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Borrowing without getting burned

Where to Get Money for Everything: A Strategic Guide to Today's Money Sources , by Paula Nelson. New York: William Morrow & Co. 298 pp. $12.50.

''Let us all be happy and live within our means, even if we have to borrow the money to do it with.''

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That quip from Artemus Ward, the 19th-century American humorist, becomes the theme of Paula Nelson's book, which is all about what to do and where to go to borrow money for a home or a car, to renovate the kitchen, pay for a college education, or launch a small business.

''Borrowing can help you get your piece of the pie, your share of the American dream,'' writes this former financial commentator for the ''Today'' show. ''It's clearly no time to be a borrowing novice, but don't let that hold you back.'' Of course, the mere fact that an individual can borrow money is no automatic reason to do so. He or she should have a real purpose and a good prospect of repaying the loan on time. Those who do could save at least the price of this book by using the information it contains.

Paula Nelson reviews in clear English a range of common concerns: how to establish a credit rating; how to borrow against assets; how to consolidate debts; the most advantageous way to finance a car; creative home financing; education loans; obtaining grants; getting money to start a business; and the techniques of successful negotiating.

One fascinating table offers estimates of the cost of various home improvements and the corresponding increase in the value of the home. It indicates that, if you decide to spend $6,000-$16,000 on remodeling a kitchen, you might recover 75 to 80 percent of that amount through sale of the house soon afterward. (The renovation is regarded as a ''good investment'' even if you plan on staying.) Energy savings from more efficient new appliances may also offset some of the cost over time. Remodeling a bathroom (cost $2,700- $7,000) is also described as a good investment if you plan on staying, but you might recover only 30 percent of the cost if the house sells shortly after the project is finished. Similar calculations are made for new windows and doors, siding, or a new patio or deck.

Some other books deal more thoroughly with financing an education. And this isn't the best book on financing small business. Many readers will probably find that the most useful chapters are those dealing with getting bank loans on your signature alone and the ins and outs of bank credit cards. The author discusses credit agencies and ratings. She runs through the various ways of calculating interest rates. She notes how you can avoid interest charges on credit-card accounts.

The chapter on negotiating is full of interesting anecdotes, some of which are helpful. And an appendix deals with the rights of a borrower under the Truth in Lending Act, the Fair Credit Reporting Act, and the Equal Credit Opportunity Act. That appendix also lists several sources of student loans and grants and of venture capital.

In all, a solid, readable book.

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