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May 08, 2007|By Charles Jaffe | Charles Jaffe,MarketWatch

When investors discuss mutual funds and wonder "What have you done for me lately?" their focus always centers on performance.

But beyond the numbers, fund companies do a lot for consumers, providing education to make them better investors.

To that end, I had fund firms send me their educational freebies, so that I could pick the best available items. Some 30 fund companies swamped my office with more than 320 goodies; all had to be available in printed versions - not just online - and had to be free, whether you are a shareholder or not.

Last week, I focused on some hand-held cardboard slide-rule calculators and more. This week, it's worksheets, specialty items and broad investment libraries.

John Hancock Mutual Funds (800-225-5291) has an emergency preparedness checklist that is a quick and easy guide that you and your family can follow; it's a fast, easy document that will be useful whether your emergency is a natural disaster forcing you from your home or a death in the family.

MainStay Investments has developed a series of educational materials and worksheets on the difficult subject matter of death. While the pieces - "You've Been Named Executor - Now What?" and "A Death in the Family" - are not light reading, you want them in the house so that you can turn to them when the time comes. You can find these and other pieces in the investor education area at www.mainstayfunds.com, or call 800-624-6782.

Legg Mason's "Investor's Guide to Separately Managed Accounts" covers a topic that comes up between many consumers and financial advisers these days and takes an unbiased look at the difference between separate accounts and mutual funds. Check out: www.smaeducation.com.

The Rockville-based Rydex funds are for advanced investors, and so are the educational materials they provide investors. Their "Essentials of Futures" brochure should be required reading for anyone who has even contemplated investing in futures; if you can't understand what the pamphlet says, you don't belong in futures. Go to rydexinvestments.com or call 800-820-0888, and while you are there, get the "Education Essentials" CD-ROM if you want to learn about inverse funds, using leverage and more.

Franklin Templeton has a pocketbook series of investment basics that are designed for the startup investor. It is the simple, straightforward, all-in-one choice for someone looking for a basics package. And while you are on the phone with Franklin Templeton (800-342-5236), ask for their guide on "What You Need to Know About Beneficiary Designations." It's a great specialty piece and worksheet all in one and will help investors organize their documents, make sure they have the correct beneficiaries and house all relevant information in a central place.

Fidelity Investments' "Planning & Guidance" series is a great intermediate step, more thorough and wide-ranging than the Franklin Templeton series. Most of the booklets appear designed to provide an action plan, allowing you to start with the learning and end with a program to follow. You can order the planning and guidance booklets at www.fidelity.com or by calling 800-343-3548.

The USAA Educational Foundation has one of the most extensive collections of materials out there, but what makes this library different is the work that is tangential to investing, such as "Behind the Wheel: A Practice Driving Guide for Teens and Parents." The group's "LifeGuide Series" covers a lot of subjects - such as elder care - that the other big financial libraries don't touch on; you can examine and order publications online at www.usaaedfoundation.org.

There's little doubt that if you could tap into just one fund firm for your investment knowledge, you'd go with the Vanguard Group. The firm's "Plain Talk Library" is extensive and aptly named, ranging from investment beginnings to whether you should consider an income annuity, to estate planning.

Beyond the fund firm's basic educational pieces, Vanguard Investment Counseling and Research has produced a series of in-depth research papers. Access the information at www.vanguard.com, or call 800-662-7447.

jaffe@marketwatch.com

Charles Jaffe is senior columnist for MarketWatch. He can be reached by mail at Box 70, Cohasset, MA 02025-0070.

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