Here is the answer to a question that hasn't been asked - but should have been.

In recent weeks there have been several major residential fires in the metropolitan area. When asked by reporters about their losses, some of the burned-out victims said that they had no fire insurance because "they were renting."

An owner of rental property usually carries "landlord" insurance which protects him against loss by fire to the building and structural components (heating plant, plumbing system, etc.). But this policy normally does not cover the personal property of the tenant.

Renters should always carry "tenant" insurance covering the contents of the apartment or house - furniture, clothing, and other personal possessions. Tenant protection can often be bought to cover losses from theft, vandalism, and other catastrophic events as well as fire.

The cost is surprisingly low; with one carrier in Virginia, for example, as little as $45 a year will buy $6,000 coverage against fire and theft (with varying deductibles). Fire insurance is available from most casualty insurance companies and agents.

Question: For the last years we have been getting a $300-$400 tax refund every year, which we use for our summer vacation money. Friends tell us we're crazy - that we're missing out on a lost of interest. Are we really crazy?

ANSWER: Based on a $400 refund as opposed to coming out even on your return, the excess withholding - if it was regularly deposited in a five percent sayings account every payday - would bring you about $15 in interest income for the year (taxable, of course)

Are you crazy to pass up that $15? Well, it depends on your personal financial habits. If you're lisciplined and can put the extra money away without fail, then cut down on withholding (by filing a new Form W-4 with your employer) and earn the interest.

But if you're like most of us and spend whatever is available from payday to payday, the $15 in lost interest may be a small price to pay for having Uncle Sam accumulate your vacation money for you. It's like a painless (but nointerest) Christmas Club account.

Incidentally, in 1977 (up to June 30) the IRS paid out more than $28 billion in individual tax refunds, an average of $447 per return. That represents a substantial shor-term, interest-free loan to the government by the tax-payers.

But to the individual in most cases the lost interest was minimal; a lot of people use this method for year-to-year savings for a variety of purposes. If you're crazy, you have plenty of company.

Q: My personal files are overloaded; how long must I keep my income tax records?

A: You should keep the income (and gift) tax returns permanently. They make good reference material which may be useful later. For instance, if when you retire, your social security records don't seem right to you, the old tax returns (with W-25) may help straighten them out. And information on old returns may prove very helpful to the executor of your estate after your death.

But the tax returns themselves don't take up much room; I'm sure you're more concerned with all the supporting papers that go with them.

Unless there is fraud mvolved, the statute of limitations for an individual tax return is three years. So in most cases you can get rid of the bulk of background material - cancelled checks, receipts, interest and dividend statements, etc. - three years after the date of filing a return (or any later amendment). (As a safety factor, I keep four years' records in my own files).

But there is a major exception. You must keep some records - particullarly records pertaining to property - as long as they may be relevant in determining tax liability.

For example, if you buy securities, you should keep the purchase confirmation until three years after the tax year in which you sell (or otherwise dispose of) those securities.

And all records pertaining to purchase of your home and to related improvements and casualty losses should be kept until at least three years after you sell the place. If you defer the tax on any gain by buying a replacement residence, then you need to keep your records on the old residence with the papers on the new home.