eHealth, Online Banking, College, Stocks
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While patients increasingly are turning to the Internet for information on health care, much of what they find on Web sitesespecially about physiciansis unreliable, according to a new study underwritten by The Commonwealth Fund. A review of 40 physician directory Web sites found many had empty, inaccurate, or outdated data fields.
More than a third failed to list the doctors medical school, while just one in four listed the number of years in practice. Other characteristics that patients typically seek were also absent: Fewer than half the sites provided doctors gender and languages spoken, for instance, and none listed their race. Many failed to include information on the timeliness of the data, explain why a data field is empty, or alert users to the limitations of physician performance measures and the size of the database.
Researchers reviewed sites sponsored by hospitals, health plans, professional associations, and state licensing boards, as well as commercial sites.
Online banks can do a good job of protecting your money and paying your bills, but they can also drive you crazy with minor glitches, says Consumer Reports. Signing up for an account can take hours, and customers of banks that exist only online have to mail in their deposits and pay fees to use an ATM card.
Levels of service vary. All the banks surveyed say theyll replace money stolen online. All pay bills online, but only four do it without a fee. Most promise to process bills within three to five days, but some say it might take up to 10. Not all will cover penalties if they make a late payment.
If the bear market has turned your 529 college savings plan into rubble, a change in federal rules may help. The Internal Revenue Service now allows you to adjust the investment strategy for your 529 once a year and still qualify for federal tax protection. So if an investment option, such as loading up on technology funds, no longer makes financial sense, you can contact the program administrator of your state plan to request a change.
To track the performance of 529 plans, check investment results compiled by Savingforcollege.com (www.savingforcollege.com), which monitors the college savings plans. Under such plans, your money is exempt from federal income taxes as long as it remains in the fund; distributions used to pay the beneficiarys college costs are tax-free.
If you want a discount online broker to place a moderate trade for you, it will cost you an average of $40 more than if you placed the order yourself, according to an annual survey by the American Association of Individual Investors. Buying 500 shares of stock priced at $50 a share will cost an average of $60 for a broker-assisted online trade, compared with a $19 commission for an unassisted online trade.
But you can still get inexpensive broker-assisted trades. The lowest charge for an assisted trade is $9 at Perelman-Carley & Associates (www.pcastocks.com). Eleven other online brokers charge under $19 for a broker-assisted trade: AB Whatley, $17.95 (www.abwatley.com ); American Securities Group, $16.99 (www.invest.com); ameritrade, $18 (www.ameritrade.com); Brown & Co. Securities, $17 (www.brownco.com ); CyberTrader, 414.95 (www.cybertrader.com ); MB Trading, $11.50 (www.mbtrading.com); One Financial Network, $16.74 (www.thefinancialcafe.com); PreferredTrade, $15 (www.preferredtrade.com); RJ Thompson Securities, $15 (www.rjt.com ); Scottrade, $17 (www.scottrade.com ) and Wall Street Equities, $15 (www.wsei.com). If you really want a cheap commission, make the trade without a broker for $2.99 at One Financial Network. Max Ule (www.maxule.com ) has the highest charge at $195.
Yvonne Wollenberg. ONLINE News Briefs.