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MANY PARENTS of modest means tell their gifted students not to consider pricey private colleges. Ironically, those schools may be the more affordable option, SmartMoney.com says. "The more expensive and prestigious the school," Bedford, Mass., financial planner Tom Brooks says, "the more likely it is well endowed and can meet 100 percent of need." Two statistics from a school are telling: the percentage of undergraduates receiving grants that meet financial need, and the average discount, which is the percentage of a student's total costs covered by grants. If both are 50 percent or better, aid is likely to be substantial.

SIZE COUNTS when you choose a place to do your checking, ConsumerReports.org says. More large institutions offer free checking than do medium-size or small ones. But the big banks charge higher fees on other transactions. So unless you need an institution with lots of branches, ConsumerReports suggests shopping for a small establishment that offers free checking.

NEARLY 40 PERCENT of the nation's teen and adult population suffers from insomnia, meaning they routinely have trouble falling asleep and staying asleep. Along with the myriad of physical problems sleeplessness can cause, BusinessWeek says it's affecting the economy. Sleep deprivation costs $45-billion a year in lost productivity, health care bills and expenses related to traffic accidents. BusinessWeek says pharmaceutical companies are coming out with novel sleep aids this year.

CAR INSURANCE costs continue to climb. Blame rising claims and more costly post-collision repairs, which has been aggravated by sport utility vehicles, said the Insurance Information Institute of New York. To help lower your premium, the institute suggests raising your deductible, which could reduce your bill by as much as 30 percent. And some insurers offer discounts if you buy another product from them, such as home insurance.

THE MORE MONEY employees earn, the more likely they are to believe their company tells the truth in its communications with workers. Consulting firm Towers Perrin says its survey of more than 1,000 workers found that 57 percent of those earning more than $100,000 annually believed company communications, while only 44 percent of those making less than $50,000 shared that view.

_ Compiled from Times wires and Web sites

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