Money Management Q&As

May 19, 2006



The downsides of a credit union

Q. An article in your Jan. 20, 2006 issue ("Easy ways to save money-fast!") noted that credit unions sometimes charge lower interest rates on credit cards. I've also heard that they offer lower-rate loans and pay higher rates on savings. But what are the downsides of joining one?

A. Credit unions frequently have only one or two branches, so banking in person could prove less convenient, and the number of ATMs that don't charge usage fees may be more limited than they would with a large multibranch bank. The range of account types and additional services also tends to be more limited. For instance, you may not be able to open business accounts or customized personal accounts such as trusts.

Don't replace windows for a tax break

Q. Since our house feels drafty and our heating bills soared over the winter, my husband and I are planning to upgrade the windows in our home. Will we get a tax break for it?

A. Yes, but only a small one. The new energy law grants a tax credit to homeowners who make certain energy-conscious home improvements, if the products used meet or surpass the standards established in the 2000 International Energy Conservation code. (The window manufacturer can tell you whether the windows you're considering will qualify.) But the credit, which equals 10 percent of the amount spent for the qualifying improvements, is capped at $500 and no more than $200 of it can be attributed to the cost of windows. The tax break covers only purchases made in 2006 or 2007.

The daily double on FDIC insurance?

Q. My bank offers online services, but when I visited the site I noticed that the online bank has a different name. Does that mean it's a separate bank? If so, would that double the amount covered by FDIC insurance?

A. No to both questions. Banks can use different names for their electronic and physical locations, but both represent the same institution. Deposits reflected at the online site and those made at the brick-and-mortar bank are added when figuring whether you're fully covered by FDIC insurance.

Planning a vacation for a disabled person

Q. My wife and I would like to take her mother, who's wheelchair-bound, with us on a vacation in Europe. We're not set on any specific destinations; we're more concerned about making the trip as easy as possible on all of us. Any suggestions?

A. You'd be wise to enlist the help of a travel agent who specializes in planning accessible travel. If you can't find one in your area, try the American Society of Travel Agents' (ASTA) website, http://www.travelsense.org. Click on Find a Travel Agent, and from the Specialties dropdown menu, choose Disabled/Accessible.

ASTA also offers some tips for accessible travel at http://www.travelsense.org/tips/accessible.asp. You can find additional guidance, including a list of websites that focus on traveling when you're disabled, at the website of the Society for Accessible Travel & Hospitality, http://www.sath.org (click on Resources).

Do you have a money management question that may be stumping other doctors, too? Write: MMQA Editor, Medical Economics, 5 Paragon Drive, Montvale, NJ 07645-1742, or send an e-mail to memoney@advanstar.com (please include your regular postal address). Sorry, but we're not able to answer readers individually.