A puzzled new homeowner came up to me recently with a stack of junk mail in hand.
"Why would they send me letters about mortgage insurance?" she asked. "I made a bigger down payment just so I wouldn't have to have mortgage insurance."
What she didn't know is that there are two kinds of mortgage insurance - and she didn't need either one.
PRIVATE MORTGAGE INSURANCE, OR PMI, is insurance that lenders typically require if your down payment is less than 20 percent of the purchase price. It protects the lender if you default on your payments. When you build adequate equity, you can eliminate it.
MORTGAGE LIFE INSURANCE is what some companies try to sell to new homeowners. It pays off the mortgage if you die. Some varieties are offered as part of a broader "mortgage protection program" that will pay your monthly mortgage payment if you become disabled, lose your job or, in some cases, come down with a covered medical condition. (Limitations apply.)
If you get one of these solicitations, the first question to ask is whether you need any more insurance than what you already have. If the answer is yes, the solicitations in your mail box should be the last place on your list to shop for it.
A far better starting point: a few reputable insurance companies whose rates can be checked on the Internet or by telephone to find out what a standard term life insurance policy would cost you. You also may be eligible to buy term life insurance through a membership organization or your job.
Specialty insurance products tied to mortgages, credit card debt or dreaded diseases are rarely as good a deal as standard, more comprehensive insurance.
However, they can be beneficial as a last resort. If you have health problems and cannot qualify for a standard policy, a specialty product like mortgage life insurance could give your dependents some needed protection. A medical exam typically is not required, although you may have to answer some health-related questions.
Q: We would like to change the allocation in our trusts for our grandchildren. Can I write an amendment with the changes, have it notarized and attach it or do I need a lawyer? If I can write it, please provide a sample of what should be said.
A: See a lawyer rather than attempting to do it yourself. Changing the allocation might provoke a legal challenge after your death. You want to make sure your trust will hold up in court.
Q: After my husband died, I became the beneficiary of his EE savings bonds. I am told that these bonds will not pay interest after 2010. Is this final issue of interest based on the date the bond was bought or are they all void after 2010? I cannot get an answer from the bank whether I will need to cash them all in by 2010.
A: EE bonds pay interest for 30 years, which means only those purchased in 1980 will stop earning interest in 2010.
Q: My husband will be inheriting about $80,000 from his mom's estate. Will we have to pay any taxes on this money?
A: No. I hope you'll take this opportunity to shore up your family's finances by paying down debt, creating (or augmenting) your emergency fund and setting some money aside for your highest priorities, whether that's retirement, education or something else.
Helen Huntley writes about investing and markets for the Times. If you have a question about investments or personal finance, write email@example.com or Helen Huntley, Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731. Read more questions and answers at http://blogs.tampabay.com/money