Dear Mr. Berko:

We are in our early 80s. We have no debts except a $9,000 mortgage and $7,300 left on our 2011 Buick. We receive $31,000 from Social Security and two small pensions, plus we were getting $10,000 a year from a 4.5 percent, $226,000 certificate of deposit, which is coming due next month. The CD plus $6,800 in checking is all we have. We’re worried because the interest rate for a replacement CD is 1 percent, and we must make scary changes in how we spend.

My husband, who is in the early stages of dementia, collected U.S. stamps for more than 70 years. Now he wants to sell his collection to raise money for our living expenses. He hasn’t enjoyed this hobby since he had a stroke in 2007 and thinks the collection is worth a lot of money. He says it’s worth more than $100,000. A dealer in Chicago came to our house and made a great show of looking at the collection and then offered us $9,400.

I don’t know whom to trust. Low CD rates forced one friend of ours to sell her jewelry for song, and another sold precious antiques for well under the market value. They needed money to live on. It seems so many people are dishonest and shady.

We don’t invest in the market but have read your column for more than 20 years because we enjoy your comments. Also, we trust you. Please tell me who can advise us on the sale of our stamp collection. And please advise me on investing $100,000 in an index annuity and $100,000 in a government bond fund, which was advised by a broker at Wells Fargo & Co. I don’t sleep well worrying about our income and my husband’s declining health. I’m scared and confused about the few years we have left, and I sometimes cry at night when he sleeps. I worry about my health and my ability to take care of him as his health continues to fail. I don’t own a computer. Please, I hope you can read my writing.

S.A., Chicago



Dear S.A.:

I apologize for sounding unkind or impolite, but fortunately for the brokerage industry, most Americans have the investment acumen of a twit, which puts them in the sucker category. And like turnip truck refugees, seniors such as you get skinned by satellite radio advertising and become low-hanging fruit for commission-starved salesmen at Wells Fargo (others, too), who prey on elderly depositors. As I told you on the phone, this Wells Fargo bankster will zing you for $11,000 in commission if you take his patently unsuitable advice. I wish someone would slap that financial hoodlum silly.

Because I have a stamp collection, which I started 65 years ago, I know a bit about values. And after talking to your husband on the phone, I believe that his collection is worth significantly more than $9,400. He still can articulate clearly, but his decision-making processes are a bit bumpy. So, as I discussed with you and him, please ring the American Philatelic Society at 814-933-3803. Put your husband on the other end of the line to explain your needs. This is a professional, respected and honest organization that has been around for 125 years. The people there can handle everything for you, and their fee will be extremely fair.

And as we discussed, be comfortable calling me on my private line, and I’ll help you understand every step along the way. I also have helped you arrange a reverse-annuity mortgage, which will pay you $715 a month (tax-free) for as long as either of you stays in the house and as long as either of you can spend the money. Believe me when I tell you that this has zero risk. Finally, keep that money in CDs, and be comfortable withdrawing $500 a month just for things and stuff.

You can afford it now. At that very safe withdrawal rate, when you’re celebrating your 100th birthday, your $226,000 earning just 1 percent will still be worth $150,000.