Ask Lee Now: Answering Readers’ Questions

We love to hear from readers! Please email your question or comment to Independent Living editor Lee Bellinger ([email protected]). Please include your name and home state. You may also reach us via postal mail (P.O. Box 1240; Clover, SC 29710-4240).

Zombie-Free Zones Can Have Their Own Dangers if You Are Not Ready!

Ken G. writes: Lyme Disease is bad enough. My wife has had it a couple of times, because we have our hideaway in the country to get away from the “zombies.” Now there is a worse tick-borne disease. It’s called anaplasmosis, and it is potentially deadly if not treated in the ER immediately. This is also something your readers should be aware of.

Over the years, I have found your newsletters very informative, providing information not available, to my knowledge, anywhere else.

Lee responds: I sent out an email alert to subscribers on August 26th warning about expanding Lyme disease danger zones:

“A decade ago, Lyme disease cases were concentrated in 130 different counties. Now 260 counties are classified as high-risk areas. The ticks responsible for Lyme disease are spreading in every direction, but researchers aren’t sure exactly why.

People living in rural and suburban areas tend have the highest risk of coming in contact with Lyme carrying ticks. But scientists have found ticks in large parks within cities as well. Central Park in New York, for example.

Like Lyme disease, anaplasmosis is a bacterial infection contracted via tick bites. So similar prevention strategies apply. Avoid tick-infested areas. Avoid traversing through thick grass and brush. When out in the woods or in a public park, wear long sleeves to minimize your skin exposure. Apply a good insect repellent such as DEET to any exposed skin.”

P.S. Thanks for your complimentary remarks on Independent Living newsletter! Because of the continued support of our readers, we are able to invest in top-tier independent research and deliver a first-rate product.

How Do I Buy the Exact Right Life Insurance?

Cinda S. writes: What is your opinion on adding extra money to a life insurance policy that can be borrowed from and also makes good interest? Is there a good chance that these large insurance companies could go out of business?

Lee responds: It’s definitely a good idea to check the financial strength of an insurer before pouring money into any policy it issues. Insurance companies that are financially strong will be able to weather downturns in the economy or hits to their business due to disasters.

I pulled up a list of the latest life insurer ratings from Weiss Ratings. While dozens of insurers out there are strong, only five earned the strongest possible A+ rating for financial strength. They are:

  • American Family Life Insurance
  • Country Life Insurance
  • Physicians Mutual Insurance
  • State Farm
  • Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association of America

Even the strongest insurers won’t necessarily be able to weather a systemic financial crisis – a “run on the bank” type event that becomes too large for the government to contain. I’m not necessarily predicting that top-rated insurers will go under in the next financial crisis. I’m just noting that even some of the best could be at risk if all the current assumptions about interest rates, credit risk, etc. get turned upside down. So don’t put your entire liquid net worth into life insurance.

The kind of life insurance you’re talking about is whole life insurance. It allows you to accumulate a cash value and earn a dividend on it. Nothing wrong with whole life, but in general you should avoid buying more of it than you actually need in terms of the insurance coverage. If you don’t have a need for additional coverage, then there’s no need to plow additional funds into a whole life policy.

What to Do About Big Bank Bilkers

Ronald S. writes: In your August issue you indicated a lawsuit filed against Wells Fargo for bilking clients for services they neither wanted nor requested. Please cite that lawsuit for me, as I have my own issue with Wells Fargo bilking my wife.

Lee responds: The lawsuit we referenced was filed by the city of Los Angeles in May. City attorneys allege the mega-bank’s aggressive sales goals caused customers to get sold products and services they didn’t want, need, or ask for.

The city of Miami has also sued Wells Fargo, Bank of America, and Citigroup for alleged “predatory” mortgage lending. Meanwhile in September, 12 of the world’s largest banks (not including Wells Fargo) agreed to a $1.9 billion settlement for rigging interest rate and derivatives markets.

It seems that modern fractional-reserve banking is a business fraught with both legal risk… and shameless scofflaws within its ranks.

How to Pick the Right Credit Union for Your Personal Needs and Situation

Pat B. writes: I am 80 years old and would like to use a credit union. I live in Dana Point, California. Is there a credit union I can join since I do not belong to any organization or company?

Lee responds: You’ll need to find a credit union with a field of membership that makes you eligible. Most credit unions allow family of members to join. Many credit unions exist to serve employees of a company or organization. Others are open to members of a church, alumni association, community club, or other group. Some credit unions are open to anyone who lives in a particular neighborhood or town.

Credit union membership is on the rise, and it’s easier today to join one than it was a generation ago. If you use the Internet, there are some tools that can help you locate one. Try one of these sites:

  • Find a Credit Union (
  • National Association of Federal Credit Unions (
  • National Credit Union Administration (703-518-6300;

What’s the Best Plan to Have in Case of a National Internet Crash?

Cynthia W. writes: I access the internet now thru a Verizon hotspot. I keep my hotspot charged with a USB/AC connection on a solar generator or a USB port on my charging laptop or to a 12V plug with USB port. I can also use the hotpot wireless with my tablet. I can get internet access pretty reliably all over the country even in fairly remote National Forest campsites. My question is can I expect this system to work if the electric grid is down?

Lee responds: Mobile broadband hotspots work great most of the time, though sometimes not at all in remote locations. They depend on your proximity to functioning cell phone towers. If the cell towers go down for any reason, so will your internet connection. Most cellular towers have battery backup power systems in place in the event the grid goes down. But backup power may only be good for a few hours. In a protracted blackout, only those towers with independent generators would be able to continue functioning. Service would be spotty at best.

Other ways to get internet access include phone lines (DSL), cable, fiber optic networks (where available), and satellite. Satellite internet is the least dependent on the power grid, but it tends to be slower and more expensive.

What Do You Think of BitGold?

Shelley T. writes: I would appreciate the newsletter addressing an assessment of BitGold as an option for savings.

Lee responds: We mentioned the alternative pseudo-currency BitGold in the August issue (“Digital Gold-Backed Currencies Make Inroads”). BitGold now boasts 250,000 users and improved functionality. A BitGold pre-paid card is now available. It enables users to spend their BitGold (converted to dollars) wherever major credit cards are accepted.

I salute BitGold’s creators for rolling out a product that combines real gold backing with the convenience of an account that integrates into the dollar-based financial system. BitGold’s fees are low as compared to other methods of obtaining and storing physical gold. The gold itself is insured by Brinks. What’s not to like?

Well, I do need to qualify my praise somewhat. BitGold is a new platform that hasn’t had a lot of time to get road tested. So there are risks – both known and unknown. Chief among the potential risks is that of government regulation. Federal authorities shut down the Liberty Dollar a few years back and, more recently, the Silk Road online marketplace.

The leading digital crypto-currency Bitcoin also faces an unknown future with regulators. Bitcoin has traded within a $200 – $300 sideways range all year – down from a high of close to $1,000 in late 2013. Since Bitcoins aren’t redeemable in any quantity of gold or other tangible asset, their value could theoretically drop to zero. By contrast, BitGold units represent actual gold grams.

“Ask Lee Now” is presented for general educational purposes only. Because we don’t know enough about readers’ personal situations, the opinions expressed here should not be construed as a recommendation to buy or sell any financial instrument at any time. We will not be responsible for financial decisions that readers make, and they should be made in consultation with their own advisers.