Q: I have collected coins and paper money since 1936. I have had bad luck selling some to several dealers and feel I've been had. I don't mind them making a fair percentage, but isn't 50 percent excessive? Can you recommend an honest person, company, or organization that can help me grade and sell it?
D.T., Casa Grande, Ariz.
A: A coin collection is a bit like a car; when you trade it in at a dealer, you'll be hard-pressed to get anywhere near retail price for it.
Experts at the American Numismatic Association (ANA), in Colorado Springs, Colo., say that retail prices for coins and currencies found in guide books are often 40 percent higher than the wholesale price that a dealer will pay. In your case, you ran into people paying just half of retail - something not unheard of in the industry.
Call the ANA at 800-367-9723 and ask for names of affiliated dealers who do business in your area. This doesn't guarantee you'll get more money for your collection; just a dealer who accepts the ANA's ethics guidelines.
Q: For 25 years, we received shares as gifts with dividends reinvested. Last year, we put them into a brokerage account so we could diversify. We didn't record the purchase date or stock price for the first 23 years. Now we anticipate an accounting nightmare to calculate capital gains on 5,000 shares acquired a dozen or so at a time. The stock was only recently listed on NASDAQ, so we can't look them up in old newspapers. What's the least expensive way to figure out the cost?
W.M., via e-mail
A: There is no easy solution to your situation, which illustrates why keeping track of the purchase date and cost of all investments is so important.
Still, you have a few options, says certified financial planner Christiane Delessert of Waltham, Mass. First, each shareholder should have been notified of a conversion rate of existing shares when the company went public. That gives you a chance to figure the cost basis, since the company had to have financial records as well as a record of all shareholders before going public.
If you missed this opportunity, Ms. Delessert suggests contacting the firm's investor-relations representatives and asking them to research the price and dates of the gifts. You may have to be "pushy," she says, since few firms are eager to do this. But it beats option three, which is a zero cost basis. The IRS figures that the cost of any investment is zero - increasing taxes owed - unless you can prove otherwise.