Dear Mary: A friend repaid a personal loan of $900 by giving me his personal check, drawn on Bank of America. I took it to a local branch. They charged me $6 to cash it. Is this fee legal? Would it have been less had the check been for a smaller amount? -- James, California
Dear James: It is both legal and fairly common for non-account holders to be charged a check-cashing fee. It's a lot like using an ATM that belongs to a bank where you don't have an account. Not all banks or credit unions have such a charge, however. Some apply it differently depending on whether the check is drawn on a business or personal account, while others have a fee if the amount of the check exceeds say $150. It's random. I think we will see fees like these increase as banks look for more ways to enhance their profits margins.
Dear Mary: Thank you for making our world a better place with your common sense advice. I would like to explain why I think our daughter may inspire you. In 1976, our daughter Stephanie was born with cerebral palsy, Spina Bifida and a premature birth weight of 2 pounds, 4 ounces. She was tiny, but very bright and beautiful.
Although Stephanie experiences lower paralysis and has never walked, she has never let her physical limitations disable her ability to live a productive and happy life.
Her early life was dominated by multiple surgeries to improve balance and muscle tightness, yet her determination to achieve self-reliance and independence grew.
She graduated from high school, went on to receive a BA degree from Oakland University and a Masters from both Michigan State University and the University of South Florida.
Stephanie is currently a licensed mental health counselor in Florida and has worked for a faith-based homeless shelter in Tampa Bay for approximately the past eight years. She enjoys her work very much and works with wonderful people. She contributes to a 403(b) each year, has no debt and does have some savings. She is very grateful for her job, her friends and her co-workers.
She gets up before 4:00 a.m. each day to ready herself for work and to give herself enough time to catch the bus. She never complains, instead she praises God for the miracles she perceives daily. She inspires me, gives me hope and makes me proud to be her dad.
Last year she underwent a risky lower back surgery to relieve muscle tightness and almost-constant pain. It was successful, but we worried about what would happen to her if she ever lost her limited mobility. Would you consider advising her on how to plan for her financial future? She is a very hard worker who I believe makes our world a brighter place. At 36, she is not thinking about life at 66, so receiving good advice now could prove to be priceless later. -- Gary, Michigan
Dear Gary: What an inspiring story. Stephanie sounds like an amazing young woman. Contributing to her employer's retirement plan from a young age is giving her a great start on planning for retirement.
Watch your mailbox, because I am sending Stephanie a copy of my new book, "The Smart Woman's Guide to Planning for Retirement." It's an easy read and will introduce her to the six simple strategies every woman, no matter her age, needs to understand and start working on today. I know Stephanie is going to love my new book because, in a way, it feels like perhaps I wrote it just for her.
Mary invites questions at email@example.com, or c/o Everyday Cheapskate, P.O. Box 2099, Cypress, CA 90630.