Dear Uncle Harold:

You really know how to strum my guiltstrings, don't you, Unc? I mean, you were positively merciless when I declined to date your golfing buddy's daughter back in high school. You were totally unforgiving when I forgot to send a birthday card to Cousin George's third wife. And now I trundle home from a long hard day to find a letter from my dearest uncle, sweetly inquiring whether I've refinanced the house yet.

No, I haven't, Harold, and no, I don't think I want to. The reason isn't just money, either.

It's mental health.

Mine.

I know you still think of Washington as a few federal buildings surrounded by a few farms, Harold. But the truth is that it's a lot of federal buildings surrounded by about a million and a half savings and loans.

Some of the S&Ls in Maryland thought they were having a tough time late last year. I mean, hey, when you're dying all over the front page of the paper, and the governor looks as if he's helping to dig the grave, it doesn't get any tougher than that, does it?

With refinancing, Harold, it got tougher.

We're talking about dozens of people waiting outside these S&Ls at 9 a.m. every day to file refinancing applications. We're talking about receptionists who are ready to strangle the next customer who asks why it'll take five weeks even to lay eyes on a loan officer. We're talking about switchboard operators who pick up the phone and then bang it right down again, just so they'll have two seconds without all that ring-ring-ringing.

A guy called me last week, Harold. "I'm an officer at a savings and loan in Rockville," he tells me. "Can you please give me the number of a good stress management clinic?"

There have been fads in this city before. The opera isn't over till the fat lady sings. Bourbon with the backroom boys on Friday afternoons. Mondale/Ferraro bumper stickers. But I have never seen anything like this madness they call refinancing.

Even the cocktail circuit is clogged with it. In the old days, your average shloonk would walk up and tell you how much his house had grown in value. He'd tell you that even before he asked you the inevitable what-do-you-do. That was bad enough. But now a guy will stick out his hand and say, "Hi, there, I'm George Greedy, and I know where you can get 9.5 percent over 30 years for just two points!" Harold, this refinancing spree has given boredom new meaning.

Besides, what does refinancing really get you? I think it gets you what the old song used to say: Another day older and deeper in debt.

The way I figure it, Harold, I've already had a mortgage for six years. If I refinance this summer, I'll be hung with a big fat millstone of a monthly payment until 2016. If I stay with what I've got, at least I'm free of misery in 2010.

What it comes down to, Unc, is a choice among poisons. Do you die by paying relatively less for three decades, or relatively more for 2.4 decades? You're dead either way.

Besides, let's take a good, hard look at the alleged savings.

They tell me I can knock about $175 off my monthly payment if I stand in line with all those other gold-rushers. But the points, Harold!

With the $3,000 in "loan origination fees" you want me to hand over, we could buy new furniture. We could buy a stereo system that pipes hot-and-cold running Mozart into the shower. We could even afford a weekend in New York -- as long as we stay in Queens. But no, my uncle the genius says we should lay out $3,000 just so we'll feel a little less poor two decades from now. I'd rather feel a little more rich two minutes from now.

Not only that, Harold, but I'll have to go through all the paperwork again.

Do you realize they'd require us to get a new survey of the property, even though it hasn't changed one whit since we bought it? Do you realize they'd require us to get title insurance again, even though we already did that when we bought the place, and there couldn't have been any new owners who need to be insured against? What it is, my dear sir, is a gigantic ripoff. I'm not partial to gigantic ripoffs.

I haven't even mentioned the hidden goodies, Harold. Like maybe having to escrow a year's taxes all over again. Like having to open a savings account with a minimum balance of $1,000 at some yo-yo S&L just so I can qualify for a loan from them. Like having to pay attorney's fees all over again, or having to let some appraiser track mud through the house again.

What it comes down to, Unc, is that I'm just unfashionably, stubbornly, hopelessly stuck on my 11.75 percent loan. Call me sentimental if you must. I just can't forget when 11 3/4 was a big bargain. It's still enough of a bargain for me.

Your Loving Nephew, Bob