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UPDATE: Focus on Finance


No more checks; cellular 411; bond overcharging; wills

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Choose article section... The check isn't in the mail anymore Can you find me now? Meet a few who beat the bear We'll charge you too much when you trade Will, schmill. Who needs one anyway?

The check isn't in the mail anymore

Forget about playing the float—handing out a check a day or two before you expect to have the funds to cover it—under new federal banking rules that take effect on Oct. 28. The Check Clearing for the 21st Century Act, better known as Check 21, lets banks make digital copies of checks and then destroy the originals. Instead of sending truckloads of paper checks from bank to bank to process your payments, banks will be able to send digital copies of checks to each other electronically. So the check you send from your Oregon bank to a credit card company in New York could clear the same day the company receives it.

Instead of returning your cancelled checks, banks can make a "substitute check," or a paper copy of the digital image it took of your original check. Substitute checks are legal copies; you can use them as proof of payment.

Can you find me now?

Verizon Wireless customers' phone numbers won't be included in a wireless directory planned by the cellular industry, say company officials. The company fears that a wireless "411" would inundate its customers with unwanted calls and messages.

Customers of other wireless carriers will have to choose to be included in the directory, proposed by the Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association, and won't be charged for having an unlisted number. Bills that would require wireless carriers to get the explicit permission of customers before including their name and phone number in any directory have been proposed in both houses of Congress.

Meet a few who beat the bear

Three investment newsletters have beaten a popular stock market index for nearly 24 years, including the most recent downturn, says the Hulbert Financial Digest, which rates investment newsletters. If you followed the advice in The Prudent Speculator (www.theprudentspeculator.com), The Value Line Investment Survey (www.valueline.com), and NoLoad Fund*X (www.fundx.com), you would have beaten the average annualized returns of the Wilshire 5000 between 1980 and 2004. (The Wilshire 5000 is made up of US companies of all sizes, to broadly represent the overall stock market.)

Average annualized gain*
The Prudent Speculator
The Value Line Investment Survey
NoLoad Fund*X
Wilshire 5000 Index

We'll charge you too much when you trade

Investors trading in corporate bonds were soaked for fees of up to 32 percent of the sale or purchase price by four Wall Street firms, says the NASD. Citigroup Global Markets, Deutsche Bank Securities, Goldman Sachs, and Miller Tabak Roberts Securities were fined $5 million each. NASD rules on fair pricing require dealers not to take more than 5 percent of selling prices in fees known as markdowns and markups. (Markdowns are subtracted from the selling price when a customer sells securities; markups are added to the purchase price when customers buy bonds or other securities.)

If you're thinking of buying or selling corporate bonds, you can get some information on bond prices and other market information that could help you get a better deal from the NASD at www.nasdbondinfo.com or at The Bond Market Association's Web site at www.investinginbonds.com.

Will, schmill. Who needs one anyway?

Only 42 percent of adults have a will, down from 47 percent just four years ago, says a survey by LexisNexis Martindale-Hubbell, a legal information network. Many respondents say they don't have enough assets to bother with a will, aren't old enough, or just don't want to think about dying. But no matter how little you have, if you die without leaving a will, the state will decide how to divide up your property—and who will raise your children.

You can put together a will for around $50 to $60 by using Quicken's WillMaker Plus (www.quicken.com) or going online to LegalZoom (www.legalzoom.com). BuildaWill (www.buildawill.com) promises a will for only $19.95.


Yvonne Wollenberg. UPDATE: Focus on Finance. Medical Economics Sep. 17, 2004;81:12.

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