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Published: Tuesday, 10/28/2008

Firms' offers to 'help' are truly heartwarming

American investors and consumers have suffered through a lot in the last year or so.

Our homes are worth less than they were a couple of years ago - maybe 10 percent less around here but more like 30 or 40 percent less in some cities.

Our 401(k) accounts are hurting, too: Many middle-aged workers have seen five or 10 years' worth of 401(k) contributions - perhaps amounting to a full year's income, or more - disappear in the market meltdown.

But it's heart-warming to find so many people willing to help.

For example, many of us senior citizens could eat out free several times a week, if we wanted to, thanks to the generosity of financial-service firms willing to show us how to manage our retirement funds better.

These firms send us tickets for dinner at some of the region's really nice restaurants, and they promise to tell us how to boost investment returns, how to minimize taxes, how to avoid probate, and even how to skip out on nursing-home costs for our loved ones.

These folks' generosity brings tears to my eyes.

Also to be commended are the firms willing to offer home refinancing even in these troubled times.

One recently offered me $120,000 for just 6.4 percent, and there were only a couple of asterisks on the document. Nothing important, I'm sure: Rates "subject to change at any time" and "additional terms and restrictions apply." But, certainly, a company this generous would bend over backwards to give me the best deal.

Another offered up to $270,000 at just 6.5 percent, even if the borrower has a high debt load and credit problems in the past. That sort of bravery is so commendable. Surely, a firm like that would act in entirely honorable ways.

And a credit-card company offers a debt consolidation for $10,000 to $50,000 at 7.99 percent interest. There are only a couple of catches, including the possibility of the rate going to 27.99 percent "at our discretion." But, of course, this firm isn't likely to impose higher rates on a "pre-qualified" person such as myself.

Precious-metals companies are more than willing to help out workers like me whose retirement funds have been beaten down. The airwaves are full of commercials offering such advice as: "Now, more than ever before, is the time to invest in gold." Some even suggest that gold and platinum are better investments than stocks and bonds in retirement accounts.

Those ads started running when gold was headed for $1,000 an ounce, and they continued to run as gold plunged to around $700 an ounce. But, hey, if it was a good buy at $1,000, it's a heck of a buy at $730 or $740 an ounce. And, besides, these companies are only looking out for our best interests.

The mailbox is full of attractive offers, including life insurance for $10,000, $25,000, or more, without the hassle of taking a physical. These folks are so trusting, you just want to reach instantly for the checkbook.

But, as attractive as these offers are, I will likely turn most of them down. You see, what they don't know is that I have an ace in the hole. I'm sitting on several e-mails from some very nice folks in Nigeria who want me to share in bonanzas of anywhere from $1.5 million to $20 million. And all I have to do is help them with some sort of troublesome bank account.

Happy days are here again. No need to worry about 401(k) accounts or home values. Thank goodness for selfless, generous people.



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