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In search of million-dollar service

Published Oct. 12, 2005

Q: As the result of inheritances, I am now a millionaire. My money is in investment management accounts at a bank's trust department, but the money is mine to use as I see fit.

The bank has done a much better job of investing and record-keeping than I could do on my own. My problem is I have no contacts with the bank, other than periodic account statements. I believe $1-million is insignificant to the bank, which was used by my deceased relatives and is in a different state.

One statement showed more than $100,000 had been received from an inheritance. But the only way I learned about it was by reading the statement. Honest! I need a different bank. But how do I find one more willing to help? ?

A: A number of statistical organizations track the performances of bank investment management and trust departments and publish the results, typically ranking the banks from excellent down to poor. You should have no trouble finding the results on file in the reference sections of public libraries.

The trouble is that those rankings are incomplete. They usually give the investment results of accounts handled jointly for many investors, not individual accounts. That would be an impossible task. Furthermore, you're put off by lack of individual attention and service. No study can accurately report which banks are good at providing tender loving care.

If you are determined to switch, visit a number of banks and talk to trust and investment officers. Explain your "problem," which most people would love to have. Ask what kind of personal service each bank would provide for your million-dollar account.

Q: This year, my husband will be 65 and I will be 63. We hope to work two more years. We have lived frugally and saved faithfully. We estimate our home is valued at $150,000.

Our other assets, totaling $316,000, include $130,000 in money market deposit accounts and six-month certificates of deposit, $11,000 in Series E bonds, $57,000 in my husband's 401(k) retirement plan, $30,000 in annuities, $43,000 in bank individual retirement accounts at low interest and $45,000 in insurance company stock purchased when my husband was an employee. We project a monthly retirement income of $2,000 from Social Security benefits and my modest pension.

At this late stage, should we consider investing in mutual funds, collateralized mortgage obligations, bonds, etc., or just leave everything in low-interest bank accounts?

A: At your point in life, which is not a "late stage," you could make a big mistake straying from Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. coverage. Anyway, "everything" you have is not in low-interest bank accounts. Your E bonds are accumulating interest at a guaranteed 6 percent. The 401(k) plan and annuities should be earning reasonable interest if they have been invested wisely. If the dividend on the insurance company stock increases occasionally, it will help offset inflation. If pinched for cash, you can start withdrawing from the 401(k) and IRAs, as you will be required to do after passing age 70{.

While far from rich, you are not poor. You'll be in better financial shape than many retired folks. Even though you don't come out and say so, the tone of your letter indicates your home is mortgage-free. You should be able to live comfortably _ but not excessively _ on what you have.

William Doyle answers written questions only through the column. Send questions to him at King Features Syndicate, 235 E 45th St., New York, NY 10017.