It's time once again for New Year's financial resolutions.

1994 provides a chance to put the many difficulties of 1993 behind us and do something positive about the future. Hope for the best. Be prepared for the worst.The glacially slow economic recovery, with an ongoing tally of lost jobs, should show improvement. At the same time, our freshman U.S. president presumably should gain more confidence his sophomore year and the investment world may be less wary of his actions.

The expected path of the stock market is a question of heated debate on Wall Street these days, but few pundits recommend that average investors swing for the fences. Caution is in order with a high-flying market, for a correction will occur - sooner or later.

Here are New Year's financial resolutions worthy of consideration by Americans who wish to avoid the money mistakes of the past:

- I will examine tax-exempt investments, especially if my individual tax bracket has been boosted with recent tax changes. Municipal bonds, municipal bond funds and tax-exempt money-market funds make sense as a way to blunt the effects of the tax man.

- I will consider international stock mutual funds to diversify my portfolio. Growth overseas will be considerably more impressive than that of the United States for the foreseeable future. However, realize that international funds vary considerably. They may emphasize large or small companies and select different regions or countries.

Carefully study the track record, manager profile and holdings of any international fund before investing.

- I will scrutinize my entire investment portfolio to see if the holdings are appropriate. Consider whether an investment has met the goals you initially set for it and decide whether it would be vulnerable in a possible market downturn. If it doesn't pass muster, sell it.

Keep history in mind and don't expect the amazing returns logged by most stock mutual funds the past several years to continue at the same dramatic pace in 1994.

- I will pay off my credit card debt. Many bank-card rates remain above 18 percent despite low returns on savings, with department store cards the worst offenders at gouging the borrower. You'll never make up the difference between credit and savings rates, so avoid having large amounts of debt revolving at high rates when January bills for holiday shopping come due.

- I will look for the best credit-card deals. For example, the best low-rate credit card nationwide is Wachovia Bank of Wilmington, Del., with a 6 percent variable rate, $18 annual fee and 25-day grace period for payment, according to RAM Research. That bank's toll-free number is 1-800-842-3262. Meanwhile, the best no-fee credit card for consumers paying off their balance each month is GE Rewards Bank, Stamford, Conn., with a variable rate of 14.9 percent and 25-day grace period. The toll-free number is 1-800-437-3927. Shop for the best deal for you.

- I will put money aside for a rainy day. Even economic improvement doesn't mean job cuts are behind us. Keep three to six months of salary aside in case of emergency.

A regular savings and investment program will be crucial as this country undergoes painful restructuring of its industries.

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- I will contribute to company 401 retirement plans, Keogh plans for the self-employed or individual retirement accounts, whichever apply. Retirement worries are enormous for Americans, and their fears, unfortunately, are warranted.

Variable annuities are another avenue of stashing away money for retirement after you've exhausted those other deferral choices first.- I will plan as soon as possible for the education of my children. The sooner you start stashing money aside for college educations, the less the strain will be once those youngsters actually approach college age. Build a diversified portfolio using regular monthly contributions.

- I will help my children understand money and saving. A small account into which kids can put allowance money is a good idea. Also explain the spending process as you go to the grocery store or buy other items.

- I will put my financial house in order by making a will and making sure family members are generally aware of family investments. You owe it to all of them, especially your spouse, in this new financial year.

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