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Web Gives Investors Powerful Tool

Bloomberg News

The vast web of the Internet has developed into a convenient and powerful tool for managing personal finance.

With a personal computer and Internet access, individuals can invest in stocks, bonds, open Individual Retirement Accounts, balance a checkbook or compare returns on mutual funds - all from their home or office.

“It’s a matter of access and convenience,” said David Weisman, director of the money and technology unit at Forrester Research Inc., a business and technology analyst group based in Cambridge, Mass. “The PC is available where and when you need it.”

The number of finance-related sites on the World Wide Web is overwhelming. Yahoo! Inc., one of the largest and best known providers of Internet directories, or “search engines,” lists almost 900 locations under the finance and investment category. Finding the most useful sites is the challenge.

A good place to begin is a general finance site with easy-to-navigate information links and services, such as the one sponsored by Mississippi State University, ces.msstate.edu/pubs/pub1738.html. This web page explains the basics of managing money.

Another, investorguide.com, offers comprehensive information on research, investing, and personal finance.

The Internet is “bringing these services to the masses in an easy-to-use, non-intimidating way,” said Joe Kraus, senior vice president and co-founder of Excite Inc., the Redwood, Calif., provider of an Internet search service. “Keeping track of news, charting and graphing are now as easy as using your checkbook.”

Once consumers become familiar with the basics, they’ll be able to narrow their search for appropriate Internet sites.

Banking on line has become one of the most popular ways for consumers to conduct business. According to Forrester Research, 1.9 million U.S. households use online banking services, a number expected to grow to 10 million by 2001.

“It’s less cumbersome, easier than the phone system,” said Brendan Murphy, a New York, financial publisher, who banks on his PC. “I can generally monitor the account any time.”

Before Internet use entered the mainstream, most investors got stock quotes by phoning a broker or reading day-old prices in a newspaper. Now, online brokerage clients can access information while financial markets are still open, often in real time.

Such advances have allowed investors to take control of their finances as never before.

“For years, information was available only to professionals with terminals,” said Mike Riley, a producer at Yahoo! Finance. “In a certain sense, it was already on line, it just wasn’t openly available.”

With all the necessary information to make informed trades, investors are using the Internet to buy and sell securities from their homes or offices.

“Online trading is better, faster,” said Riley.

The Internet also offers unprecedented comparative shopping resources to the consumer.

At least one web site - stockup.com/quote/brkrndx.sht - compares discount and electronic brokers in terms of service hours, minimum trades, fees and electronic trading options.

Until recently, buyers of car insurance had to call one insurer after another to find the best deal, a time-consuming and often frustrating task. Now, the online consumer can do a single search, type in information specific to their insurance needs, and immediately receive prices from a multitude of companies. Such interactive comparisons are also available for mortgages, bank loans and other forms of insurance.

“Financial institutions have an incentive to make it difficult for you to do comparison shopping,” said Kraus of Excite. “The Internet is the best comparative shopper. It’s a great leveler.”

xxxx MULTIPLE INTERNET SITINGS REPORTED Below are some useful web sites for online personal financial management: ces.msstate.edu/pubs/pub1738.htm: Sponsored by Mississippi State University. Basics on managing money. investorguide.com: Information on investing, personal finance. comfin.com: Investment advisor Community Financial Planning Services home page. Offers broad range of information. financenter.com/savings.htm: Interactive calculators for computing and comparing insurance, mortgage and loan rates. aaii.com/promos/hpa970707.shtml: An article on implementing an investment strategy with as little as $2,000. investorama.com/features/bits-onl.shtml: Compares online brokers and offers links to selected brokers. Also portfoliotracking software information. aaii.com/dloads/finplan: Lists and links to financial software available on the Internet. Registration required. picture.com/homeguide/financia/easysave.htm: Moneysaving tips. zelacom.com/dollars: Sample volumes from “Making Sense out of Dollars,” a financial planning newsletter.

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