Question: I'm in my mid-40s, with about 20 years left before reaching the magic retirement age of 65. All the talk about problems with the Social Security system has me worried. Can I really depend on getting my retirement pay when the time comes?

Answer: Considering the buffeting our economy has suffered in recent years, it is obviously difficult to read what's in store for us by the year 2000.

My guess, however, is that you will get your social security payments when you reach retirement age. It is unthinkable to me that the social security system would be permitted to go into default, short of a major national catastrophe.

But it is likely that there will be some changes in the rules. Two of the likely candidates for change: The age for full retirement benefits (up) and the age for termination of benefits for a deceased or disabled worker's children (down).

However, changes will almost certainly be phased in gradually, and older workers will be protected from any significant reduction in benefits they had been counting on.

Keep in mind that the social security system is a lot more than just a retirement program for 65-year-olds. Payments are made to disabled workers and their dependents; to wives and husbands of retired workers; and to surviving dependents of workers who have died.

And then there is medical coverage for those 65 and older, and for workers who have been totally disabled for two years or more.

The thing that many people forget is that social security was never intended to be a complete retirement program. It is meant to serve as a base only - just barely enough to keep people out of the poverty class and off the welfare rolls.

Anyone who exects or hopes to be living at something better than a bare subsistance level must plan ahead for other income after retirement. Such things as a company pension plan, savings, an IRA or Keogh program are essential to supplement Social Security payments after retirement.

Q: I understand that real estate bought for investment can be abandoned and a deduction taken on federal income tax.How does one legally abandon real estate? (My land is in Arizona.) How is it reported on the tax return? Do I use only the original cost as a basis or can I include property taxes paid?

A: I can't provide definitive legal advice; and in any case the precise rules may vary somewhat from state to state. I suggest you write to the Arizona Secretary of state in Phoenix for guidance; you may also want to consult a local attorney.

But I can answer the tax questions. The loss is reported on Schedule D of your tax return for the year in which the abandonment takes place. (The loss will be long-term, assuming you have owned the property for more than 12 months.)

Your cost basis may include the original cost plus all capitalized expenses associated with your ownership of the property (not previously deducted as an investment expense).

In this group you may include such things as closing costs, annual property taxes, maintenance fees, phone calls associated with the purchase or with attempts to sell the property, etc.

Q: I have spent considerable time and money building storage shelves and cabinets for my church. Although this was not my motive, it would be helpful to recoup what I can through tax savings. How do I go about estimating the fair market value of the completed work in order to take a charitable deduction?

A: Don't bother. You may not deduct the value of your donated time or labour, even if you are a professional carpenter who would normally get paid for such work.

You can deduct the actual cost of all materials, plus transportation to and from the church (actual cost or - if you use your own car - seven cents a mile) and any incidental expenses such as lunches while working.

Aside from a deduction for these out-of-pocket expenses, however, you'll have to settle for the satisfaction of good work done for a worthy cause.