-- Will the disruptions on Wall Street derail your financial security? Here, and in the comments section at the end of the story, USA TODAY's personal finance reporter Sandra Block provides answers to some questions :
Q: I have a brokerage account with Merrill Lynch. Is my money safe?
A: Yes. The Bank of America acquisition of Merrill Lynch will have no impact on Merrill's brokerage customers. In a press conference Monday, Bank of America CEO 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: Lehman's brokerage unit is still in business, and Lehman is expected to sell the subsidiary to another firm. While Lehman Brothers Holding filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, the firm's brokerage subsidiary wasn't included.
The Securities Investor Protection Corp., which covers investors in the event of a brokerage failure, said all the brokerage firm's customer cash, stocks and securities have been accounted for.
The Securities and Exchange Commission said its staff will remain on-site at Lehman to make sure customers' assets are protected when the unit is sold 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 have 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 $17. Will SIPC cover my losses?
A: No. SIPC covers you only 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 an insurance policy with AIG, which I also understand is in trouble. Is my policy protected?
A: Life and health insurance policies are covered by your state's guaranty association. Most states cap an individual's total coverage at $300,000. If you have questions, 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 nose dive on Monday. I have a certificate of deposit there. Should I be worried?
A: No, as long as your deposits don't exceed federal deposit insurance limits. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. 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, about 10,000 customers of the California-based mortgage lender had $1 billion in uninsured deposits. For more information about insured deposits, go to fdic.gov.
Q: What happens if my mutual fund company goes under?
A: By law, your mutual fund is owned by the fund shareholders, not the company that manages it, says Mike McNamee, spokesman for the Investment Co. Institute, the main trade group for the mutual fund industry. The mutual fund's assets are kept in a custodial account, where they're protected from claims by creditors if the company files for bankruptcy, he says.
Get answers: Have questions about the safety of your money? Personal finance reporter Sandra Block joined the conversation and answered your questions below.