Money doesn't grow on trees, but free advice on how to make it grow appears to be flourishing like springtime blossoms.
Despite the caveat that free advice is worth what you paid for it, the financial-service industry plus related observers and government agencies are pushing low-cost money-management tips. And even if some of this so-called education material is highly promotional, apparently it's popular:
* Jones & Babson mutual funds of Kansas City, Mo., handed out 10,000 copies of its free financial-planning computer software. An expanded, second program will be available only to Babson shareholders.
* Also in Missouri, the Mutual Fund Education Alliance almost instantly sold out its 20,000-copy, January printing of its $5 mutual-fund guide for 1992.
* At Great Western Bank of Beverly Hills, Calif., 6 percent of all telephone calls to its mortgage hot line were requests for a paper slide rule on which home-loan payments can be calculated.
Strings may be attached to these "free" offers, notably additional mailings of sales literature or, in some cases, even a follow-up telephone call from sales personnel. And the answer to a financial puzzle inevitably is the company's product.
Nevertheless, here goes:
Investment tips: The free Jones & Babson software that details historical market returns and shows how to mix and match mutual funds is available by calling (800) 422-2766. . . . The U.S. government offers beginners free finance help with its "Investors' Bill of Rights" pamphlet. Write Consumer Information Center, Department 577Y, Pueblo, Colo. 81009. Also ask for the consumer-guide catalog, which lists goodies costing as little as 50 cents. Retirement advice: T. Rowe Price mutual funds of Baltimore offers slick, IBM-compatible software to help savers plan their retirements and track their nest eggs. The company charges $15 to cover its expenses. Call (800) 541-4041. T. Rowe also has a free, printed retirement kit (800) 541-0295. . . . Pioneer Funds of Boston, (800) 225-6292, has a simple, yet effective -- and free -- retirement-planning work sheet. . . . Colonial Group of Boston gives out an explanation of the pros and cons of various retirement plans with its free retirement guide. Call (800) 225-2365.
Banking: Interested in joining or starting a credit union? Write Credit Union National Association Public Relations, PO Box 431, Madison, Wis. 53701, or call (608) 231-4045 for a free kit. . . . Want to cut your credit-card expenses? Two firms will
help you find a cheap card. Bankcard Holders of America of Herndon, Va., (800) 327-7300, charges $4 for its 47-bank list. RAM Research of Frederick, Md., (800) 344-7714, charges $5 for a more extensive survey.
Real estate: Want to buy property directly from the government? Call Uncle Sam direct at (800) 782-3006. You'll get free brochures on how to wheel and deal with the Resolution Trust Corp., seller of property of dead S&Ls. . . . Confused about mortgages? The Mortgage Bankers Association of America wants to help. Write to 1125 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20005, or fax to (202) 466-2479. Ask for the free "How to Shop for a Mortgage." . . . Trying to peddle a home? Great Western Bank has free guides to selling and buying a home and getting a mortgage. Call (800) 492-7587.
Mutual funds: The Investment Company Institute is taking orders for its 1992 mutual-fund guide ($5), due out in April. Write to the ICI at 1600 M St. NW, Suite 600, Washington, D.C. 20036. . . . Mutual Fund Education Alliance is selling the second printing of its $5 guide to no-load and low-load funds. Write to 1900 Erie St., Suite 120, Kansas City, Mo. 64116. . . . Merriman Funds of Seattle offers a free, 90-minute cassette tape on investing and mutual funds. Call (800) 423-4893. . . . Stein Roe funds of Chicago, (800) 338-2550, and Fidelity (800) 544-6666, have free guides to calculating taxes on mutual funds. Vanguard Group of Valley Forge, Pa., (800) 662-7447, has a 112-page guide on the topic for $5.
Calculators: No batteries required, and they're free. Paper or plastic slide-rule calculators can help a saver get a quick grasp of the power of compound interest. To project the effects of various returns on investments, call John Hancock Funds in Boston at (800) 225-5291. . . . For home-loan math, call Great Western Bank at (800) 492-7587. To figure college-education savings needs, call Scudder Funds in New York at (800) 225-2470. To tally what tax-free municipal-bond yields are really worth, call Franklin Funds at (800) 342-5236, or Fidelity at (800) 544-6666.