How to value an inherited stamp collection

Q: I inherited a stamp collection from my mother that contains American First Day issues. They are mounted in bound volumes and cover a 20- to 30-year period. The collection also has commemorative stamps on various subjects. Do these stamps have any monetary value beyond their face value? How can I find an expert to advise me about this?
C.C., San Jose, Calif.

A: As with other collectibles, the value of the stamps you own largely depends on their age and scarcity. For starters, you can go to any book store and pick up pricing guides that detail every US stamp ever printed. Next, try the website of the American Philatelic Society at The site has a directory of more than 1,900 stamp dealers, a few of which are bound to be near you, says Frank Sente, the organization's director of administration.

The site also has specific information on valuing collections for estate purposes.

First Day covers are envelopes that carry newly issued stamps and the postmark from the city where they were first issued. If you want specialized information on them, contact the American First Day Cover Society, at, or through its website,

Q: I have two loans on my house: a first mortgage on which I owe $50,000 at 7 percent interest, and a second with a balance of $35,000 at 12 percent. While the house is old and only worth $87,000, we plan to live there another three years. Should I combine the two loans into one?
L.M., via e-mail

A: Lenders are only too willing to combine your loans. But it may not be worth it. Checking with lenders around Marlton, N.J., where he works as a certified financial planner, Stuart Brill estimates you could get a refinanced loan for about 7.15 percent interest. That may sound high, but that's because you're financing the entire value of your home.

Next, you have to take into account all the fees that accompany mortgages, such as appraisals and points, which Mr. Brill figures could run as much as $3,000. If you spend $3,000 for a new mortgage and live in the home only for another three years, he thinks you'd be hard pressed to recover those expenses. Staying in the home longer lessens the impact of those fees. Brill suggests you get an updated appraisal of your dwelling to see if it's worth more than you think.

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