DEAR BRUCE: I am a 60-year-old woman and the guardian of a child since her infancy. She is now of driving age and, like all 16-year-olds, wants to learn how to drive. I investigated this with my insurance company, added her to the policy and my insurance bill shot up like the space shuttle. I live from paycheck to paycheck. I don't want to deprive her, as she's a wonderful teenager. After complaining to my friends, I have found that they waited a couple of years so that their rates wouldn't be so high. Do you have any thoughts? Everyone thinks I worry too much. — Faithful Reader, via e-mail

DEAR BRUCE: I am a 60-year-old woman and the guardian of a child since her infancy. She is now of driving age and, like all 16-year-olds, wants to learn how to drive. I investigated this with my insurance company, added her to the policy and my insurance bill shot up like the space shuttle. I live from paycheck to paycheck. I don't want to deprive her, as she's a wonderful teenager. After complaining to my friends, I have found that they waited a couple of years so that their rates wouldn't be so high. Do you have any thoughts? Everyone thinks I worry too much. — Faithful Reader, via e-mail

DEAR FAITHFUL: I don't think you worry too much at all. I think you did what was appropriate. While I know this rate increase is hurting you, I see no alternative other than not to let this teen get her license — or she could pay the premium. Why would that be so difficult? A 16-year-old certainly can find a job — if nothing else, slinging burgers — where she could easily earn this kind of money. This should not put an additional burden on you. If she wants to drive, she ought to pay.

DEAR BRUCE: I am unemployed. I asked my lender whether I could defer my mortgage payments. The company's application form requests my investment portfolio. Is it necessary for me to divulge my investment portfolio? What does this have to do with deferring my payment? — M.P., via e-mail

DEAR M.P. When you request a change in your mortgage, the lender has every right to ask about your assets. With a lot of people unable to keep up with mortgage payments these days — not to mention the fact that you are the one asking for the lender's help — you should simply provide whatever financial information is requested. The lender can't force you to use your investments to pay, but it is not required to cut you any slack, either.

DEAR BRUCE: I have a friend with a lot of credit-card debt and other write-off debt. He wants to either settle these issues or file for bankruptcy. He doesn't understand the long-term effect of a settlement with these companies or filing for bankruptcy. He just wants to take the easy way out. He is 28 years old and makes about $30,000 a year — $10,000 of his debt is a student loan. — Reader, via e-mail

DEAR READER: The $10,000 student loan is not going to be discharged through bankruptcy. Even though the other debt has been charged off by the original debtor for bookkeeping purposes, that does not eliminate it. These debts can — and often are — sold on the secondary market, and someone will make an effort to collect them. I suspect that's already in progress, since people are calling and offering deals. They've purchased the obligation at a severe discount. Whether he chooses to pay it off or declare bankruptcy, it's entirely up to him. His credit has been destroyed for a significant period of time either way. He needs to determine whether he's going to do the honorable thing or take the easy way out.

Send your questions to: Smart Money, P.O. Box 2095, Elfers, FL 34680. E-mail to: bruce@brucewilliams.com. Questions of general interest will be answered in future columns. Owing to the volume of mail, personal replies cannot be provided.