PORTFOLIO. Tips and trends that affect your money

Trying to find a nursing home? People suddenly confronted with the need to find a nursing home for a relative or friend need information in a hurry, and often aren't sure where to turn.

Here's a book that can help. In easy, capsule form, ``How to Evaluate and Select a Nursing Home'' (Addison-Wesley, Reading, Mass., $7.95) tells readers what alternatives exist to nursing institutions, such as care at home, meals on wheels, and respite care for families. A checklist helps readers determine how much assistance patients require. And it offers, very briefly, information about toting up personal assets and about programs that might help pay the costs.

Most of the space is properly devoted to helping readers with no expert knowledge to select a good nursing home. Much of the information is common sense, but the lengthy checklists help to quantify that.

Readers should keep two additional points in thought. For one, they would do well to tap their friends and medical or social-service contacts for knowledge about specific nursing homes. Granting that individual requirements differ, personal experience nonetheless can provide valuable information beyond checklists.

Finally, developments are moving so swiftly in this field that some bits of information in any book could soon be outdated. Improved insurance policies that will finance long-term care in nursing homes are beginning to come into the field. And as early as next year the federal government could enact programs that would provide substantial financial aid to people in nursing homes, or being aided in their own abodes.

Can you gift-wrap third-world debt?

Looking for an investment for someone who'd like to feel like Citicorp or Bank of America? Why not give the gift of third-world debt?

Friedberg Mercantile Group of Toronto, which describes itself as ``boldly journeying where no financial services institution has gone before,'' says it has an ``inventory of select LDC debt instruments.'' These are loans of less developed countries (LDCs) that have been sold on the secondary market.

Friedberg clients can participate in this ``exciting market'' with investments of as little as $5,000.

The cautionary word is writ large, however. Getting your money out could be difficult, since the market is not very liquid. Some of the issuers have defaulted. And prices have moved steadily downward.

To be successful, Friedberg says, ``you will require brains, patience, fortitude, and luck.''

Clear those checks!

People who are tired of waiting for their checks to clear will get some relief soon. New rules from the Federal Reserve Board that go into effect on Sept. 1 tell banks, thrifts, and credit unions how long they can hold checks. The maximums for check holds will be:

One business day for US government, state and local government checks, and cashier checks.

Three business days on checks written on banks in the same metropolitan area as the institution where the checks are being deposited.

Seven days on a check from an out-of-town bank.

If banks need to put longer holds on checks, they have to give the customer the reason when the check is deposited. Also, checks for more than $5,000 can be held an extra four days, and they can be held longer in the first month after a new account is opened.

How to understand your stockbroker

``In one respect, stockbrokers play the same role as car dealers, vacuum cleaner salespeople, and aluminum siding vendors. They earn their living by inducing you to buy (or sell) something.'' That sentence tells you a lot of what you need to know about stockbrokers. It's contained in ``Winning With Your Stockbroker In Good Times and Bad,'' by David Koehler and Gene Waldon (Longman Financial Services Publishing, Chicago, $19.95)

(Yes, we do seem to be reviewing more than the usual number of books here, but several useful ones have been published lately.)

People who still want to ``play the market'' by buying and selling their own stocks will find this a useful guide to understanding how these professionals work, what qualifications they need, and how to spot unscrupulous brokers.

You'll also learn what to expect from discount brokers, and - if you're too nervous about buying stocks yourself - how mutual funds work. Because this is a book about brokers, however, it tends to favor the ``load'' funds sold by these people, over the ``no load'' fund, on which you do the research and pick the fund yourself.

Finally, if your broker recommends a particular stock because ``the way we've got it charted, it's trading right at support .... I say we go long a thousand shares and put in a stop-loss at 18,'' the chapter on ``investmentspeak'' will translate it for you.

A longer reach to make ends meet

Inflation may look as if it's under control, but it would be hard to convince many American families of that. According to a recent survey by the International Association for Financial Planning, a fairly successful family with one child and $75,000 income pays 9 percent more to meet its financial objectives than it did in 1987.

Those objectives - retirement, the child's education, life insurance, a home, cars, and vacation - now require 58.6 percent of household income, compared with 53.9 percent last year. When state and federal tax obligations were included, the family only had 25 percent of its income left for food, monthly bills, medical expenses, and clothing.

The association emphasizes, however, that these figures represent an example, not what people should be spending. In fact, this family is probably spending too much, but the survey does indicate how some costs, like college expenses and cars, have increased. IRS paints a tax break for artists and writers

The Internal Revenue Service has given writers, painters, and other artists a partial exemption from a provision in the 1986 tax law that had severely restricted the deduction of expenses of creating their works.

Artists will now be allowed to write off operating expenses over three years, with a 50 percent deduction permitted in the first year and 25 percent in each of the next two. The rule will apply, the IRS said, only ``where the personal efforts of the individual are mainly responsible for the creation of a work of art.''

The change will allow artists to deduct expenses even before a book or other artwork begins producing income. It will also free artists from a significant amount of recordkeeping.

The 1986 law allowed artists to deduct creative expenses only after the work produces income. That, in turn, required an artist to forecast how much income a work of art would produce in the future. In cases when an artist was working on two or more projects simultaneously, it required that expenses be split among them.

There are bills pending in Congress, meanwhile, that would allow artists to deduct all creative expenses in the year incurred.

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