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Time for Policyholders to Settle on a Choice

November 29, 1996|KATHY M. KRISTOF

The deadline is rapidly approaching for many people who received class-action lawsuit settlement notices from New York Life Insurance over the last two months.

These notices were mailed in September and October to roughly 3.5 million individuals who purchased whole life and universal life products from the company between 1982 and 1994. They are aimed at settling a class action alleging that the company used deceptive practices to sell the policies.

The notices spell out the options for policyholders who bought during this period. There are three basic choices: You can trade your policy in for an "enhanced" policy that promises to be a bit more flexible or higher-yielding. (The precise enhancements depend on the individual policy.) You can bring your case to alternate dispute resolution, where you may be able to get a cash settlement if you can prove the company used deceptive practices to sell your particular policy. Or you can simply do nothing and keep the policy you've got.

Those who have proof that they were misled--such as written assurances that the policy premium would "vanish" within a set period or that the policy was sold as an investment rather than a life insurance policy--would be wise to consider the alternate dispute resolution, says Allan Finkel, head of the newly formed Policyholders Protection Committee. Finkel, a government attorney, believes policyholders who have good proof are likely to get more from dispute resolution than from the so-called no-fault solution, which involves getting another insurance policy.

However, policyholders can get a better read on their best option by calling the New York Life Class Action Information Center at (800) 356-7790. But call soon. The final deadline for those receiving notices in October is Monday.

* Help for the holidays:

MasterCard has launched a program to help consumers budget and track their holiday spending. Key to the effort is the company's Web site at, where an interactive work sheet can help you determine how much you can spend on everything from entertaining to travel and gifts. If you enter subsequent purchases, the work sheet will even update you on how well you're sticking to the budget, the company says.

MasterCard is also sending coupons that will entitle cardholders to gift certificates if they make substantial purchases with participating retailers. Cardholders who didn't receive these coupons--or who want more--may request them at the Web site or call (800) 301-0557.

* What's a diploma worth?:

Ever wonder what a high school diploma is worth in dollars and cents? A little over $5,600 annually, according to the Census Bureau. The average high school dropout earns $14,391 annually, compared with $20,036 for someone with a diploma.

Over a lifetime, that difference adds up to about $225,800 over a 40-year working career. In addition, because of the higher earnings, the high school graduate will also get more in Social Security benefits and is likely to earn a better company pension.

If you're a high school dropout and don't want to be in that rut, you should know that you may be able to get a high school diploma without going back to school. How? Take the General Education Development exam.

Passing the GED exam not only gets you a diploma, it also allows you to continue your education in college. (Incidentally, the average college graduate earns $34,096 annually.)

To learn more about who is eligible to take the test, how the test is scored and how you can get prepared to pass it, request the free booklet "The GED Diploma" from the Consumer Information Center, Dept. 512D, Pueblo, CO 81009. If you have access to the Internet, you can also download the booklet from the CIC's Web site at

On a related note, parents whose main educational concern involves what is being taught to their children in public school may benefit from a free booklet issued by the Family Research Council, a conservative Washington-based research and education organization.

The council's "Moms' and Dads' School Survival Guide" discusses everything from trends in teaching to parental rights. What some families may find invaluable, though, is the listing of resources, including addresses and phone numbers for state education departments, home schooling groups and organizations that provide scholarships for private schooling. To get a free copy, call (800) 225-4008.

Consumer Checklist is a weekly feature that covers a range of pocketbook issues of interest to Californians. To contribute information about new legislation, products, services or surveys, write to Kathy M. Kristof, Business Section, Los Angeles Times, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles, CA 90053, or e-mail

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