Barbara O’Neill, Ph.D., CFP® Extension Specialist in Financial Resource Management Rutgers Cooperative Extension
Looking for information about how to build wealth over time through investing and wise money management? In today's Internet wired world, there are numerous websites with the words investing, money, or finances in their titles, but how do you know which ones are reliable? A study conducted by Consumer Reports' Webwatch showed that viewers are more apt to evaluate a Web site on its visual appeal, such as color and layout, than on its content. "This is not a good way to decide if information is trustworthy," says Pat Swanson, CFP®, Extension Specialist with Iowa State University (ISU). "A better way to evaluate a Web site is to look at its address, its URL. This will tell you about the sponsor or creator of the site," Swanson explains. "Site names ending in .edu are educational; .org is used in the Web addresses of organizations; .gov URLs are government sites; and .coms are commercial sites. Below is a brief description of seven non-commercial Web sites available through government and non-profit organizations: The Investor Protection Trust (IPT) website (investorprotection.org) provides independent, objective information needed by consumers to make informed investment decisions. The IPT serves as an independent source of non-commercial investor education materials. There are a number of booklets on their website, such as Mutual Funds: Maybe All You'll Ever Need. The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) regulates securities firms and stockbrokers. As a not-for-profit resource, FINRA offers unbiased information on its website (finra.org) on a full range of issues that affect your money and investments. For example, FINRA recently issued an investor alert urging homeowners to carefully weigh their options before obtaining a reverse mortgage. The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) (sec.gov) is the governmental agency that oversees and regulates the securities markets in the United States. The SEC also provides information to help consumers invest wisely. For example, its mutual fund cost calculator can help you compare the costs of different mutual funds and understand the impact that fees and high expense ratios can have over time. Several Cooperative Extension websites have a deep collection of materials to help investors make informed financial decisions. Iowa State University Extension (www.extension.iastate.edu/finances) has a series of retirement planning fact sheets that can help you identify retirement goals and suitable investments to achieve those goals. Another helpful feature of their website is the Invest Wisely project section, which include a series of press releases about investing topics. Our own Personal Finance website (njaes.rutgers.edu/money) contains dozens of financial planning worksheets. It also includes an online quiz that users can take to assess their investment risk tolerance and a link to the Cooperative Extension System's basic investing home study course, Investing For Your Future (extension.org/pages/Investing_for_Your_Future). The Cooperative Extension online eXtension (pronounced ee-extension) information delivery system (extension.org) is available 24/7/365 and has experts who answer questions directly from consumers. eXtension combines the efforts of more than 70 land grant universities to provide a one-stop shop to access the best educational materials developed by Extension faculty across the nation. Many of the personal finance experts who answer consumer questions have advanced degrees and certifications in financial planning. Access the personal finance website. MyMoney.gov serves as the federal government's "one-stop shop" for financial education programs and information. It includes links to financial information provided by many reputable educational and governmental agencies.