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On finance and practice

Do you want Mom's china or her bank account?

Want a really wild trip?

A popular index fund: same wrapper, different costs

Every index mutual fund that tracks the S&P 500 charges the same expenses, right? Wrong. Expense ratios in 2004 ranged from 0.03 to 1.8 percent, with an average of 0.67 percent, says a study by the Investment Company Institute, an investment-firm trade organization. Among the factors that explain the wide range: financial advice offered to shareholders, the size of fund assets and average account balances, and fees charged for low balances and account maintenance. But most index fund shareholders appear to be savvy customers: More than 90 percent of total net assets are invested in funds with fees of 0.4 percent or less.

We'll block those calls-but pay us a dollar first

The Direct Marketing Association is opening a Deceased Do-Not-Contact List for consumers who want to have the names of deceased relatives removed from marketers' lists. To do so, you'll have to submit a credit card number and pay a buck; the fee goes to cover the costs of verifying the number. The new list will shield the name, address, phone numbers, and e-mail addresses of the deceased from all companies that belong to the association, plus it'll be made available to nonmember firms.

While you can add the names to the FTC's National Do Not Call Registry and the DMA's Mail Preference Service, you'd have to remember to reregister them after five years. The new list won't expire.

A one-stop resource for investors

The Alliance for Investor Education has put together a Web site to allow investors to quickly find the help they need. The information clearinghouse at http://www.helpforinvestors.org has 14 links showing investors where to check out brokers and other financial professionals, how to report investment fraud, how to deal with identity theft or 401(k) claims, and how to file for arbitration and mediation. The alliance is a coalition of government agencies, regulators, and trade groups.

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