Dear Harry: We are in our early 70s, and we want to get a little more money each month to make it easier to make ends meet. Neither of us can work, so we thought of a reverse mortgage. We wrote to you, and you agreed. We got a couple of quotes, did a little research and went to the bank with the lowest interest rates. Everything went along very smoothly with not a single hitch. Then, our loan officer called and said that there was a lien on our house by another bank. We had borrowed from this bank about 20 years ago in order to install whole-house air conditioning, but the loan was paid off in less than two years. We contacted this bank and physically visited them with our canceled note indicating this fact. No one wanted to do anything. We finally got to a VP who said that they would not do anything. No one offered an explanation. Meanwhile, our reverse mortgage is on hold. The loan officer of the new bank even called himself to see what they needed in order to get the lien removed. They said they wouldn't and again offered no explanation. How can they do this with a loan that was paid off so many years ago? Please help us, Harry. We're tired of living so tightly when the house is worth about $250,000 and the money is just sitting there.
What Harry says: I wish I knew why the toads were stonewalling you. Step one is to contact the Department of Banking at 800-PABANKS. That should get them hopping. If it doesn't, get a lawyer to send them a stiff letter, and then sue if necessary. It's absolutely inexcusable for them not to give you a reason for their inaction.
Dear Harry: You have written a number of times that people should not have more than two "general" credit cards. I don't remember ever seeing your reason for this. Could you please explain?
What Harry says: You're asking the wrong question. It should be, "why does anyone need more than two?" Too many cards raise the probability of getting too deeply into hock. Extra cards raise the likelihood of loss of the cards, too. Banks have gotten more liberal with credit limits in the last few years, perhaps even too liberal, so you don't need extra cards to hike up your overall limit. You can take advantage of the more-liberal rewards programs being offered today by canceling an old card for every new one. Aside from department-store cards that offer a lot of fringe benefits, I still cannot see why anyone needs more than two. OK, now the ball is in your court to answer the right question.
Dear Harry: I am a lifelong resident of Pennsylvania. In May 2007, I accepted a full-time position in New Jersey. Beginning with my first paycheck, my employer began to withhold money for premiums for the New Jersey Temporary Disability Insurance. I understand that this is mandatory. The company's human-resources handbook clearly states that I'm not eligible to receive any of these benefits until I've worked in New Jersey for at least 20 weeks. I'm paying a premium for insurance that I'm not eligible to receive. I feel that I should not have to pay these premiums until I'm eligible to get benefits. My human-resources director said that there are no exceptions for cases like mine, and the company must deduct the premiums from all employees. What's your view on this?
What Harry says: The law does not have to be fair; it just has to be the law. For proof of that, look at the large income-tax reductions for the wealthy and the pennies for those with lower incomes. However, you do have the ability to get the law changed for future employees: get the state assembly to act. That's not easy for a law that's been around for so long. Sorry.
Dear Harry: My grandfather owned a pretty big piece of land and not much else when he died about two years ago. Since he left no will, a local upstate bank was named as administrator by the court. The land now is being sold for about $100,000. None of his children survived him. There are three living grandchildren and one deceased grandchild who left two children. I have two questions. How will the estate be distributed if there are no further expenses? How can I transfer my share to my children?
What Harry says: Since no children survived him, the estate would normally be distributed equally to his grandchildren. But once the grandchildren are gone, that grandchild's share goes equally to that person's children. The $100,000 will be distributed: 25 percent to each of the three remaining grandchildren and 12.5 percent to each of the children of the deceased grandchild. Once you have your share of the money, it's yours to do with as you please. Incidentally, there are no income-tax or federal estate-tax consequences to any of these distributions or gifts.
Dear Harry: In January 2007, I signed a three-year lease for an apartment. The ad for it clearly stated that electricity and gas were free. Today, I got a notice that I was expected to pay for these utilities, including the bills back to January. This puts me in arrears immediately and could easily hurt my credit. Is it OK for the landlord to do this to me without any notice?
What Harry says: The important thing in every tenancy is the lease. The ad you saw was merely an invitation to negotiate. The standard lease form has a section in which the landlord's and tenant's responsibilities are checked off. See what the lease says. Remember that any ambiguities should be resolved in your favor, since the lease undoubtedly was drawn by the landlord or his representative.
Dear Harry: About 10 years ago, I bought a life-insurance policy to protect my family in case of a premature death. I just discovered that I could buy the same policy today for a lower premium than I now pay. I'm now 10 years older, and I still need the insurance. Should I give up the existing policy and buy the new one?
What Harry says: You have the sequence reversed. First, make absolutely certain that the policies are identical. Then, apply for the new one. Above all, do not cash in the old policy or let it lapse before you have the new policy firmly in your tight, little fist. The reason for the lower premium may be because of higher life expectancies, or because the company is doing exceptionally well, or both. *
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.