Uncle Harold:

My gratitude to you knows no bounds, Unk. My thanks will flow like 1,000 Potomacs, forevermore. My reverence for your wisdom will never be stilled. You, Harold, are a saint on earth.

Such a saint that with saints like you, who needs sinners? I ask you a simple question like, "Where in the world should I put my IRA money this year?", and what do I get? I get a clipping of a story from The Wall Street Journal, lovingly mailed to me by my everloving uncle up in everloving Pittsfield, Mass.

It's bad enough that you've forgotten where I work, Harold. It's bad enough that you ask me to follow the advice of a rival fishwrapper. But I wanted your advice, Unk, uncle-to-nephew advice, advice that every attache case on the southern end of Manhattan Island doesn't already contain. And you send me a 14-inch story on the future of high-risk mutual funds!

There was one consolation, Harold. At least you didn't send me more than I could read in one subway ride between Union Station and Farragut North.

If I'd called somebody in Washington and asked him the same question, I would have gotten the entire legislative history of IRAs, the entire political history of tax reform and a cover letter warning me that God would strike me dead if I didn't subscribe to John Hardball's Inside Capitol Hill Newsletter that very second.

But being a loyal nephew, Harold, I blundered through the clipping you sent. And not for the first time, or the last, I'm confused.

How can there be such a thing as a high-risk mutual fund? I thought the whole idea behind mutual funds was to spread out the risk to the point where risk basically ceases to exist.

And how can there be a high risk of any kind when you're only talking about $2,000?

Let's say your sainted mutual fund has a real bum year. Let's say the wheels really come off the cart. Let's say the fund makes only 9 percent instead of 12.

The way I figure it, that means I'll make $180 in interest instead of $240. That's a difference of $60. Harold, I once spent $60 to buy floor mats for my car. I once spent $60 to have the cat's fur combed and trimmed. I mean, $60 isn't nothing. But it isn't the Riggs National Bank, either.

I know what you're going to say, Harold. I can hear it as if I were standing in your kitchen, right under the golf trophy that always needs polishing. You're going to say, "All right, Robert, my impatient nephew. Maybe high-risk mutual funds aren't for you. Maybe you should take a look at something else."

So I did, Harold. I thumbed through last Tuesday's edition of a certain financial newspaper that a certain uncle of mine likes to clip and cite to his nephew. And here's what I found:

An ad for "Treasury-backed Ginnie Maes." I read that ad four times, Harold. I still don't understand what a Ginnie Mae is. I still don't understand what it wants to do with my money. And I still don't understand why it needs my money if it has the backing of the U.S. Treasury.

Then, an ad for "Aggressive Tax-Free OTC Portfolio." Well, you'll pardon my ignorance, old bean, but if it's tax-free, why does it have to be aggressive? And why invest IRA money in tax-free stocks when none of the proceeds will be touched -- or taxable -- until the next century?

Finally, something called an "Adjustable-Rate Preferred Portfolio."

I took one look at the word "adjustable," Harold, and I started getting the shakes. I think that word loosely translates as, "We'll adjust the rate when we feel like it, irrespective of what you say, irrespective of what you want and irrespective of what the economy is or isn't doing."

In other words, Harold, the same thing's wrong with this that's wrong with adjustable-rate mortgages. You can't count on it. Your nest egg won't get bigger at a rock-solid, count-on-it rate. In fact, the egg may shrink. So I ask you: Is this something around which a middle-aged typist should build his retirement?

Don't bother to reach for the phone, Unk. I can see you now, scratching your head in vexation. I can see you now, chucking your chin, deep in thought. And I can hear you saying, "All right, Robert, my know-it-all nephew. Since the best efforts of the Wall Street Journal aren't good enough for you, just what in the blue blazes are you going to do with your $2,000 this year?"

No, I'm not going to tuck it under the mattress. Nor am I going to invest it in offshore oil, Arabian ponies or a chain of drive-in taco parlors.

I'm going to stick it in the bank, Harold.

That's right. A plain-vanilla certificate of deposit. For a fixed term. At a fixed rate.

Maybe a guy named Harold wouldn't understand. Maybe the Wall Street Journal wouldn't understand. But your keep-it-simple relative named Robert will. And to my mind, Unk, that's half the battle.

Your Loving Nephew,

Bob