Did you know that in many areas it's a lot cheaper to rent a car than it is to own one?

"No question about it," says Morris Belzberg, president of Budget Rent-A-Car Corp., explaining that "owning a car these days can cost several thousand dollars a year."

Indeed, owning a sub-compact, says Belzberg, costs around $2,300 a year (not including the gasoline). You can rent the same car every other weekend (three days) for around $1,200 a year -- a little more than half of what it costs to be an owner. And, you get a new, clean car all the time. No fuss with maintenance and repairs.

The car rental business is moving out from its traditional stand at the airport into downtown and suburban locations. This, says Belzberg, is because of the "rise in the local weekend rental trade." More and more people are catching on to the fact that you can rent a car -- when you need it -- for a lot less than it costs to own one. Working couples are finding ways to commute without the need of a car. They rent what they need on the weekend or even during the week, relying on carpools, buses and an occasional taxi (when available).

Because Belzberg is the president of a car rental company, I thought he might be too biased toward renting instead of owning. So, I checked rental agencies in my area to see if the strategy might pay off.

Some companies have "neighborhood service." They'll come pick you up at your home or office, and they'll drop you off at the end of the weekend.

Others have various "commuter specials." You pick up your car near your place of work after 5 p.m. Friday and bring it back by 9 a.m. Monday (gives you a free commute both ways). This qualifies for a low weekend rate of $40 to $50. Several companies offered an "overnight special" where you pick up the car after 5 or 6 p.m. and bring it back by 8 or 9 a.m. the next day. It costs $8 plus gas (one or two dollars to top off the tank).

Here are some sample weekend prices:

Ford dealer. You get a Mustang for $15 a day with no mileage charge. Regular customers get this low price when they need an extra car.

Some families, the dealer says, rent a car on weekends so they can loan their own car to a son or daughter. It beats buying an extra car.

National Car Rental gives you an Opel for $15 a day plus 300 free miles on the weekend. Bigger cars cost $20 a day.

Thrifty offers a two-door Chevette with no air-conditioning for $13.95 a day with 150 free miles (400 for a weekend).

The company will pick you up near your, home or bus stop if it's in the sales area. You also get a free drop-off.

You can use your Sears charge card at Budget. You get a small car for $15 a day Friday through Monday and 500 free miles.

If you have weekend vacation plans that involve a bunch of people, you can rent a large Ford station wagon for $31 day. If each passenger chips in $6 to $8 a day, it covers the rental costs and gasoline.

Figure your own car costs (depreciation, financing, insurance, repairs, maintenance) and see if it might not be less expensive to rent. You might be surprised.

Pretend that you have a small transportation company and let other people worry about all those ownership and operating costs. When you select a car rental agency (from the yellow pages), be sure you're going to be covered with adequate insurance and emergency repair services.

Q. We had to cancel a vacation trip because of a family problem. It took several weeks before we could get our money back from the airline. Shouldn't they refund the money immediately?

A. When you pay by check, the airline had to "process" the refund. When you pay by credit card the "process" takes even longer. If you use a travel agent regularly, you should get your money back right away when a check is involved.

Q. You wrote about the rights of divorced women to receive part of their husbands' Social Security retirement benefits. My Social Security office told me that I can't get the benefits until my former husband actually retires. Is this true?

A. Yes, Social Security funds are retirement benefits, only available when the main beneficiary (your former husband) retires. If he retires at 62, you can start to get your benefits. If he waits until he's 70, you're out of luck. If he dies before he retires, you can start collecting when you are 60. l