DEAR BRUCE: In a recent article you mentioned a "doc-in-the-box" as a less-expensive alternative to an emergency room. Since I experienced the same problems as the other writer with our local ER, I'd like to know what that box is. -- G.L.
DEAR G.L.: "Doc-in-the-box" is a way of describing instant care offices. One of the major advantages is that when you go to these kinds of places, you're there for only an hour or so, in most cases. Another is that the costs are a tiny fraction of going to the emergency room, where they will do a ton of tests, 90 percent of which aren't necessary.
DEAR BRUCE: I read your column often, and you don't seem to like recommending annuities. I am looking to retire in four years, when I reach 66. We hope to have all our bills paid off by then. We have about $45,000 in savings and $170,000 in a 401(k).
My wife and I just went to a financial adviser for the first time. The adviser suggests putting money from the 401(k) into a variable annuity IRA with a contractual living benefit rider with a guaranteed simple 7 percent interest for the four years until I retire, or 10 years if I wait to collect. This 7 percent could go higher, depending on the market, but cannot go lower. We will receive $904 monthly before taxes for both of our lives from the annuity, and if we both would die, the balance would go to the estate. What do you think? -- R.N.
DEAR R.N.: You're absolutely correct when you say I am not fond of annuities. This isn't to say there aren't some good products around that deserve your attention. But the idea of having to be divorced from your money for several years at your age is just not a good idea, in my opinion.
You mentioned 7 percent interest for four years. That's possible, but it's also possible that the annuity will not go up, for whatever reason. Some are guaranteed and some are not.
On balance, you would be better off to first look at the 401(k) and see how it's doing. If it's doing well, you might want to continue to put money into the fund. If it's not doing too well, you might wish to look into the simple and, I believe, solid advice that I've given to millions of people, which is to invest in established American companies that are doing well and paying a decent dividend, anywhere from 2 1/2 to 4 percent. These companies will not always grow, but I think you'll find that they will do well in the long run.
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