Canceled checks or canceled account

Q. My bank was recently sold to another bank, and I no longer receive my canceled checks. Instead, I get photocopies, showing only the front of the check. I need to see the front and back of each check, however, to prove that my checks have cleared. Can the new bank legally withhold my checks? What rights do I have?

- V.S.,

Shirley, Maine

A. "It sounds as though the new bank has a policy of not returning canceled checks," says a Federal Reserve spokesman in Washington. That is entirely legal, unless laws in your state say otherwise, he adds.

Banks can either keep or return your original checks, or just send you an "image" of the check. The image does not have to include both the front and back sides. One side, usually the front, will suffice to prove a check has cleared.

Most banks that send images also mail out a monthly statement that lists your transactions and shows which checks have cleared.

The Fed spokesman suggests you ask the bank about its check policy. It should have a brochure. "If you don't like their policy," says the Fed honcho, "consider taking your accounts to another bank."

Q. I am a 44-year-old single female without children working for an international not-for-profit organization. I own some mutual funds: Fidelity Asset Management, $18,000; Fidelity Equity Income, $17,000; Fidelity Balanced, $4,500; Vanguard Life Strategy Growth, $6,000. I also have $7,000 in a CD at 4.2 percent a year and $90,000 in a savings account. How can I maximize my earnings while keeping risk low?

- D.L.G.,

via e-mail

A. Your portfolio is "far too conservative," says Sheldon Jacobs, publisher of the No-Load Fund Investor in Irvington-On-Hudson, N.Y.

You have many years of investing ahead of you, so you should be looking for growth. "Put your money to work," he says.

Mr. Jacobs suggests that you take as much out of savings as you are comfortable with and invest it in a well-diversified index fund, such as the Vanguard Total Stock Market Index Fund. Fidelity offers a similar fund.

You might also switch some savings to a solid European fund, such as Scudder's Greater Europe Fund. You'll also be able to boost interest earnings on your savings by shifting to a money-market fund.

Finally, when the CD comes up for renewal, look for a higher-yielding instrument, or shift to a money-market fund.

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