How to Be Your Own Financial Planner

Times Staff Writer

People who are starting out or have portfolios under $100,000 often have a difficult time finding objective financial planning advice. But new resources on the Internet and personal finance software make it easier to map your financial plan at a reasonable cost.


Start with a general personal finance book. There are dozens, including Eric Tyson's "Personal Finance for Dummies" and Jane Bryant Quinn's "Making the Most of Your Money." Also look at

Personal finance software is also a must. The latest versions of Intuit's Quicken and Microsoft Money will help you organize and analye your finances and include many tutorials.

Budgeting and Credit

*'s site at, is the premier Web resource for information about debt, credit management, banking and savings.

* Quicken and Microsoft Money software and Web sites ( and offer budgeting help and debt-reduction planners.

* Non-profit Consumer Credit Counseling Services provide free budget and credit workshops. For information, visit or call (800) 750-2227.

Retirement Planning

Hundreds of Web sites provide simple retirement planning calculators. Check your mutual fund and 401(k) Web sites. More sophisticated options include:

* Financial Engines at features a planning and asset-allocation service using cutting-edge Monte Carlo simulations. Part of the site is free; the asset-allocation portion costs begin at $14.95 a quarter (or it may be free through your company's 401[k] provider).

* Mutual fund giant Vanguard offers a $500 retirement planning service that includes telephone consultation with a financial advisor. For more information, visit or call (800) 547-3332.

Retirement Distribution

* Before tapping your retirement funds, read a guidebook such as 'Taking Your Money Out: IRAs, 401(k)s & Other Retirement Plans" by Twila Slesnick and John C. Suttle (, $21.95). * Mutual fund company T. Rowe Price recently unveiled a $500 interactive service called Retirement Income Manager that recommends withdrawal rates and asset allocations, using sophisticated probability analyses. For more information, visit or call (800) 231-2795.


Some areas of insurance--auto, homeowners, renters--are relatively straightforward. Others, such as life insurance, can be especially complicated. One of the better Web sites for insurance tutorials is The Silver Lake publisher's "How to Insure" series ("How to Insure Your Car," "How to Insure Your Income") can provide guidance. Also visit the life insurance tutorial at


Intuit's TurboTax remains the leader in the tax-preparation software field. The product is available in stores, and its Web site, at, includes helpful calculators and articles. People with complicated taxes, large incomes or small businesses generally should seek professional tax help.

Estate Planning

* A consultation with an experienced estate planning attorney is a good idea for all but the smallest and least complicated estates--even if the lawyer simply looks over documents you've created using software or kits. This is a difficult and constantly changing area of law in which experience and skill matter.

* Even if you hire an attorney, "Plan Your Estate" by attorneys Denis Clifford and Cora Jordan (, $24.95) is the do-it-yourself classic in the field. also offers software for writing wills. Vanguard has a $500 estate planning package; see "Retirement Planning" above.

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