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NEW LIFE INSURANCE LAW IS CONSUMER-FRIENDLY

Gov. Pataki last week signed a law that will benefit buyers of life insurance policies when it takes effect Jan. 1.

First of all, the law requires companies to provide full information on a policy's costs and benefits to a consumer before the policy is purchased.

Secondly, it changes the way insurance agents are compensated so they won't be tempted to have clients buy new policies every few years -- what the industry calls "churning."

Agents have earned commissions on a descending scale as the policy matured. The older the policy, the less money they made. The new law allows companies to pay a level compensation to agents over the life of the policy.

Also, the law continues the practice of capping how much insurance companies can spend on selling policies or annuities, but allows them more leeway in how that money is spent.

Get a dividend check every week

Do you want a weekly stream of dividend checks?

The following list, from the Dick Davis Income Letter, provides 52 checks a year, arriving one week apart. On a $100,000 investment, you'll receive weekly income of about $100, for a yield of 4.9 percent. Many of these firms raise dividends often, keeping you ahead of inflation. The list is dotted with utilities, and includes two real estate investment trusts, a Baby Bell, two natural gas companies, a water utility and one Big Three auto stock.

The companies are: American Water Works, Bell Atlantic, Duke Energy, Federal Realty, Ford, GPU, Nipsco, Northern States Power, Peoples Energy, Questar, Southern Co., Weingarten Realty and Western Resources.

Crash wouldn't change strategies

Another stock market crash wouldn't change people's investment strategies, according to a CNBC Business News/Lou Harris poll taken for the 10th anniversary of the Oct. 19, 1997 crash.

Asked how they'd react to a crash, 71 percent of people polled said they'd continue their current investment strategy, 12 percent said they'd put money into the market, and 13 percent said they'd move money out of the market.

A shameful credit card

There would be plenty of candidates if credit-card tracker RAM Research Group ever compiled a "Hall of Shame." But Banc One's TravelPlus Visa would be a lock this fall, said RAM President Robert B. McKinley. "It's a terrible product," he said. Among the reasons:

To penalize customers who pay off their balances each month, Banc One has cut their rewards 67 percent. They will earn only one "point" for every $3 they charge, while customers who fail to pay their monthly balance will earn a 1-for-1 reward.

The annual fee is based on your credit limit, not whether you hold a standard or gold card. The fee is $25 if your credit limit is less than $5,000, and $55 above that point.

It charges $25 if you charge more than your credit limit or pay late.

Its grace period is only 20 days.

It uses the "two-cycle" method of calculating your balance, the most costly of four formulas issuers typically use.

Stock salesmen get lofty titles

Can you guess what these people are?:

At Prudential Securities, they're "financial advisers."

At Smith Barney and Merrill Lynch, "financial consultants."

At Dean Witter, "account executives."

At PaineWebber and Piper Jaffray Inc., "investment executives."

At Charles Schwab, "registered representatives."

At Quick & Reilly, "personal brokers."

Well, when they call you, just remember they're all "stockbrokers." And their job is to sell you stock or some other financial product.

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