Q I am 69 years old, work part time, and have less than $5,000 in savings. My main debt is a student loan that I have been paying to Sallie Mae, seemingly forever. The balance is about $3,900 at 7 percent interest, and I am very eager to retire the debt. My payments are $65.20 per month. But only about two-thirds of that amount goes toward principal. I live in senior housing and my rent is based on my income. How can I reduce this debt short of an increase in payments?
A Call Sallie Mae (the Student Loan Marketing Association) at 888-2-SALLIE to work out a new payment schedule. (The number, incidentally, is only for Sallie Mae borrowers, not people who have other types of student loans.)
Options that Sallie Mae offers include a payment plan of $50 a month, which would retire the debt over 10 years; an income-sensitive option, based on a percentage of your annual income; and prepaying the principal, which might reduce the total interest expense.
Also, a Sallie Mae official says to notify them if your health or well-being changes even for a short period of time, since there are short-term options, including a temporary deferment of certain payments.
Q I am writing about the American Trust Allegiance Fund. Does this fund have a grade from a reputable rating service? Also, I have had trouble finding the fund in newspaper listings. Where can I find such listings?
A The American Trust Allegiance Fund (800-385-7003) was recently awarded a top, five-star rating from information firm Morningstar Inc., Chicago.
The fund's ticker symbol is ATAFX, which can be checked out on various Web sites including Yahoo! (quote.yahoo.com) and Bloomberg (www.bloomberg.com). It is also listed daily in The Wall Street Journal, under AmTrAllegnc.
Q I am a new investor. My broker says I should use a "limit order" for all my purchases, especially when I buy technology stocks that may be volatile. What does he mean?
S.M., New York
A A limit order specifies the highest price at which you wish to buy a stock, or the lowest price that you will accept for a stock you are selling.
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