Put the web to work for you

Created date

August 25th, 2009
Maybe you ve mastered e-mail and use the Internet to do some research and shopping. But did you know that you can put the Web to work for you by using it to manage your finances? Budgeting and money management Most major banks offer free online bill payment. Visit your bank s website to get started, and while you re there check out any other resources the site may offer, such as e-mail alerts about your account, budgeting services, and investment accounts. There are many Web-based programs you can use to create a budget and manage your money. University of Wisconsin-Madison business school Professor Chuck Krueger recommends Quicken, an easy-to-used money management system, which you can find atwww.quicken.intuit.com. Investing Maryland-based certified financial planner Scot Stark recommends Morningstar (www.morningstar.com) for investors who want to do their homework. Getting information from this household name used to involve pricey subscriptions and cumbersome binders of information. Now, Stark says, the same data is easily accessible on the Web, and much of it is free. Kathleen Sindell, a veteran financial adviser and author of Investing Online for Dummies and other books, says the Internet is a great tool for researching and managing investments. Her top picks includewww.investorguide.com, a comprehensive online warehouse of investing information, and E-Trade, a well-known and trusted online brokerage service (https://us.etrade.com/e/t/home). Sindell also likes The Motley Fool (www.fool.com), where you can find hundreds of smart and witty articles on investing as well as personal finance and retirement. If you want to experiment with new investing strategies or test out a stock before you buy it, Sindell says you can create fantasy portfolios using sites likewww.fantasystockmarket.com,www.marketocracy.com, andwww.virtualstockexchange.com. Other resources Krueger points older adults to AARP, one of the most trusted names in retirement. The money section of AARP s website (www.aarp.org/money) has an abundance of financial news targeted to retirees and dozens of handy tools like a retirement and investment return calculator and a benefits locator. It s always a good idea to monitor your credit report, and there are several online services that make it convenient. Sindell recommends www.IdentityGuard.com, an affordable service that alerts you to any changes in your FICO score. Even if you use the Internet for money management and investing, it s still a good idea to consult an offline financial advisor. The Financial Planning Association (www.fpaforfinancialplanning.org) and the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors (www.napfa.org) both have Web-based tools to help you find an expert in your area. Play it safe The Web can be a wonderful resource for financial management, but you have to be aware of scams. One of the most prevalent pitfalls is called phishing, a scam in which thieves send official-looking e-mails in an attempt to gather personal information like credit card and social security numbers. Be wary of any e-mail that asks you for personal information, and check with your financial institution about its e-mail communication policies. If you re just getting started on the Web, stick with sites affiliated with companies and organizations you already know and trust, and ask tech-savvy friends to recommend useful websites and Internet tools. meghan.streit@erickson.com