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Harry Gross | Ironing out a health-care question

Dear Harry: Last year, I purchased health insurance for my wife, son, and me. The policy clearly states that we are covered for 80 percent with a co-pay from us of the remaining 20 percent.

Dear Harry

: Last year, I purchased health insurance for my wife, son, and me. The policy clearly states that we are covered for 80 percent with a co-pay from us of the remaining 20 percent.

I have been told verbally, by our salesman and numerous people at the company, that we are covered for 100 percent after we have spent $2,000 on each of us.

I cannot get anyone from their "customer service" unit on up to confirm this in writing. Am I just blowing smoke here or is there some reason that they are giving me the runaround?

What Harry says: It's very hard to be sure. Call once more to the person at the company with the highest-level job.

Keep a careful record of the date and time of the call and the full name of the person you speak with. Then send that person a letter certified mail with a return receipt requested.

Indicate that you are confirming your conversation listing details of the major points of your conversation. Ask for confirmation, but your record and that letter will be good evidence for you.

At the same time, notify the Pennsylvania Insurance Department of your problem (215-560-2630).

Dear Harry: My husband worked for his employer for more than 30 years. He recently became disabled, and will have taken early retirement.

The company had a retirement plan which is now offering him a lump-sum distribution or an annuity. We are toying with the question of which way to go. We have no children, and all our siblings are gone, so there's no need to leave an inheritance to anyone.

I intend to keep working until I'm at least 70, and I'll have a very fine pension from the federal government. This, and our Social Security should be enough to carry us without my husband's further contribution. Can you give us some direction?

What Harry says: Your retirement income will cover the basic necessities with a pretty regular stream of income.

I'd like to see his plan's proceeds rolled over directly into an IRA from which you'll be able to withdraw income at variable levels (subject to a minimum requirement).

This can provide for icing on your retirement cake for emergencies. Before you make the move, consult with the retirement people in at least two of the major mutual fund companies such as Fidelity, Janus, T. Rowe Price, Vanguard. Then, go with the one that you feel most comfortable with. I don't see an annuity as the way to go in your case.

Dear Harry: My mother is in rapidly declining health. She has told my two older brothers and me that her will provides that whatever is left of her estate after all her bills are paid is to be divided equally among us. My brothers are quite a bit older than I am, and they have always treated me as a kind of outsider. Lately, we have become even more estranged. My oldest brother is going to be the executor of my mother's estate, and I really do not trust him. He has been involved in a number of very shady activities in the past. Is there some way I can protect myself against the possibility that he will play some games with the money?

What Harry says: In order to gain access to the estate, the will must be probated. If he decides to try to get around this by not presenting a will, he'll have to get himself appointed as administrator. In either case, there will be supervision by a public agency. A full accounting will have to filed with the court. At that time, you'll have the chance to question any suspicious looking expenditures as well as any inadequate receipts. Sometimes, the death of a parent brings children closer together. I hope that happens in your case.

Dear Harry: Back in early 1998, I had the "pleasure" of getting my discharge in bankruptcy. They really put me through the ringer as if I were a thief. I was just financially devastated by the loss of my job in 1977. Since then, the record of this disaster has appeared in my credit report. I'm able to get credit, but at astronomical interest rates. I know they have to delete this information from my credit report after 10 years, but how do I go about getting the major reporting agencies to do this?

What Harry says: The bankruptcy law was hardly user-friendly back then. The new law is a good deal less so. I would advise anyone who is considering it today to be absolutely certain that all other avenues have been explored before taking that route. About a week before your 10 years is up, send a letter to each of the major reporting agencies (Experian, Equifax, and Trans-Union), requesting that they remove the record of the bankruptcy from your report. It's not a bad idea in situations like this to use certified mail with a return receipt requested. They will then not be able to deny having heard from you. Give them about two weeks after the crucial date to get their reports updated. Then get a free copy of each report from the Internet at Do not go to which is the site of a commercial enterprise that will try to sell you a service you don't need. If your reports are not free of the bankruptcy note, contact them once more before you contact the Federal Trade Commission and your federal Representative. I don't know of anyone who has had to go that far. At that point you can lean on your credit-card banks to lower the interest rate on your accounts. Try hard to reach the point where you can pay those credit-card debts in full each month and get rid of the interest entirely.

Dear Harry: I am the victim of a terrible fraud, and the Pennsylvania Department of Banking didn't help me at all. Money was drawn out of my account at Ameritrade by an imposter posing as me who took the checks to Citizens Bank where he deposited them in his own account. They totaled almost $50,000 and occurred back in 2001! I contacted Citizens Bank and got a brushoff. The Department of Banking sided with the bank saying that this is an issue between me and the forger. Isn't the bank supposed to make sure that the endorser of a check is the one the check is payable to? Harry, I'm not wealthy, and I could certainly use this money. Incidentally, the forger is now serving a prison sentence for doing this to someone else. Why can't they help me?

What Harry says: Why did you wait so long? Didn't these withdrawals appear on your statements? Your beef is really with Ameritrade for not questioning the thief at the outset as well as for allowing a check not endorsed by you to clear. Go after them. Ask the Banking Department to help you if Amertrade balks. Their recourse is the forger. You may need a lawyer if you hit a brick wall again.

Dear Harry: The manufacturer's warranty on my car will expire next month. I have received several offers in the mail to extend the warranty. They all had different terms for their products depending on deductibles and the length of the extension.

How can I decide which is the best way to go? I have contacted the dealer's service department to see what they will offer, but I never get called back. Should I try another dealer or even the manufacturer?

What Harry says: Time and again over a lot of years, Consumers Reports has gone into the idea of extended warranties on automobiles. They have concluded that they rarely pay even if they are from the dealer.

The same caution generally applies to extended warranties other than on automobiles, as well. I know it would never have paid to have for any car I have owned. *

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.