Dr. Steven Rubin: “Okay, okay, so 1600 Penn Ave may not be so tough, especially for a certain underpaid treasurer of the occupant’s political party. But I’ll bet that, unless you were watching by poolside, you checked your pockets for loose change when Regis asked on which coin does the head face to the right (which was the only question I saw while channel-surfing)!”

This refers to my September 8 comment on the ABC TV hit show (now in hiatus) “Do You Want to be a Millionaire?” and to the $100 question about what famous building is located at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington (a-the White House, b-the Mexican Embassy, etc.).

Well, I’m first to admit the show IS good fun, and that there are lots of questions I would miss — although fewer now that I have become almost instantly hip, by my very recent exposure to the remarkable Wyclef Jean. In one night I learned who George Clinton is (not the long-deceased governor of New York, but one cool funky jazz dude with hair from another planet); who Sheila E is (a) Prince’s one-time drummer, now a very cool drummer of her own; (b) the woman who lost the last several letters of her last name in a freak chainsaw accident; (c) the White House; who Naomi Campbell is (Charles just rolled his eyes and explained that she is “only the hottest model out there after maybe Christy“); who Bono is (not the late sunny congressman, but the original U2 pilot) . . . and more.

So I would no longer miss all the pop culture questions.

But Dr. Rubin obviously did not stay tuned long enough to understand how easy that question would have been. When unsure, “Do You Want to be a Millionaire?” allows you a limited number of “lifelines” — including “Call a Friend” and “Ask the Audience.” So assuming you didn’t have change in your pocket — or a penny in your loafer (it’s the penny) — you could just ask someone who did. I tell you, this is not a tough way to make $32,000.

Emmett Redd: “Usually, we patronize the companies we own stock in so they can make more profit and our wealth goes up. But David Lazar (9-9-99) might do better not to patronize Mirage after he buys its stock because he is, he says, “a successful gambler.” His successful gambling would (however minutely) reduce the profitability of Mirage. This is quite a quandary, if you ask me.”

Yes. David should buy Mirage stock when he’s feeling lucky, but only gamble there when he’s feeling self-destructive.

John Reade: “Holy mackeral, your new web site is amazing. Like a lot of people, I’m freaking out at the cost of my mutual funds, now that I see the full impact. Do you have any simple advice on when to get out of a mutual fund? I realize the front-end loads have already come and gone and that back-end loads will be paid when I leave. Just wondering what other penalties/taxes may be incurred when I bail out of one mutual fund and go into another.”

Holy mackerel indeed. (And when was the last time you saw mackerel on the menu, anyway?) The front-end load is a sunk cost, and so shouldn’t figure into your decision. (Easier said than coped with psychologically, especially if you’ve only recently paid it.) The surrender fee, if there is one, is another matter. Most funds don’t charge them, but some certainly do. With many of those, the surrender fee scales down to zero after a few years, which gives you a (small) incentive to wait.

The big disincentive to switching is whatever capital gains tax you’d have to pay on the appreciation you’d realize. (In a tax-sheltered account, this would not be an issue.)

More on this Monday.

(Please note that I’ve added a permanent link to the Mutual Fund Cost Calculator, up there in the top left “link” area. I am incredibly proud of this, because it was one in the morning and I didn’t want to wake my web master, so I went into the html code and figured out how to do it myself. This is why it probably appears upside down on your screen, or accidentally links to the Naomi Campbell photos.)


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