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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: I am a mortgage broker, and it is my job to review people's credit history. I am disturbed by the number of people who are mired in credit card debt. I just talked to a couple with four children who had more than $100,000 in credit card debt with an annual salary of $75,000.

This is an extreme case. However, it is not uncommon for people to be caught up in the vicious cycle of paying for things on credit and being able to afford only the minimum monthly payments of these cards. I feel the credit card companies are to blame for all their gimmicks of "preapproved" junk mail, and the consumer is to blame for not being able to throw this mail away instead of signing up. Credit cards encourage people to live beyond their means, creating financial stress in families.

If people are in that situation, I encourage them to call the credit card company to close their account and cut up their cards, except one with a low interest rate or one that is due monthly. If there isn't enough cash to pay for it -- don't buy it!

Use the card for emergencies only. Even though they may have to do without the new outfit or the larger television set, consumers will be happier without the stress that credit card debt can cause. Are there support groups available for "credit junkies"? -- FREE AND CLEAR IN FLORIDA

DEAR FREE AND CLEAR: I don't know about support groups for credit junkies, but consumer credit counseling services are available in most major metropolitan areas. To locate one, look in the Yellow Pages.

According to the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, in 1996 a record 1.1 million individuals filed bankruptcy -- up 27 percent from the previous year.

Your "credit card cut-up" is a step in the right direction, but major creditors also want to toughen the nation's bankruptcy code to make it more difficult to simply erase debts without further payment.

DEAR ABBY: "Loving Daughter in Lakeland, Fla." wrote that her father had a college ring he never removed, but at his death she took the ring off to keep in his memory. She asked, "Did we do the right thing?" Your reply, "Yes, without a doubt."

You were wrong. My late wife never wanted her wedding ring removed. When she underwent serious surgery, she said, "Don't let them take the ring off." As death neared, she was concerned that the funeral directors might do so.

When the time came to close the coffin, I leaned down for one last kiss, placed my hand over her cold one, touched the ring and said, "You got your wish. That ring never left your finger since I put it on, years ago."

The body disintegrates after death, but gold is eternal. As long as our civilization survives, in that grave will be a circle of gold, memorializing a love that once existed.

"Loving Daughter's" father must have had a similar bond to his college. The ring should have remained with him throughout eternity. -- ALONE WITH MEMORIES

DEAR ALONE: Please accept my sympathy on the loss of your beloved wife. You were honoring your wife's wishes by seeing that she was buried with her ring. "Loving Daughter," however, had never heard her father express such a sentiment. For her to have buried the ring, rather than keeping it to cherish, would have benefited no one.

For everything you need to know about wedding planning, order "How to Have a Lovely Wedding." Send a business-sized, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $3.95 ($4.50 in Canada) to: Dear Abby, Wedding Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, Ill. 61054-0447. (Postage is included.)

4520 Main St., Kansas City, Mo. 64111; (816) 932-6600