Question: Earlier this year my husband invested in a spousal IRA for me in the amount of $1,000. I am unemployed but recently did some work for which I received a check for $25. If I cash the check how will this affect my IRA?

Q: In January my husband and I each deposited $1,125 in our separate spousal IRA accounts for 1983. I am not employed and anticipated having no earned income this year. Now I have the opportunity to earn a very small salary doing part-time work which I would really enjoy. But I probably would not earn $1,125 this year--possibly not even $250. As far as IRS is concerned, would we be permitted to transfer funds from my account to my husband's at the end of the year? Would IRS assess a penalty for doing so? What about my income that has accrued in my account? Would I be permitted to leave $250 in my account even if I didn't earn that much?

Answer: If you have any earned income during the year, regardless of amount, you are not permitted to have a spousal IRA (based on your spouse's earnings) for that year.

With regard to the first questioner, cashing the check makes no difference--merely accepting it in the first place made it compensation and disqualified the spousal IRA.

If the work was performed in the marketplace, you have no choice but to withdraw the funds already deposited and report any earnings as income this year. Then you may open your own (rather than a spousal) IRA to the tune of the $25 plus any other earnings during the year, up to the annual $2,000 ceiling.

However, if the $25 was given to you by a friend or neighbor in return for some casual work or helping hand, and that's going to be all you earn this year, I think you could reasonably consider the money a gift with no effect at all on your IRA.

The same general rule applies to the second writer: you can transfer funds (including income earned by those funds) from your spousal IRA to your husband's IRA without any IRA penalty, as long as deposits to his account do not exceed $2,000 for the year.

But you could not leave $250 in your account unless your earned income for the year was equal to at least that amount. If your earnings exceed $250, then of course you are eligible for a greater amount in your IRA, up to the lesser of total earnings or $2,000.

Q: I am not too happy with my present financial/tax adviser. I would appreciate your sending me a list of reputable family financial counselors located in the Northern Virginia area.

A: I don't have such a list, and in fact know of no financial planner in this area whom I would recommend to you. This does not mean that there are no good people around; there are--I just don't want to name anyone.

Best bet is to get suggestions from friends and neighbors--advisers with whom they have dealt satisfactorily. You may also want to contact the local chapter of the International Association of Financial Planners (IAFP).

This is a trade association of financial counselors. The local group publishes a referral list consisting of those members who request inclusion, without implying any endorsement or qualifications.

They are working on what they refer to as a "registry" that will require meeting certain standards of education and experience for listing. But it will be at least six months before the registry is available.

If you are interested in getting a copy of the referral list now, call (202) 628-9487 or write to the D.C. Metro Chapter, IAFP, 8315 Lee Highway, 4th Floor, Fairfax, Va. 22031.

Regardless of how you acquire names, before committing yourself you should ask questions about the adviser's qualifications, fees and general approach to investments. If you're conservative by nature you're not going to be very happy with a counselor who likes high-risk ventures.

Perhaps most important is compatibility--it's very important that you feel comfortable with the adviser (and vice versa). Unless you have faith in his or her integrity, and trust in his or her judgment, the best advice in the world will be wasted because you won't use it.