-- Will the disruptions on Wall Street derail your financial security? USA TODAY's personal finance reporter Sandra Block provides some answers to your questions LIVE UNTIL 7 P.M. ET. Go to the comments section at the end of this story and ask Sandra your question:
Q: I have a brokerage account with Merrill Lynch. Is my money safe?
A: Yes. Bank of America's acquisition of Merrill Lynch will have little impact on Merrill's brokerage customers. In a press conference Monday, Bank of America Chief Executive Ken Lewis said Bank of America intends to "keep the (Merrill Lynch) name and organization intact." Merrill Lynch has more than 16,000 financial advisers and $1.6 billion in customer assets.
Q: What about investors who have brokerage accounts with Lehman Bros.?
A: While Lehman Bros. Holding filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy Monday, the firm's Neuberger Berman subsidiary and its broker-dealer operations weren't included in the filing. The firm said it's exploring the sale of those assets.
The Securities Investor Protection Corp., which covers investors in the event of a brokerage failure, said Monday that it hasn't initiated liquidation proceedings against Lehman's brokerage arm. "As of this morning, it appears that all customer cash, stocks and other securities are accounted for," SIPC President Stephen Harbeck said.
The Securities and Exchange Commission said its staff will remain on-site at Lehman to oversee the transfer of customer assets to one or more SIPC-insured brokerage firms.
Q: What if all this turmoil causes a brokerage firm to fail?
A: If your brokerage firm goes under, SIPC will replace up to $500,000 of your assets. You'll need to be able to prove which securities you owned when the firm failed, so make sure you keep copies of your brokerage statements and confirmation slips.
Q: I bought Merrill Lynch stock at $78. Now, it's worth about $20. Will SIPC cover my losses?
A: No. SIPC only covers you if your brokerage fails and can't return all the cash and securities in your account. It won't protect you against investments that go sour. For more information, go to sipc.org.
Q: I have a whole life insurance policy with AIG, which I also understand is in trouble. Is my cash value protected?
A: Life and health insurance policies are covered by your state's guaranty association. The amount of coverage varies, based on the state and the type of insurance policy, but most states cap an individual's total coverage at $300,000. If you have questions about your coverage, you should contact your own state's guaranty association. You can find contact information at the National Organization of Life and Health Insurance Guaranty Associations.
On Monday, New York Gov. David Paterson said AIG will be allowed to use $20 billion of assets from its subsidiaries to shore up its balance sheet.
Q: I read that Wachovia's shares took a nosedive on Monday. I have a certificate of deposit with that bank. Should I be worried?
A: No, as long as your deposits don't exceed federal deposit insurance limits. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. (FDIC) insures up to $100,000 per depositor in individual accounts, or up to $200,000 in joint accounts in which each account holder has equal withdrawal rights. It also insures up to $250,000 for individual retirement accounts invested in insured deposits. Still, the FDIC estimates that up to 37% of all bank deposits are uninsured. When the FDIC took over IndyMac in July, some 10,000 customers of the California-based mortgage lender held about $1 billion in uninsured deposits. For more information about insured deposits, go to fdic.gov.
Get answers: Have questions about the safety of your money? Personal finance reporter Sandra Block will join the conversation and answer your questions below until 7 p.m. ET.