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The Road to Riches

New SEC Site Helps Map Out a Financial Plan

 Bonnie  Biafore Bookmark and Share

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission offers a friendly, easy-to-digest website to help people in any stage of life learn to be smart investors. Whether you’re just getting started, saving for college tuition and retirement or basking in the glow of your golden years, Investor.gov has great information and tools. The design is refreshingly clean, and the site is clear and as easy as 1-2-3 to navigate.

If you’re a novice, whether in your career, saving or investing, the section called Getting Started? is a great place to begin. Click on the Facts About Saving and Investing link to figure out what your goals are, why you want to invest in the first place and what you have to do to reach your goals. The SEC’s road map guides you through the steps to get there. Although the Make a Financial Plan page doesn’t have a calculating function, you can print it to document your net worth, income and expenses.
Explanations are easygoing and easy to understand. Pretty impressive for a site developed by the U.S. government! If you realize you can’t save a dime, for example, here’s how Investor.gov eases you into making small changes to your spending: “If you buy a cup of coffee every day for $1 (an awfully good price for a decent cup of coffee, nowadays), that adds up to $365 a year. If you saved that $365 for just one year, and put it into a savings account or investment that earns 5 percent a year, it would grow to $465.84 by the end of five years, and by the end of 30 years, to $1,577.50.”

Three Investing Stages

For a full tour through the basics of saving and investing, click on Top Tips for Getting Started. Two dozen links school you in personal finance (see screen capture, this page), including an introduction to asset allocation and diversification, mutual fund terms, how to pick a financial professional, how to protect yourself online and where to learn more.
Investor.gov is relatively new, so don’t be surprised if you find a few glitches. When selecting the Investment Products: Your Choices link in the Facts About Saving and Investing section, for instance, you’re taken to SEC investor alerts, not a description of what you can invest in.
The site’s second step is Protect Your Money, perfect for folks who have outgrown only saving and want to get down to the brass tacks of investing for long-term goals. The questions that appear when you click on the Questions to Ask Before Investing link on the home page will help you pick a mutual fund or a financial adviser, see how your investments are doing or figure out what to do should problems arise.
If you’re a senior, select one of the links under For Seniors, which is step three. Because seniors are a popular target for fraud, the Investing Guide for Seniors link opens a document with advice for steering clear of miscreants trying to separate you from your money. The Investing for Seniors link offers handy information for avoiding financial abuse, such as a check list from AARP about what to listen for at free lunch seminars and a document from the American Bar Association about abuse of a durable power of attorney.
You can explore all the site’s tools by clicking on Tools in the horizontal navigation bar at the top of any page. They come in three categories: investor alerts, investor tools and calculators, and investor education resources.

Alerts and Tools

Investor alerts are courtesy of the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority. You can learn about phishing, green energy scams, fake checks and other cons. Not all alerts are about scams, though. You can also find out what to do if your brokerage goes out of business, why you shouldn’t use a 401(k) debit card and the ins and outs of reverse mortgages.
FINRA provides the tools and calculators for the site, too. With the Fund Analyzer, you can see the returns a fund provides over different periods plus the fees and charges you’d have paid during that time. Sadly, the retirement calculator is too simplistic to provide useful results; you can’t specify a different return before and during retirement, for example, to reflect more conservative investment strategies when you start spending your nest egg.
The site’s tools include a database of professional designations, from accredited asset management specialist to Certified Financial Planner to wealth management specialist. To help find the right person to meet your investment planning needs, choose a designation and find out what organization certifies it, the experience and education required and more.
You can also try your hand at Moneytopia, a game FINRA developed. It takes awhile to load and to work through, if you’ve enjoyed learning to fly with a flight simulator, you might play this game to find out how to make your finances soar without crashing.

Link of the Month

If you’re tired of trying to read articles online while ads cling to every margin, banners blink and images jiggle — infringing on your ability to focus — try Readability, a free tool you can drag onto your browser’s toolbar.
Making webpages readable couldn’t be simpler. Readability is designed to convert a webpage to a newspaper layout with medium-size text and wide margins, but you can change any of those settings. Once you’ve done that, drag the Readability button to your Web browser’s toolbar.

When a webpage’s electronic chaff drives you crazy, simply select Readability on your toolbar. The page becomes simplicity itself. Everything except text and photos disappears, and you’re left with an easy-to-read font on an off-white background (see screen capture, above). And if Readability can’t work its magic with a webpage, just refresh to see the original version again. Arc90, a technology-solutions company based in New York City, developed this great tool.

Websites of Interest

Bonnie Biafore is the author of 24 books about investing, personal finance, project management, software (such as QuickBooks and Project) and the recently published novel, Fresh Squeezed. Go to BonnieBiafore.com to learn more.

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