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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.

Primers

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 http://www.latimes.com/finplan.

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

* Bankrate.com's site at http://www.bankrate.com, is the premier Web resource for information about debt, credit management, banking and savings.

* Quicken and Microsoft Money software and Web sites (http://www.quicken.com and http://www.moneycentral.com) offer budgeting help and debt-reduction planners.

* Non-profit Consumer Credit Counseling Services provide free budget and credit workshops. For information, visit http://www.nfcc.org 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 http://www.financialengines.com 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 http://www.vanguard.com 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 (Nolo.com, $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 http://www.troweprice.com or call (800) 231-2795.

Insurance

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 http://www.insure.com. 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 http://www.latimes.com/insure101.

Taxes

Intuit's TurboTax remains the leader in the tax-preparation software field. The product is available in stores, and its Web site, at http://www.turbotax.com, 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 (Nolo.com, $24.95) is the do-it-yourself classic in the field. Nolo.com also offers software for writing wills. Vanguard has a $500 estate planning package; see "Retirement Planning" above.

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