Dear Mr. Berko:

I am 61 and twice took money from my 401(k) to make a sure-thing investment. Because I couldn’t use my 401(k) to buy an oil and gas partnership, a broker suggested I open an individual retirement account and move $15,000 to it from my 401(k). I did, and it went broke a year later. Three years later, I moved $20,000 from my 401(k) to my IRA to invest in an option trading account that never did as was promised. Then two years later, I sold it for $11,000. Now my 401(k) is worth $167,000, and I must be extra careful because I’m scared to lose money. I heard on satellite radio about a firm that can make me between 12 and 17 percent a month. It sounds really good, but I don’t think it’s safe. I hope to retire in six years, and a broker told me I should invest half of my $167,000 in an annuity paying me about $385 every month beginning in six years and the other half in a Ginnie Mae fund that will pay me $295 a month. Both are 100 percent guaranteed. What do you think of them? I have little savings and have been renting for the 17 years since my divorce because my ex-wife took the house and my baseball card and coin collections I had for 32 years. I know I’m kind of stupid about things and know I need help so I don’t make a stupid mistake again. If I do this, I will have a company pension income of $486 a month, Social Security income of $1,235 a month, $385 a month from the annuity and $295 a month from the Ginnie Mae fund, which comes to $30,000 a year. Please tell me whether this is good to do. I’m very nervous about this.

R.G., Detroit


Dear R.G.:

You’re not stupid. Rather, you probably just had some bad luck when it comes to thinking. But I can guide you. It’s too difficult for folks to negotiate Wall Street, which is run by New York’s financial mafia. The financial mafia’s firms get fined for misleading investors, but their executives get raises. They employ less-than-honest advisers and ignorant brokers who think blue chips are deposits from cold buffaloes. They employ average advisers whose results are below average because they’re trained to peddle products such as mutual funds, insurance and high-fee proprietary investments. They employ articulate incompetents whose words peal like silver bells but whose results sink like lead weights. And amazingly, each passed those silly, cockamamie securities exams, “proving” they are qualified to provide financial advice. This makes as much sense as believing that reading a book about mental illness qualifies you to practice psychiatry. The proof is in your pudding. Finally, there is the uncommon broker who is knowledgeable, experienced and caring and who has a high degree of probity. This broker is hard to find because he doesn’t advertise on satellite radio, on TV or in the tabloids and isn’t into free lunches. He’s basically a low-key, serious professional who is grudgingly respected by most competitors.

I think the government bond recommendation is a poor idea. When interest rates and inflation rise (and they will), this fixed-income investment won’t meet your income needs, and I don’t know enough about the annuitization schedule of the annuity to advise you properly. So you need a knowledgeable professional to provide counsel. I don’t know any advisers in Michigan, but I have known an accountant in Detroit for 41 years and called him. He is as easy to talk to as a good neighbor and has helped a few readers in your area. He is primarily retired but enjoys doing a lot of volunteer tax work for seniors and veterans. He won’t charge you a nickel, though I know he’ll appreciate a bag of fresh doughnuts and black coffee if you visit his office. I’ve given you his contact information, and he hopes to hear from you. Don’t worry about a thing. I’m sure you’ll be just fine.