: For years, I have heard stories about how much the very wealthy donate to charity. Is there a way of finding out whether they are more, or less, charitable than we middle income people. Some of my friends insist that they give more, but I'm not so sure. Is there reliable information somewhere?
What Harry says: The answer is that to some degree you're both right. It is really a U-shaped curve. It starts out at a high percentage, goes down until it hits bottom at $350,000, and then rises from there. Here's a table I prepared from IRS releases for 2005, the latest year available. I should add that the pattern has remained pretty much the same for a lot of years.
Adjusted Gross Percentage
Income of Charity
Based on IRS Figures for 2005
Dear Harry: My husband worked for a bank for 41 years. He was on pension for about two years when he died in March. In early April, I was notified that his pension would stop. Harry, we were married a lot of years, and I know the bank knew this. I know of some other widows whose husbands worked at the bank who are now getting pensions. I called the human resources department, but they gave me some song and dance about his pension only lasting for his life. Why are other widows getting pensions when I'm not?
What Harry says: There's only one reason I can come up with: he elected a single-life pension rather than one which has survivorship provisions. Ask the bank to show you a copy of his election form which will show clearly what happened. A single-life pension will pay more during the life of the pensioner, but nothing to a surviving spouse. The problem is that it's too late to make any changes unless the bank made a mistake in handling his election.
Dear Harry: I have been having all kinds of trouble with my lawyer. I think he's overworked, but that's not my fault. He just missed a deadline for filing some paper with the court, and the judge threw out the case. I want to sue him, but I signed a paper that acknowledged that I knew he had no liability insurance. Am I out of luck on this? He had me sign a bunch of papers that day, and I couldn't possibly read and digest them all.
What Harry says: Not at all. What you signed merely told you he had no insurance, not that you couldn't find him liable for negligence. Get yourself a new lawyer, and go after him personally for his negligence. I think he'll settle out of court. Few lawyers would take a chance of getting bad publicity out of situations such as yours.
Dear Harry: Many times, you have urged readers to get free credit reports by going to annualcreditreport.com on the Internet. I have been doing this for the last two years, but I don't get my FICO score. I don't want to go to one of these places where they do credit monitoring, because their charges are sky-high, and I don't need their service, anyway. Is there a way for me to get my score without cost or a lot of hassle?
What Harry says: Most definitely! The three major (Equifax, Experian and Trans-Union) reporting agencies use slightly different scoring systems, but you can be pretty sure that a good score on one will also have an equivalent good score on the others. I don't know how to get a free FICO score, but you can get a free score from quizzle.com that's used by Experian and another from creditkarma.com which gives you the Trans-Union score. Your score should either continue to rise or at least remain the same. If it starts to drop, you'd better work harder to keep your payments on time, and not go too deeply in hock.
Dear Harry: My father and mother have been divorced for many years. At this point, he is elderly and has only a few assets. He has some CDs, a savings account, and a checking account. All of these are in joint names with him and me. He has a simple will that leaves everything to my sister and me. When he dies, can we just split the money equally after the bills are paid? Can this be done without the need for a lawyer? Right now, it appears that he has just short of $400,000.
What Harry says: In order to do this most easily, you have one job to do before he goes: you must make certain that all the accounts give you a right of survivorship. Under those conditions, you will not even have to probate his will unless there are other assets that are solely in his name. In either event, there will be a modest inheritance tax due the state. Your state Representative will be able to help you with that.
Dear Harry: My wife and I have been considering a move to a larger home since we had a new baby about a year ago. We sure are glad we didn't buy then! Last weekend, we saw a house in a lovely development that we didn't look at before because of its high price. The owner has hit on hard times, and is now willing to sell his house for the balance of the mortgage. That's about 20 percent below the price he paid the builder about two years ago. The mortgagee is willing to let us assume the existing mortgage that's at a fixed rate of 5.5 percent. We found out that there was one other similar house sold recently (February) that went for about five thousand more than we are being asked. A friend suggested that we offer the present owners $10,000 less than they are asking. He said that otherwise we could be overpaying. We are morally concerned that we would be taking unfair advantage of people in distress, but he insisted that if we didn't do it someone else would. Should we?
What Harry says: On a purely financial basis, he is right. The owner might not go for it, but you have nothing to lose. However, you will still have those ethical misgivings. Just remember that you did not cause his pain, and you could conceivably be preventing him from suffering more. If it won't cause you to lose sleep, it's worth a try. *