The World Wide Web has thousands of resources to help you manage your money. We've discovered the best ones.
The Internet has plenty of resources to help you manageand invest your money. Here are a dozen you shouldn't miss.
Financial Web sites have been springing up like boomtowns in a gold rush,growing more sophisticated as competition has intensified. "In manyways, financial information on the Net now beats the hell out of what youcan get from any print publication or over the phone," says Bill Doyle,an analyst with Forrester Research, a Cambridge, MA, consulting firm thatmonitors Internet usage.
Our experience bears out his enthusiasm. Although print publicationsstill play a vital role, many financial Web sites offer capabilities thatprint magazines can't. They can let you track your portfolio, screen forstocks and mutual funds that meet your criteria, and follow major stockindexes throughout the day, for instance.
And Net sites can be pretty comprehensive. Some teach you how to do in-depthstock research. Others go beyond investing to cover all aspects of personalfinance-from shopping for loans and insurance to planning for college billsand retirement.
Here are the best sites we've found. All are rich in content and easyto navigate, and they allow you to search quickly for what you want. Exceptas noted, they're also free.
As the name suggests, the site's main mission is to monitor the market,which it does superbly. Its staff produces news and commentary throughoutthe day, and the site offers research tools galore. Type in a stock symbol,for example, and you can instantly retrieve just about anything a brokercould see: research papers, charts, annual reports, news items, SEC filings,and much more.
Although CBS MarketWatch isn't quite a one-stop financial center, itoffers a lot more than market data. You'll find a car loan calculator, atax guide, and insurance quotes, for instance. A "how to spend it"section even provides advice on everything from starting a wine collectionto buying oriental rugs.
This site, which boasts an impressive array of features, clearly benefitsfrom its affiliation with Cable News Network. CNNfn quickly posts any corporateor economic news that might affect investors, and its stock-index figuresseem to be updated every few minutes.
A personal finance section includes a portfolio manager, banking andmutual fund centers, tax advice, and a mortgage calculator. You can alsoget information on stock tracking, US and world markets, bonds and rates,and currencies.
Want a better idea of what your investments might be worth at retirement,plus advice on how to adjust them to reach specific goals? Then surf overto Financial Engines. Founded by Nobel Prize-winning economist William F.Sharpe, this site uses sophisticated computer models to project the performanceof your investments in 401(k), 403(b), IRA, or brokerage accounts. It alsoanswers questions about 401(k) plans and can monitor your portfolio's valueon a daily basis.
All that is free. For personalized advice on your retirement plan, however,you'll pay $14.95 quarterly.
To generate its forecasts and advice, Financial Engines applies thousandsof economic scenarios to fit information you supply about your current income,desired retirement age and income, current and planned investment holdings,and risk tolerance. The site tracks about 16,000 stocks and mutual fundscommon to 401(k) plans.
Financial Engines doesn't take ads, sell products, or receive commissions,so its recommendations are ostensibly unbiased.
This site should appeal to anyone who likes Money magazine. Money.comcovers the same terrain as its print companion, delivering both news andadvice and targeting the average consumer, not the sophisticated investor.Don't cancel your subscription to the print publication, though: This sitefeatures a lot that you won't get on paper, but the reverse also apparentlyholds true.
Mutual funds get heavy emphasis on Money.com, but you'll find plentyon retirement and estate planning, stocks, real estate, and mortgage refinancing,as well.
Many financial Web sites get information from Chicago-based Morningstar,one of the investment industry's most respected data providers. At Morningstar'ssite, you can create and save your portfolio, participate in conversationswith other investors and with investment professionals, and-best of all-viewthe research company's QuickTake reports on stocks and funds. These includefinancial data, growth projections, price-earnings ratios, returns history,news, Morningstar ratings, and more.
If all that isn't enough, you can pay $9.95 a month or $99 a year for"premium" access, which entitles you to more detailed reportsand analyses of stocks and funds, as well as to an advanced "PortfolioX-Ray," designed to reveal your investments' strengths and weaknesses.
The Motley Fool, whose home page promises to "educate, amuse, andenrich," began as a print publication produced by two brothers fora small group of subscribers. It moved online in 1994 and expanded froma message board on America Online to a full-service Web site, while slowlybuilding a following for irreverent but solid advice.
Now one of the Web's most popular financial sites, The Motley Fool islike a Welcome Wagon for beginning investors. It's friendly and informal,and the natives speak your language-especially in "Fool's School,"which details 13 steps to investing. On the site's lively message boards,you'll find informative articles, discussions involving more experiencedinvestors, and experts willing to answer your foolish questions. Motley'screw posts new material each day.
Useful for both fledgling and veteran investors, Microsoft's MoneyCentralstrives to give you all you need "to make smart decisions about themost common money management tasks, including investing, college and retirementplanning, saving, insurance, and handling debt." That's a lofty goal,but the site largely delivers.
Already a favorite among consumers and reviewers, MoneyCentral becameeven more appealing when it dropped its fees for access to stock- and fund-screeningtools. Now all of MoneyCentral's services are free.
