Firms That Stand the Test of Time

IN an era when business startups and failures are a regular occurrence, many of today's most successful American companies have stood the test of time and survived 100 years or more.

While the average business survives only about 12 years, nearly 40 percent of today's largest firms have joined the centennial club - getting their start at least 100 years ago, according to a survey for Harris Corporation, an electronic-systems company in Melbourne, Fla.

The survey traces the histories of the 500 US companies with the highest sales in 1994. Among the findings:

* Of the 500 firms, 39 percent are at least 100 years old.

* The oldest company is Corestates Financial Corp., founded as the Bank of North America in 1781.

* Of the firms that are 100 years old or older, the biggest sectors consist of industrial firms (31 percent), banking (14 percent), insurance (11 percent), and utilities and foods (10 percent).

Avoid Christmas credit-card spree

DON'T let visions of computer software and electronic gadgets spur you into a holiday spending spree. Such binge buying could lead to financial disaster.

''A great number of people are still paying for last year's Christmas presents and finding themselves strapped this year,'' says Les Kirschbaum, president of Mid-Continent Agencies Inc., an accounts receivable management firm in Rolling Meadow, Ill.

The best approach to control holiday spending centers on budgeting. He advises:

Establish a budget; make a gift list and stick to it - this helps avoid impulse buying; buy gift certificates; develop a repayment plan; avoid using national credit cards and department store charge cards with high interest rates; and beware of deferred-payment plans.

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