For everything from investment news to mortgage rates and insurance info,we pick the best online financial sites
By: Linda Stern
With the abundance of detailed financial information available on the Web, there's not a money-related question you can't answer, given a modem and a little time. With these resources which are either free or inexpensive you can go mortgage shopping, buy life insurance, get up-to-date tax information, switch credit cards, and invest, invest, invest. All you have to do is know where to click. Here's the inside skinny on the best financial sites.
Starting Gates If you want to attain fiscal fitness in a hurry) choose one of these gateway pages as a starting point.Each offers dozens of links to financial news, information, education, and other resources.
quote.yahoo.com is a great launching pad for investors a gateway to fast charts and quotes, current news articles, and the major investment sites on the Web.
www.investorama.com is the most complete directory of investment sites online, with more than 8,136 links in 89 categories, description.
www.investorguide.com offers lots of links, including a respectable section for surfers interested in personal finance as wellas investing.
www.quicken.com is the kind of resource you'd expect fromthe leading manufacturer of personal finance and small-office accountingsoftware. Intuit's site contains plenty of extremely useful data on investing, saving, borrowing, and spending. The site is simple to navigate, and theinformation especially easy to integrate if you're using Quicken to manage your finances.
Calculator Heaven You'll find more than 100 financial calculators at www.financenter.com, covering topics such as cars, homes,savings, insurance, investing, budgeting, retirement, credit lines, andcredit cards.
It's the one spot on the Web where you can quickly figureout how much that mortgage is going to cost you, whether to lease or buy that minivan, whether to roll your IRA into a new Roth IRA, how much you'llhave for retirement, when you can give up your life insurance policy, whichcredit card is best, and more.
The calculators are complex enough to be accurate and simple enough to give you answers in just a few minutes. The site holds useful glossaries and charts explaining the finer points of finance, but it's not all educational and impartial: Click "What are the advantages of a platinum card?" and you're put through directly to First USA's application.
If you like your calculators neat and free of commercial backing, each with a brief try www.beonthenet.com/calculate.html. Thissite hosts its own slew of financial calculators, provided by BeOnTheNetInc., an Internet consulting firm that doesn't have a financial ax to grind.
With over 8,000 links, INVEST-O-RAMA is the most complete directory of investment sites on the Web.
Mutual Fund Mania Naturally, every fund companyhas its own Web site. At a minimum, you should expect fund manager profiles,educational material, and (soon, if not already) online account access. One that stands out on the Web, Just as it does in real life, is Vanguard(www.vanguard.com), with scores of documents about the company's methodsof low-cost index investing.
For generic but informative fund information, visit theMutual Fund Education Alliance at www.mlea.com. There, you'll learn aboutno-load investing, and be able to click through to many of the dozens of fund companies that sponsor the site,
When you're ready to select your funds, go to www.morningstar.com. Morningstar is the Chicago research firm that knows and reports everything aboutthe funds. At its site, you can download individual fund reports or searchfor funds that fit your criteria. If you want to follow the fund industrylike an insider, spend some time at www.mfcafe.com, where industry newsstays a step ahead of the investment world.
HOME OFFICE COMPUTING- WWW.SMALLOFFICE.COM
Want to know what analysts think of a particular stock? Invest in a year's subscription to ZACKS,
Stock Pickers' Picks If you're hell-bent on selecting your own stocks, there are a few worthy sites tos ee. Serious stock pickers will find it worth paying $150 a year for www.zacks.comor $9.95 a month for Standard & Poor's (www.personalwealth.com). AtZacks, you get earnings surprises, full reports of analysts' estimates, brokerage research, company screening, and daily e-mail alerts when analysts change their buy and sell ratings.
The S&P site gives you the keys to the company library,the opportunity to select and follow your own portfolio, and specific buy and sell recommendations for your own goals.
When you're ready for that picture that's worth a thousand words, go to www.bigcharts.com. This addictive site offers free and fast charting of 50,000 stocks, funds, and indexes. You can get instant chartsset up the way you want them, compare any stock or fund to any index orsector over any time period, and chart it any way you'd like to see it.
Want to watch the market without constantly surfing the Net? Go to www.infobeat.com/cb/cgi/cb_merc.cgi and submit your e-mail address with a list of your favorite stocks and funds. This advertising-sponsored service will send you news and market updates free of charge.
Finally, don't forget to check the horse's mouth Edgar(www.sec.gov/edgarhp.htm), where you get full-text downloads of all of the filings a company must do with the Securities & Exchange Commission.
Insider Insurance Info We all need to learn about life, health, disability and auto insurance, and there's no better place to get educated than www.insure. com. This site boasts educational articles about current trends in insurance and links to insurance calculators, companies, and search firms. If you're on the hunt for term life coverage, try www. quickguote.com, www.quote-smith.com, and www.insweb.com. All allow you to comb through policies to find thebest one at the right price. Check all three sites before you buy.
Mortgage Minutiae HSH Associates,in Butler, N.J., has more mortgage data than anyone else, and the firm is pretty liberal about sharing it at its Web site (www.hsh.com). You cansearch for the best rates in your region, or perform similar searches at www.interest.com and www.mortgage-net.com. All three of these sites provide handy mortgage calculators.
Plastic Watch Ram Researchof Gettysburg, Penn., runs www.cardtrak.com a site where you can readthe latest industry news, shop for the cheapest card, the best rebatecard, or the one with the most interesting marketing tie-in. Click through to apply online for many cards.
Taxing Sites Start at www.taxsites.com for a broad directory of everything you'd ever want to know about taxes. For quick updates, check out the pages hosted by the accounting firm Deloitte& Touche (www.dton-line.com) and the reporting firm Tax Analysts (www.tax.org).
The IRS appears far more personable online at www.irs.ustreas.gov,where it offers in-depth information, forms, and instructions. Finally,the U.S. Senate Finance Committee's site at www.Senate.gov/~finance posts full text versions of new tax laws online before the President signs them.
The Bank Biz So where's the best place to put all the money you'll net as a result of these Web resources? Bank Rate Monitor is a Florida reporting service that knows every ratethat every U.S. bank currently pays for certificates of deposit, savings, and money market accounts, as well as what the same banks arc getting forcredit cards and auto and home equity loans. This is a great site for reliable, up-to-date information, if not for flawless HTML code (a few links weren't functioning properly when we visited).
Contributing editor Linda Stern is author of Money-Smart Secrets of the Self-Employed (Random House).