UPDATE

January 6, 2006

On finance and practice

Commodity futures: Not that easy

Long bonds are back in the shopping cart

How to escape voicemail nightmares

Before you call your bank or credit card company, find out how to navigate through their phone prompts to find a human to talk to. The Find-A-Human database, at http://www.paulenglish.com/humans.html, lists the steps you can follow to circumvent phone systems for banks, retail businesses, and other financial companies.

No real guarantee with these annuities

Despite guaranteed minimum returns, you can lose money in an equity-indexed annuity, especially if you need to cash out early, warns the SEC. Equity-indexed annuities are pegged to a designated stock index and are designed to help you keep up with rising stock values-but only to a degree. The typical guaranteed minimum is 90 percent of the premium paid with a 3 percent annual interest rate, says the NASD in a recent investor alert at http://www.nasd.com. It could take several years before you'll break even. If you cancel the annuity too early you could also be hit with a significant surrender charge and a 10 percent tax penalty.

Annuities' complicated and confusing formulas and terms are deciphered in an SEC consumer brochure, which you can find at http://www.sec.gov/investor.shtml.