Column: Currency exchangers don't have to accept your money

Q: I recently returned from a trip on the Danube River in Romania.I flew into Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, but the currency exchange office would not exchange my Romanian leu. When I returned home to Indian Shores, my local bank wouldn't exchange it. Why not?

Bob McEwen

A: You might be surprised by the answer. I was.

No federal or state laws require a business that provides foreign currency exchange to exchange all currency, says Holly Hinson, a spokeswoman for the Florida Office of Financial Regulation. That includes banks.

A business may decline to exchange currency from a country where the exchange rate isn't profitable.

Hinson referred me to Travelex, a worldwide money exchanging business. This company exchanges all currency, even coins. Visit its Web site at travelex.com and you can discover the nearest Travelex location in the Tampa Bay area is at Tampa International Airport.

Figure military credits into Social Security

Q: I am a World War II veteran, and according to a newspaper article I saw, there was a law passed by Congress giving credits for the calculation of Social Security benefits. How do I apply for these benefits?

John Brink

A: There's no need to. If you get Social Security benefits, these military service wage credits were added to your earnings record when you applied, according to the Social Security Administration.

If you're not receiving benefits, your credits will be recorded when you apply for them. The increase in benefits for most retirees will only amount to a few dollars each month. But every little bit helps.

Before 1957, military personnel in the service didn't pay Social Security taxes because they weren't covered by Social Security. However, Congress decided that military personnel were being paid less than if they were in the private sector, so it passed a law giving them credits for the calculation of Social Security benefits.

For the period before 1957, those in the service were given credits of $160 per month, up to $1,920 per year. From 1957 through 1977, after the military joined the Social Security system, the credits were reduced to $300 per quarter, or $1,200 per year.

If you served between 1978 and 2001, you receive $100 credit for every $300 in active duty basic pay, up to $1,200. Those serving after 2001 receive no special earnings credit.

Retiree hunts down missing refund

Q: On March 5, I put a $170 deposit on a China Juparana vanity top with sink and backsplash from Excell Marble and Granite in St. Petersburg. I dealt with owner Roland Feiertag Jr.

It was the only one he had in stock and it needed two cuts to fit my size requirements. I was promised it would be done on March 8.

I live in Clearwater, so rather than make the drive and use expensive gas for nothing, I called that morning to make sure the top was ready. Roland said they had been busy and hadn't started on it.

I found another company that had the top for $100 less, so since Excell hadn't begun customizing, I asked that my order be canceled and my deposit refunded. Roland agreed and said my check would be mailed March 10.

I didn't receive the check by March 13, so I phoned Roland. He said he'd put a stop payment on the first check and mail out a second. We triple-checked my mailing address.

By March 19 I hadn't received the second check, so I phoned and spoke to Roland again. He confirmed that it had been mailed promptly but offered to make a direct deposit to my bank account if I'd give him the information.

I declined this offer and suggested I drive down to Excell and pick the check up in person. He said it would be with the receptionist, and I told him I'd be by the following day.

The next morning I phoned the office to make sure the check was ready before I left. The receptionist said she had no idea what I was talking about and Roland wasn't in.

I'm a retiree living on a fixed income, and I can't afford to lose $170.

Howard Johnson

A: Roland Feiertag Jr. was very surprised to receive your complaint from Action, he said, especially in light of the fact that you have his cell phone number but never called to discuss your concerns.

Feiertag said Excell Marble and Granite immediately sent out a refund check for your deposit when it was requested. A second check was mailed following your second phone call, he said. "This happened after Mr. Johnson refused to come personally and pick up the check," Feiertag said.

When you phoned on March 19, saying you had not received the second check, Feiertag said he gave you three options. You could pick up a third check, an Excell employee could deliver it to your home or he could deposit it directly into your bank account. You opted to pick it up, he said, and the check has been ready at the office since then.

To head off any further problems. Feiertag has sent the check by certified mail and sent me copies of the receipts.

Action solves problems and gets

answers for you. Write Times Action,

P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731,

or call, (727) 893-8171, or, outside of

Pinellas, toll-free 1-800-333-7505, ext. 8171,

to leave a recorded request. Complaints can only be accepted by mail. Send only photocopies of personal documents. Names of letter writers will not be omitted except in unusual circumstances. Letters may be edited for length and clarity.

Column: Currency exchangers don't have to accept your money 04/06/08 [Last modified: Sunday, April 6, 2008 5:30am]

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