Web Sites For The Financially Challenged

This story was to have been a sort of road map to online personal finance information. But after spending many, many hours in the black hole of time that is the Web (and with online services such as America Online and Compuserve), I've concluded that a better question would have been: What isn't?As is the case with any other topic within the sphere of online human knowledge, there's more stuff out there you'll ever need (or want) to see. Got a hankering to check out Elvis' last will and testament? No problem. It's on Compuserve's Consumer Forum (go save). Look in the library under "money mgmt/personal fin." You might want to check out Jackie O's will while you're there. Or maybe you're ready to finally cover that grease-smirched wall in your living room with a fresh coat of paint, but you're not sure how much to buy. Well, Bunky, just Netscape your way to the Consumer World Web site, look under the heading "Consumer Resources" and wonder no more. Soon you'll be stroking away happily in the knowledge you didn't buy too much or too little.My point, and I do have one, is that you can easily get lost in the minutiae of the Web; so if you're in a hurry, go to the library.But if you've got a few hours to burn and are looking for just about anything related to money, here are a few good places to start. "Start" is the operative word here. There are thousands of newsgroups and Web sites linked to these sites to take you exactly where you want to go.Online ServicesYou don't need Internet access to find a mother load of financial information. All you need is a computer, a modem and a subscription to one of the online services. America Online and Compuserve are the two biggest, and each has useful forums, electronic publications and investment advice.America Online's offering is broad, but not extremely deep. Access is via the main menu (Personal Finance) or, once you know exactly where you want to go, through keywords.From the main menu you'll find forums dealing with stock quotes, company research and reports, investment advice and online versions of Worth and Inc. magazines. If you know where you want to go, you can skip the main personal finance menu and go right to your specific forum. Check out The Motley Fool(keyword: fool) for easily digested financial advice. The Entrepreneur Zone (keyword: Ezone) has information on home business strategies, access to AOL's classified ads, a business resource center and links to the Entrepreneur Law Center on the Web. But perhaps the most useful place to go for those who just want to poke around is the Real Lifeforum (keyword: Real Life). Here you'll find tidbits on money and marriage, buying a house, planning for retirement and paying for an education. The forum features a Q&A section, and if you've struck it rich, a place to send in your testimonial to tell the rest of us how you did it.One word of caution about America Online: If you've got a slow modem, you'll wait around forever for the graphics to build as you move from place to place.If you can overlook the fact that it's heavily based on Money magazine style and content, Compuserve's Money Personal Finance Center is a good-looking, well-organized -- albeit kind of poky -- place to hunt. The "home page" rips and condenses stories right from the magazine, so if you already subscribe you'll see a lot of redundancy. However, there's a lot more to it than just money.Compuserve has more sources for business news than all but the hardest info junkies will ever need. There's Money Daily, Fortune Daily, AP Online, Reuters, a section for business-news PR releases, links to newspapers, etc. Be careful as you cruise through: Some of the links (like to the newspaper archives) cost extra.For investors, there's a handy quote-fetcher under Your Goalson the main menu, along with a forum wherein you post your most puzzling home budget questions. Other destinations off the main menu include Savings Rates & Borrowing, Fund Watch, Publications and Investor Center. Overall, Compuserve is probably a bit more comprehensive than America Online, with the downside that it is also more commercial.Web SitesWhen cruising for financial info, your first stop should be Consumer World. There you will find a Web site that would take a good part of the rest of your life to fully explore. Consumer World boasts of having over 900 of the most useful consumer resources on the Internet. When you consider that a good many of those 900 are lists of thousands of other sites, you begin to understand the scope of this thing.The good news is that it's arranged in a manner that makes sense, and includes an easy-to-use search engine right on the top page where you can find it. The site is broken into news, consumer agencies, consumer resources, company information, travel and entertainment, money and credit, bargains and offers, a category called "Shop 'Til You Drop" and a list of some of the coolest sites on the Net.Consumer World runs deep. For example, look at the money and credit collection of sites. There you'll find everything from "The Retirement Zone," a collection of worksheets and questionnaires you fill out to find out if you'll have enough to live on in your old age, to an Internet version of the National Debt Clock.Another good site for consumer info comes courtesy of your federal tax dollars. The online version of the Consumer Information Catalog features the myriad of consumer publications available from the folks out in Pueblo, Colorado. From "How to Dispute Credit Card Errors" to "Funerals: A Consumer's Guide," it's all here -- for a nominal charge. You can order paper copies of the catalog via the Net, but alas, you have to use snail mail to get the individual publications.If it's Wall Street you're interested in, click over to Wall Street Online, where you'll find a host of investment news, strategy and advice. While much of this site is geared to the serious "day-trader" (people who make a living playing the stock market from the comfort of home), there are some intriguing offerings for the neophyte investor. For example, there's "The Seven Percent Solution." This is a series of stock trades that will supposedly net you 7% monthly. There's also "The Pristine Day Trader," a daily e-mail newsletter that says it gets you "behind the closed doors of two enormously successful stock market players." Hmmm. Wonder what they're doing behind closed doors.These are subscription services with fairly steep rates --between $35 and $95 a month. But if you're serious about your day trading, they are something to look into.If it's stock quotes you want, InterQuote is a good place to sign up. Depending on how much you want and how fast you want it, you can watch the markets for between $9.95 and $69.95 a month.Hoover's Online offers free delayed-time stock quotes, if that's good enough for you, along with a bunch of other good, free stuff for you investment types. The site features a financial list of lists, basic information on just about any publicly traded company you care to name, an edited (thankfully) sampling of the week's business news and a weekly article on a particular industry. One of the most interesting features, though, is a series of basic primers on how the economy works. Especially recommended for those of you who flunked economics 101: "The Invisible Hand."Finally, if taxes are on your mind this time of year, and they should be, go straight to the source: The IRS has it's own home page, where you'll find downloadable tax forms, a list of frequently asked questions, tax regulations written in "plain language," and, best of all, a place to send your comments. I'd hate to be on the receiving end of that one.SIDEBAR: SEE THE SITESAmerica Online 800-827-6364 Compuserve 800-848-8990 Consumer World http://www.consumerworld.org/ Consumer Information Catalog http://www.gsa.gov/staff/pa/cic.htm Wall Street Online http://www.wso.com InterQuote<.http:>Hoover's Onlinehttp://www.hoovers.com The Internal Revenue Service http://www.ustreas.gov/treasury/bureaus/irs/New_irs.html

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