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Call around to get best currency exchange rate

Q. We recently inherited some money from England, which arrived in a check made out in pounds. Your newspaper's business section said the pound was worth $1.61. When we went to cash the check at our bank, it would give us only $1.58 per pound. It does not sound like much, but if you have a substantial amount, it adds up. Do you know of a bank or any other source where you might get a better rate?

A. The main reason for the difference is that the rates published in the Times and other newspapers are based on transactions of $1-million or more. These are essentially "wholesale" rates, while individual customers pay "retail." Timing also might make a difference, because the published rates are based on the previous day's trading.

Currency exchange is available at many banks and at some airports and hotels that cater to foreign tourists. The way to find the best deal is to call around and ask about rates and service charges.

Q. Can a no-load mutual fund really cost more than a load fund? What kind of sales charges and expenses do funds have and how can I tell how they might affect the return on my fund?

A. How much a fund really costs depends on its schedule of fees and expenses and on how long you own it. A fund with an initial sales charge and low annual expenses can be cheaper in the long run than a fund with no sales charge but high annual expenses. Of course, the best arrangement is to choose a fund with no sales charge and low annual expenses.

You can find out about a fund's fees and expenses and its impact on returns by checking the prospectus, the legal document that describes a fund.

Common fees include a front-end load or sales charge imposed at the time of purchase, a deferred load or redemption fee imposed at the time of redemption, and a 12b-1 fee (which pays marketing and distribution costs) imposed annually. Every fund has expenses, which are listed in the prospectus as a percentage of assets. Typically stock funds have higher expenses than bond funds.

Q. I am 68 years old and have $45,000 in my IRA. When is the latest I have to start taking money out, and how much would I have to take out? Do I have to take it in a lump sum or monthly? How long do they calculate that to last?

A. You have until April 1 of the year after you turn 70{ before you must begin taking annual withdrawals from an individual retirement account. You can take your withdrawals on any schedule you like as long as you withdraw at least the minimum required each year.

The minimum withdrawal is based on your age and the age of your IRA beneficiary, if any. You can figure out how much to take out by using the life expectancy table found in IRS Publication 939.

How long your money lasts will depend on your investment earnings and your withdrawal schedule.

Q. What do the initials NASDAQ stand for? I am just interested, although I am not planning to invest money in the stock market.

A. NASDAQ originated as an acronym for National Association of Securities Dealers Automated Quotations, a national computer network for securities trading. The association now prefers to call the network the Nasdaq Stock Market.

Q. I would like to transfer some of my stocks to my sons without using a brokerage service. Could you give me the procedure for handling my certificates? I don't want to make any mistakes.

A. Your best bet is to contact the transfer agent for each of the stocks and find out its preferred procedures. The transfer agent will be listed in the annual report and possibly in other materials you have received from the company.

Expect to have to have your signature guaranteed with the proper seal by a bank or other financial institution before sending your certificates off by registered or certified mail.

Helen Huntley writes about investing and markets for the Times. If you have a question about investments or personal finance, send it to On Money. We'll try to answer those we think are of greatest reader interest. All questions must be submitted in writing, but readers' names will not be published. Send questions to Helen Huntley, Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731, or to huntleysptimes.com by electronic mail.

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