Here’s the packing list from my recent family vacation: one spouse, two kids, three suitcases, four beach chairs, five road maps, a dozen coloring books and 207 pieces of literature from mutual fund companies.
I over-packed my reading material intentionally. Because educated consumers make the best shareholders, funds have long had a teaching bent, providing investment basics in pamphlet form. If you want to learn about anything from budgeting to tax-free investing to handling retirement moneys when changing jobs, your fund company may be able to help.
My vacation mission was to find the best educational goodies, hence the two shopping bags in the back of the station wagon. Each piece of literature was put to this test: Is it worth a dirty look from my wife to carry it for another 100 miles?
To pass that test, material had to contain top-quality, easy-to-understand information, or it had to be unique. And it couldn’t be too self-indulgent. A company is entitled to suggest its own funds, but excessive promotion was guaranteed to land a brochure in the trash can at the next Interstate 95 rest stop.
In all, I reviewed materials from 22 fund groups. All of these freebies are available for a phone call, regardless of whether you are a shareholder. In many cases, this information can also be found at the fund company’s Web site. Either way, check out your fund company’s educational goodies to become a more savvy investor. Then, while you have the phone, call for the stuff that survived my family’s 2,400-mile car trek.
Here is the list, organized by subject matter:
The basics of investing. For comprehensive material, you can’t top the “Plain Talk Library” from Vanguard ( 662-7447), or two groups of pamphlets--the “Information” series and the “Investment Planning” series--from Fidelity ( 544-8888). Both are detailed and expansive; prepare to be deluged with pamphlets.
For something less daunting, check out the “Understanding” series, six booklets on the rudiments of investing from Janus ( 525-3713), or the more ambitious and complex “Investment Basics” series from Franklin Templeton ( 342-5236).
Slide rules/work sheets. Like a bad camera, many of these fun, fast-answer goodies leave you with lousy snapshots. But Franklin Templeton’s tax-free yield calculator is ideal for anyone considering tax-free investments. (See phone number above.)
The brand-new retirement calculator from Scudder ( 728-3337, Ext. 3220) is a superior slide rule for seeing just how far your retirement savings will go.
The “Personal Financial Planner” program from Safeco ( 426-6730) is a series of work sheets that give you a grip on your finances, from emergency reserves to short- and long-term needs.
Retirement and estate planning. Not surprisingly, the AARP Investment Program ( 322-2282, Ext. 9159) has terrific guides for investors 50 and older. “Planning for Retirement” and “Managing Your Money in Retirement” cover a lot of the same ground, but the two give a pretty good picture of what an older investor should expect and how to prepare for it.
T. Rowe Price ( 638-5660) has one kit for people about to retire and another for retirees. Both are plain-English guides that help investors assess their position and options. The “Heritage Planning” materials developed by Massachusetts Financial Services ( 343-2829) cover everything from talking to your family about money to preparing for possible health problems, living on your retirement assets and planning for and distributing your estate. This comprehensive package--several brochures and 37 info sheets--cuts through the dollar signs to tackle weighty intergenerational money-management issues. If you have parents or children, don’t miss this one.
Individual retirement accounts. Nearly 10% of the documents reviewed focused on IRAs. Most were pretty good. One that stood out was a pamphlet from Oppenheimer ( 525-7048) on IRA Section 72(t) distributions, covering how you can withdraw money from retirement savings without incurring tax penalties.
Handling moneys when you change jobs or retire. This is a close cousin to the IRA material because it generally involves moving money from retirement plans into IRAs. Oppenheimer scores here again, as does Kemper ( 536-7371, Ext. 891), which offers tips for moving retirement moneys and the traps to avoid. And the American Assn. of Retired Persons’ booklet on receiving lump-sum distributions gives the best detail on the tax consequences of moving your moneys.
Taxes. This is another popular topic, but few companies handle it well. For a good look at the intricacies of mutual fund taxes, tax forms and year-round tax issues, check out the guides from Invesco Funds Group ( 525-8085), T. Rowe Price and Vanguard.
Kids and money. SteinRoe ( 403-5437) and its Young Investor Fund have developed great teaching tools. The “Young Investor Parents Guide” and “Activity Book” help child and grown-up learn the basics and have some fun. When you call, ask for “Six Commonly Asked Questions About Custodial Accounts,” a flier that is unique in covering an important subject.
Charles A. Jaffe is mutual funds columnist at the Boston Globe. He can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com or at the Boston Globe, Box 2378, Boston, MA 02107-2378.