Many avenues to track your fund investments

Money Talk

Your Money

February 01, 2004|By MATT LUBANKO

I HAVE investments with several different mutual fund families, including my company's 401(k) plan. With my investments scattered in so many different places, I was wondering how I can measure the diversification (stocks, bonds, CDs, money market funds, etc.) within all my portfolios.

- M.T., Chicago

There are dozens of ways to take an inventory of your investments.

You can do this work by yourself. You can pay someone to do this work for you. And you can decide how precise you wish to be when cataloging your stocks, bonds, bank CDs, rental real estate, mutual funds or even U.S. Savings Bonds.

Let's explore some of your options:

Quicken 2004 and Microsoft Money 2004. Many home computers are sold with preloaded versions of Quicken or Microsoft Money. If you have never used these programs, maybe it's time you start. They take little time to learn how to use.

Just by entering data manually from bank or brokerage statements, or by downloading data directly from your financial institution, Quicken and Money can give you a quick snapshot of your holdings.

To see what Quicken or Money can do for you, let's assume your invested assets total $300,000. Quicken and Money would easily provide a breakdown that might look like this: $100,000, or 33.3 percent, is in large company stocks; $50,000, or 16.7 percent, is in small company stocks; $75,000, or 25 percent, is in bonds; and $75,000, or 25 percent, is in cash and bank CDs.

Is such a superficial asset-by-asset catalog detailed enough for you to be helpful? If not, then read on.

Morningstar. Let your fingers walk to the Morningstar.com Web site. Then click on a link marked "funds" (highlighted in gray), before clicking again on a link labeled "Instant X-Ray," then look to the extreme left portion of your screen.

The portfolio X-ray provides meaty details - not just what mutual funds you hold, but in what industries your fund has chosen to invest. Details like this come in handy if you hold six different mutual funds and discover, after an X-ray, that each fund allocates 45 percent of its assets to large-cap tech stocks or biotechnology companies. Many, after the tech-stock meltdown in the latter part of 2000, learned the dangers of blindly owning mutual fund portfolios tilted in one direction.

The RiskGrades.com Web site also provides useful information on stock and mutual fund holdings, and the risks each investment might carry.

Financial advisers. If the bulk of your holdings are in mutual funds that carry a sales charge, you might be overlooking an obvious source of help.

Many financial advisers own and use software packages that can provide multiangled views of your holdings.

Worried that your favorite adviser might be offended if he or she were to learn you have hundreds of thousands of dollars stashed in your company's 401(k) plan? Or are you reluctant to tell this adviser that you have brokerage accounts with four other firms?

Get over this petty fear!

"It's your money. You have the right to invest your money in places that make you comfortable. If an adviser doesn't understand that, then consider taking your money to another firm," said Marilyn Steinmetz, a certified financial planner with Money Matters in West Hartford, Conn.

Some advisers will gladly assemble your asset inventory (just furnish your latest monthly statements) for an hourly fee. Some might assemble this data for no fee at all. And many are happy to do this work because, by letting them know what you have, it enables them to better see what investments are most suitable for your circumstances, Steinmetz said.

I have twin daughters, age 2. How can I figure out how much it might cost to send them to college in 2019 or 2020?

- B.A.M., Allentown, Pa.

Here's one idea. Visit the HartfordInvestor.com Web site. According to its college planning calculator, four years at Pennsylvania State University, for example, will cost about $181,000 in 2019.

Another idea? Take the current annual costs (tuition, room and board, books, etc.) of your favorite college, then assume those costs will increase 4 percent, 5 percent, 6 percent or 7 percent a year until 2019 or 2020.

Is it possible to inherit capital losses? And is it possible to apply those losses toward capital gains in future tax returns?

- K.N., Windsor, Conn.

It depends. In cases where property such as houses or stocks are held in the name of one person, the capital losses go to the grave with the sole owner.

In other cases, however, the surviving half of jointly held property can carry losses forward to offset future capital gains. How? Assume a husband-and-wife team jointly held a brokerage account. Also assume they paid $70,000 to buy 1,000 shares of Intel Corp. in August 2000, then sold those 1,000 shares in 2004 for $34,000. Soon afterward, the husband dies.

In this hypothetical case, the $36,000 capital loss could be applied to a married-filing-jointly 2004 tax return. And one-half of whatever remains from that $36,000 capital loss could be carried forward to tax returns in future years, said John Evanich, a certified public accountant with Haggett Longobardi & Co. in Glastonbury, Conn.

You can carry forward unused capital losses for as long as you live. These losses can offset future capital gains (See Schedule D, lines 6 and 14). But no more than $3,000 in total net capital losses can be declared in a given year, Evanich said.

Matthew Lubanko is a financial columnist for The Hartford Courant. E-mail him at yourmoney@tribune.com.

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