If you're new to online stock research, MoneyCentral will show you theropes. Type in a stock symbol, click on "Go," and the site's ResearchWizard will tell you what the company does, how much it sells and earns,and how fast it's growing. Subsequent screens provide more details, suchas the stock's performance history, information on insider buying and selling,analysts' opinions, and breaking news that could affect your holdings.
MoneyCentral also provides up to 50 real-time stock quotes per day; newsfrom MSNBC; daily market summaries by e-mail; and a 401(k) planner thatshows how various allocation models change the risk and return of your holdings.Another feature lets you receive bills via e-mail and pay them on MoneyCentral,but so far it works with only about 20 companies.
MoneyCentral's most-praised offering is its portfolio manager. It letsyou import data from Quicken or Microsoft Money, download account informationfrom your broker, and customize your screen to show your stocks' annualizedgain, current P-E, and market value. You can also have the manager alertyou to splits, dividends, and late-breaking news.
Like MoneyCentral, Intuit's Quicken.com is a full-service personal financesite. Quicken's home page looks a little more cluttered than MoneyCentral's,but it offers the most comprehensive financial guidance we've found. Thesite includes articles on such topics as dealing with debt, fine-tuningyour portfolio, making smart housing moves, checking up on your insurance,and planning for college bills.
Market data on Quicken.com comes from Standard & Poor's and Briefing.com(www.briefing.com), an investment site known for its up-to-the-minute reports.News and commentary also flow in from CBS MarketWatch, TheStreet.com, anddowjones.com.
This online version of the magazine published jointly by Dow Jones &Company and Hearst Communications emphasizes consumer news, including tipson lenders with low mortgage rates, how to buy a car hassle-free, and whereto get the lowest insurance quotes. Yet SmartMoney.com also offers comprehensiveinvestment tools. You can track up to 10 portfolios with up to 30 holdingseach, find ratings of brokers, and read advice from Wall Street pundits.
At SmartMoney University-a "must stop" for any novice investor-you'llfind easy-to-comprehend articles and quizzes that cover debt management,short-term investing, college-savings plans, and 401(k) strategies, amongother topics. An abundance of calculators and worksheets, all enhanced byeye-catching graphics, populate both the University and the entire site.
One disappointment: Although you'll find shortened versions of SmartMoneyarticles on its Web site, you'll have to cough up the subscription priceif you want to read the complete text.
Financial professionals and individual investors hit TheStreet.com forits timely market updates, profiles of companies in the news, reams of copyon mutual funds, and information on buying stocks, bonds, and options. Interactivefeatures help visitors understand financial statements and allocate theirassets. Daily commentary from savvy Wall Street insiders, including JamesCramer, Herb Greenberg, and Adam Lashinsky, is available, too, but you'llhave to pay for it: $9.95 a month, or $99.95 a year. However, the site offersa free 30-day trial subscription.
Nearly everything on this site revolves around investing, but you'llfind some fascinating, quirky side trips, too: Check out the editors' annotatedlist of 100 business events that shaped the century, ranging from the openingof the first US supermarket to the Marshall Plan to Ray Kroc's purchaseof McDonald's.
Once you're comfortable online, there's little reason to pay $175 a yearfor The Wall Street Journal newspaper. The Journal's Interactive Editionoffers everything in the paper and more for $59 annually. Besides articlesfrom the Journal's staff, the Web site provides 24-hour news updates, accessto Barron's Online (www.barrons.com), your personal portfolio, in-depthtechnology coverage, and a link to dowjones.com, the site of the Journal'sparent company.
Yahoo! is known for its Web directory, so it's not surprising that thissite is notable more for the way it organizes information scattered acrossthe Web than for original material. Interested in taxes? Use the links tosites containing IRS bulletins, tax tables, and electronic services; statetax agencies; local accountants; a refund estimator; tax software; and muchmore. Other links will take you to sites covering loans, insurance, US andworld stock markets, and many other topics.
The site's research section is particularly impressive. It has a stock-screenertool plus information on analysts' latest upgrades and downgrades, SEC filings,financials, and historical quotes. Want more specifics? You can get chartsshowing how a stock has done over several periods or relative to the S&P500.
"It's hard to beat Yahoo! Finance," says Bill Doyle. "Itorganizes a ton of data and is as fast as any site out there. The responsetime on quotes and charts is unparalleled."
David Jaconski, an analyst at Raskob Kambourian Financial Advisors inTucson, agrees. "When a client comes in seeking information on an obscurestock, I can usually find something through Yahoo! Finance," he says."Other sites I've tried usually have had little or nothing."
Don't forget about www.memag.com, where you'll find our magazine's own financial coverage, including ourPersonal Finance 101 series and Investment Consult columns, as well as stockquotes, tax information, and more.
The author is a freelance writer in Scottsdale, AZ.
Carrie Bell. The Web's best financial sites. Medical Economics 1999;21:198.