The morning paper used to run a good, locally written personal-finance column, but later shifted its emphasis to small business (that is, potential advertisers; screw the readers). Even so, that column, like most in the mainstream press, assumed that you're in a position to lay a nice little nest egg if you just follow the right advice.

In reality, a great many people can barely keep a nest together, let alone incubate an egg in it. They live paycheck to paycheck, often coming up short well before payday.

If you're one of those people, maybe you're frustrated by the way conventional lenders treat you. Maybe you can't establish a good enough credit rating to get a decent car or apartment. Maybe you've thought about trading the title on your old heap for a short-term loan, or getting what looks like an advance on your paycheck from one of those payday loan stores that have opened their ledgers all over town. And if you can't afford to buy that couch for your living room outright, maybe you've gone browsing at one of those rent-to-own places.

And why not? These aren't seedy guys operating out of the backs of bars. They're established businesses. What could go wrong?

Plenty, especially if you don't have a good head for finance to begin with. Freelancer Richard Bruner, with an assist from Dave Devine, lays it all out in this week's Currents and Feature sections. Let the borrower beware.

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