I'm alarmed by the financial news coming out of Washington these days. Is my money safe, and what can I do to protect it?

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I'm alarmed by the financial news coming out of Washington these days. Is my money safe, and what can I do to protect it?

America sometimes appears to be on a financial roller coaster, as the stock market fluctuates wildly, as troubled financial institutions are swallowed up by stronger ones or "bailed out" by Congress, and as tight credit and a slowing economy result in job losses and fewer raises. Every Ohioan has a stake in where the roller coaster stops.

Despite the uncertainty, now is no time to panic. By following five rules, most Ohioans can weather the storm unscathed.

First, establish a rainy day fund that you can draw on in an emergency. Ideally, you should save enough to get you by for three months if you were to lose your job or incur unforeseen expenses.

Second, resist the temptation to tinker with your 401(k). Many people want to abandon a fund when it declines and replace it with one that has done better. Financial experts say this can hurt in the long run because you are "selling" low and "buying" high. Sticking with your plan allows you to buy at a lower price, which will benefit you when the fund recovers.

Third, borrow conservatively. Make sure that when you borrow, you are doing so with the future in mind and taking into consideration what would happen if you lost your job or experienced large, unforeseen expenses.

Fourth, avoid using the equity in your home as income. There is still a place for home equity loans, and their availability is still generally good. But use them only for purchases you really need and always make sure you can easily pay them back.

Finally, if you suddenly find yourself unable to meet your obligations, talk to your bank. Banks are prepared to help, but they can't if they don't know about your situation.

No matter what happens, remember that your bank deposits are safe. For years, accounts have been insured up to $100,000 by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, and a recent federal bill raised the cap to $250,000.

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Donna Carr is an Assistant Center Manager at Fifth Third Bank's Dublin/Avry banking center. She welcomes the opportunity to take your comments and questions. Please feel free to contact her at 614- 793-2820 or Donna.Carr@53.com .