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Why leave your money sitting in a bank account earning for other people when you can put it to work for yourself? This section is dedicated to tested and proven investment strategies and concepts.

Financial Guides

Investment Basics: What You Should Know
The world of investing can seem mind-boggling for a beginning investor. How do you decide what type of security to invest in? Should you choose stocks, bonds or a combination of investments? What about mutual funds? How do you choose a particular fund, stock or bond? How do you assess the risk to your money?
This Financial Guide provides a starting point for inexperienced investors. It describes how securities markets work, what protections are afforded, the general types of securities available, the interaction of risk and reward and how to select the investments appropriate for your risk tolerance.

Asset Allocation: How To Diversify For Maximum Return Asset allocation is based on the proven theory that the type or class of security you own is much more important than the particular security itself. Asset allocation is a way to control risk in your portfolio. The risk is controlled because the six or seven asset classes in the well-balanced portfolio will react differently to changes in market conditions such as inflation, rising or falling interest rates, market sectors coming into or falling out of favor, a recession, etc.
Asset allocation should not be confused with simple diversification. Suppose you diversify by owning 100 or even 1,000 different stocks. You really haven't done anything to control risk in your portfolio if those 1,000 stocks all come from only one or two different asset classes--say, blue chip stocks (which usually fall into the category known as large-capitalization, or large-cap, stocks) and mid-cap stocks. Those classes will often react to market conditions in a similar way they will generally all either go up or down after a given market event. This is known as "correlation."
Similarly, many investors make the mistake of building a portfolio of various top-performing growth funds, perhaps thinking that even if one goes down, one or two others will continue to perform well. The problem here is that growth funds are highly correlated-they tend to move in the same direction in response to a given market force. Thus, whether you own two or 20 growth funds, they will tend to react in the same way.
Not only does it lower risk, but asset allocation maximizes returns over a period of time. This is because the proper blend of six or seven asset classes will allow you to benefit from the returns in all of those classes.

Buying On Margin: How It Works and What To Watch Out For
"Buying on margin" is borrowing money from your broker to buy a stock and using your investment as collateral. Investors generally use margin to increase their purchasing power so that they can own more stock without fully paying for it. But margin exposes investors to the potential for higher losses.
This Financial Guide discusses the basics of buying on margin, some of the pitfalls inherent in margin buying, whether this financial tool is for you and how you can best use it.

Financial Planning Checklist
Once you've finished with your tax planning for the year, and your return is safely on its way to the IRS, you're at an excellent point for a quick financial check-up. Your tax return is handy, as a quick snapshot of your financial situation and the figures are recent and accurate. Take a few minutes to consider these questions:
1. Have you determined your short- and long-term financial goals? Have you consistently reviewed and updated them for any changes?
2. Are you saving and investing sufficient sums to fund your short- and long-term goals? By defining goals that are time and dollar specific, you can regularly assess if you are on track to reach them.
3. Are you making the best use of tax-deferred savings plans, such as IRAs, 401(k)s, and Keoghs? Are you contributing the maximum you can? Did you make plan investment choices consistent with your investment time frame and risk tolerance? Alternatively, are you satisfied that you have worked out the most appropriate way to take withdrawals for both yourself and your designated beneficiaries, with a careful balancing of income tax and estate tax considerations?
4. If you are an employee, are you getting the optimum from your employee benefits? Do you understand and use any flexible spending accounts that you may be eligible for? Have you developed a strategy for exercising your employer stock options and using any deferred compensation plans?

Frequently Asked Questions

Investment Options: Frequently Asked Questions

Q: How are risk and return related?

A: Risk and return are positively correlated. The higher the risk of an investment, the higher a return it must offer in order to compensate for the risk. Risks come in many forms such as the volatility of the market, inflation risk, interest rate risk, and business risk. You must determine the degree of risk that you are willing to tolerate. Your investment professional can assist you in this process.
Select the level of risk that permits you to sleep at night. If you have a long investment horizon, then focus on your desired return. Year to year fluctuations should not be a concern. Over the long term, stocks have generated annual returns of about 10 to 11 percent and have had the highest level of risk while long-term government bonds have had long-term returns of 5 to 6 percent and have had the lowest level of risk. The more risk you can tolerate or the higher your desired rate of return, the higher the portion of your portfolio invested in stocks should be.

Q: What is an asset allocation plan?
A: Asset allocation is the distribution of investments among asset classes. Asset classes include different types of stocks, bonds, and mutual funds. It is a significant factor in determining your investment return relative to risk. Proper asset allocation maximizes returns and minimizes risk. This is because different classes of assets react differently to economic upswings or downswings. Allocation differs from diversification in that it balances a portfolio among different classes of assets, for example, growth stocks, long bonds, and large-company stocks, while diversification focuses on variety within an asset class. Generally, allocation among six or seven asset classes is recommended.

Mutual Funds: Frequently Asked Questions

You must generally report as income any mutual fund distribution, whether or not it is reinvested. The tax law generally treats mutual fund shareholders as if they directly owned a proportionate share of the fund's portfolio of securities. The fund itself is not taxed on its income if certain tests are met and substantially all of its income is distributed to its shareholders. Thus, all dividends and interest from securities in the portfolio, as well as any capital gains from the sales of securities, are taxed to the shareholders.

There are two types of taxable distributions: ordinary dividends and capital gain distributions.

Stocks: Frequently Asked Questions

Generally, stocks are traded in blocks or multiples of 100 shares, which are called round lots. An amount of stock consisting of fewer than 100 shares is said to be an odd lot.

On an exchange, an order that involves both a round lot and an odd lot-say 175 shares will be treated as two different trades and may be executed at different prices.

In the financial world, a trade is jargon for buy and sell. Your broker will charge you a different commission on each trade, and will confirm each of them separately.

These distinctions do not generally apply to trades executed in the OTC (Over-the-Counter) market. OTC stocks are not traded on a formal exchange such as New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) or the American Stock Exchange (AMEX).

Financial Calculators

How Much Will I Need To Save For Retirement?
Retirement can be the saddest or happiest day of your life. This pre-retirement calculator will help you determine how well you have prepared and what you can do to improve your retirement outlook. It is important that you re-evaluate your preparedness on an ongoing basis. Changes in economic climate, inflation, achievable returns, and in your personal situation will impact your plan

How Much Can I Contribute To An IRA?
Many factors can affect your eligibility to contribute to an Individual Retirement Account (IRA) -- including your marital status, availability of a retirement plan at work, current and future tax rates, investment returns, when you will withdraw the money, and how you will use the money. This calculator is designed to help you determine whether you are eligible to contribute to both the Traditional and the Roth IRA.