee. My bank compromised on its fees, and I no longer have a debit card. I hope I have enough self-control not to let my debt run away with me. Please tell your readers that the debit cards are dangerous.
What Harry says: In the last few weeks, I have received several similar letters complaining about the charges on debit cards. In every case, the "small print" on the agreement with the banks did outline the charges. The trouble with the small print is that few people read it. I had to sharpen up my eyeballs to read one of the agreements. There are other disadvantages that you didn't mention. You must notify your bank in two business days of a lost or stolen card or your liability goes from $50 to $500. And there's the "power difference." If there's a bad charge on a credit card, you don't have to make a payment for that amount. It's a lot easier to fight from that position than it is to get a bank to restore money erroneously charged to your checking account. I do not use a debit card; never have. And that's my advice to anyone wanting the convenience of paying with a card.
Dear Harry: Back in 2001, I moved into a co-op apartment in North Philly. My initial investment was for $3,600. I followed all the written rules for getting out of my apartment in October 2004. The management was notified of my move but never made the required inspection during the period of my notice. I have called and written innumerable times to get my investment back, to no avail. It was supposed to come back within 30 days of my move. I even attended the last annual board of directors meeting. At that meeting, the embarrassed chairman said publicly that my check would be in the mail in the next week. A lie! There has to be some way I can get the management people to follow their own rules. I really need that money.
What Harry says: I think you have given those toads enough time. Go to Small Claims Court. If the notice of a hearing doesn't get them on the ball, bring every document you have to the hearing. You will win.
Dear Harry: My son was injured in an accident a few years back, and he has just received a substantial settlement in two parts. He will get $1,000 a month for his lifetime, and there will be large lump-sums at various ages. My son will be 18 this summer, and he has a slight mental impairment. I have told him of the monthly payments, but not of the lump-sums. I'm fearful that he will mismanage these large amounts or fall under the influence of friends, relatives, girlfriends getting wind of the money and swindling him. Is there a way of protecting the money while still giving him the benefit of it?
What Harry says: Most ofcoursely! The best way to accomplish this is to set up a trust. There are lawyers who specialize in trusts for those who may be incompetent in the handling of money. In any such trust, I would urge you to be a co-trustee with another caring individual to succeed you on your death. Do try to get this set up before he reaches 18.
Dear Harry: My brother and I bought a rental property back in 2002. We were to share all the income, expenses and responsibilities. To that end, we opened a bank account for the property. All went well for about a year. Then, he chose to move out west, and he left everything up to me. One of the tenants did a lot of damage to one of the apartments in the property, and I spent hours upon hours to get it back to rental form. I take care of all the bill-paying, rent-collecting, getting new tenants, income taxes, etc. Since he moved, neither of us has taken any of the profits from the account. Now, he wants me to buy him out. He's coming to Philly next month to settle up. He wants half of everything, from the property's current value to half the bank account. I do not think this is a fair request. What's your opinion?
What Harry says: From what you have said, I am concluding that you have no formal partnership agreement. Under those circumstances, he does have the right to his half. You might be able to get him to allow you to get paid for the extra work you've done, but if he sticks to his guns you're on the hook for a 50/50 distribution. Trouble like this could have been avoided with a properly drawn partnership agreement at the outset. Avoiding the early legal fee could be very costly now.
Dear Harry: I was in a difficult marriage for 32 years, but I am now in the process of a divorce. We are still haggling over a number of things, and it's doubtful that it will become final before the fall. I earn about $36,000 a year, and I have no debt. I have a small savings account and about $2,500 in a checking account. I do not have a pension plan through my job, but I do have about $15,000 in an IRA with my bank. My father just sold a piece of real estate and has promised to give me $50,000 when the settlement takes place (scheduled for next month). Could you please give me some suggestions for investing the money?
What Harry says: My first suggestion is that you not get the money until after the divorce is final. It could easily cause further complications to what seems to be a settlement problem. You'll have any number of places to put that money, but beefing up that IRA is one of the imperatives. Do get back to me when you get the money.
Dear Harry: Last week, I had a very successful interview for a job. At the end, I was told that the job was mine, and that I would be informed of when and where to report for a training period. On Friday, I got a call telling me that the offer was being withdrawn because I had a bankruptcy back in 1998. I am so upset by this that I want to take legal action. Should I get a lawyer?
What Harry says: Never go to court without one! There are many jobs for which a bankruptcy could be a problem for an employer. Didn't they make their offer contingent on the results of a credit report? This is very likely going to be their defense. You may have a case if you refused other offers because you thought this one was in the bag or if you left another job in anticipation of the new job. You have nothing to lose by going to a lawyer to have him or her evaluate your situation. *
Write Harry Gross c/o the Daily News, Box 7788, Philadelphia, PA 19101. Harry urges all his readers to give blood - contact the American Red Cross at 800-GIVE LIFE.