Dear Bruce: I don't make much money. My bills are paid on time and my husband and I keep our finances separate. Five years ago, I bought a brand new car with the help of my husband's signature. I made the payments a week before they were due. I went down to the bank where I have a checking-and-savings account and the car loan to borrow $1,000 for 12 or 24 months and was turned down because my name is also on my $500 mortgage payment. My husband pays the bill, not me. The bank said if my husband would co-sign, I could have the loan. I have kept my affairs separate. I am told that I can get a credit card with a $10,000 limit. What's going on? -- A.H., St. Albans, W.Va.
Dear A.H.: The folks who grant the credit cards are much more liberal because there is a very good possibility of earning a substantial return on their investment if you don't pay your account in full each month and instead pay their high interest rates. You mentioned your $500 mortgage payment. That's not the number they are looking at. The number is the mortgage in its entirety, because both you and your husband are singularly and jointly responsible for making that payment. While taking a look at that loan balance, they are saying that you have no more credit available to you based upon your income -- but based upon combined incomes, there will be available credit. I know it doesn't sit too well, but that is the way credit is calculated.
Dear Bruce: I have a couple of gift certificates that have expired. I went down to the store that issued them, and they said: ``Our policy is to not honor them over one year of issue, as stated on the certificate.'' I think this money still belongs to me, and the amount is a little over $200. -- D.W., Grand Island, Neb.
Dear D.W.: Go down to see the issuer of the gift certificates and tell them that one of two things must happen, according to the law. Either they must honor the gift certificates, or they must turn the money into the escheat fund of your state. They are not entitled to keep the money if they are not redeemed. If they do elect to send the money to escheat, you can claim against that and receive your money back after you prove your entitlement. Why merchants try to pull a fast one like this is hard for me to understand. It doesn't do much for public relations; and the reality is, they are breaking the law.
You missed the boat
Dear Bruce: You said in a letter recently that a writer with about $600,000 could expect a 10-percent return of $60,000 a year. My financial adviser must be giving me a bum steer. I have over half a million dollars invested with him and receive $19,000 a year. Am I missing the boat somewhere? -- R.B., Cincinnati
Dear R.B.: You're certainly missing some kind of boat when you are receiving a less than 4 percent return on your money. You need a new financial adviser. You may have told the person you are extraordinarily conservative, but even there, government long bonds have averaged about 6 percent returns, giving you an extra $10,000 a year. Why anybody would settle for 4 percent in today's world is something I have a difficult time understanding.
Send your questions to: Smart Money, P.O. Box 503, Elfers, FL 34680. E-mail to: bethlilgte.net. Questions of general interest will be answered in future columns. Owing to the volume of mail, personal replies cannot be provided.