Q: Is there anything I can do about high settlement costs? I was almost floored by the charges when I settled on a house last month.

A: Yes. First, don't let the real estate broker or developer or seller decide who will handle settlement. State in the sales contract that you - the buyer - will choose your own title insurance company and settlement agency. Second, shop around, compare prices (get a "reissue rate" if you're entitled to one) and negotiate. Get the best price possible for the services you need. This is easier said than done - but it's worth it.

But even then, don't expect too much. A study several years ago showed that the most expensive settlement costs in the nation were in Prince George's County. Montgomery County came in second and Virginia and the District were not far behind. Another study, by the Montgomery County Board of Realtors, showed that more than 70 percent of settlement costs in Montgomery County were government taxes and services.

Q: What's the difference between simple interest and compound interest?

A: Simple interest is paid only on the original principal amount, not on interest accrued (which is interest earned on the original principal amount). Compound interest is interest paid on both the original principal amount and interest accrued.

Earl A. Snyder, a realtor, appraiser and attorney who specializes in investment real estate appraising and counseling, answers questions only in this column. His address: 14909 Kalmia Dr., Laurel, Md. 20810