When Consumer Reports asked Americans what they’re most worried about now, the top concerns they listed were: having enough money to retire, the value of their home, whether they have enough in savings, and the cost of everything from gas to college. Thirty-three percent said they’re worse off today than they were a year ago—nearly double last year’s figure, according to Consumer Reports’ nationally representative poll of 1,004 adults conducted in October. Here are questions from consumers, and answers from experts and others.
Are my bank accounts safe?
Fifty-five percent of respondents said they were concerned about this. Almost all bank savings, checking, and money market accounts and certificates of deposit are insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. for up to $250,000 per depositor until December 31, 2009. (After that, it’s $100,000). Deposits in Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs) and some other retirement accounts are also insured up to $250,000 per owner. Credit unions are insured for the same amounts through the National Credit Union Share Insurance Fund.
What to do
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Keep your balances within the coverage limits. Check the health of your bank and/or credit union with Bankrate.com’s Safe & Sound ratings. If your financial institution fails, insured accounts will probably be assumed by a new financial institution. It usually takes no more than two business days to get your money. Keep copies of your statements and deposit slips, especially if you bank online, to ensure that the new financial institution’s records are correct. See whether interest rates, fees or terms have changed. If you have uninsured balances, you’ll have a claim against the closed financial institutions for the uninsured amount. As the assets of the financial institution are liquidated, you might receive payments.
What should I do if I have trouble making my mortgage payments?
In October the federal HOPE for Homeowners program began restructuring mortgages for qualified homeowners. Restructured loans will be based on 90 percent of a home's current value, established with a new appraisal. For information, go to the HOPE for Homeowners Web site.
What to do
Contact your mortgage lender immediately and try to negotiate lower payments. Be persistent; lenders are overwhelmed with people in your situation and attend to those in default first. If you’ve been trying to sell but can’t get an offer that at least matches what you owe, see whether your lender will agree to a short sale, which means it will accept a lesser amount. Use recent comparable sales to show that your home is worth less than your unpaid balance.
I’m having trouble paying my credit card bill. What should I do?
You’re not alone. Some 35 percent of the respondents in the survey said that they’re concerned about their ability to pay off credit card debt.
What to do
Contact your card issuer right away. Some have payment programs for squeezed borrowers, though others are turning over delinquent accounts to collection agencies faster than in the past. If you’re paying a high interest rate on your balance, consider transferring it to a lower-rate card.
This article excerpted from ConsumerReports.com.