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CU likes Vanguard the best

It's said that you can't chose your family. But choosing your mutual fund family is another story.

The Vanguard Group scored best in a Consumer Reports study that ranked mutual fund families by their expenses.

The magazine's March issue says the $575 billion behemoth scored highest for domestic and international stocks, bonds and overall bargain. Fidelity and T. Rowe Price came in close behind.

Staying within a single fund family can make it easier to follow an asset allocation plan, as well as keep track of records. Pooling accounts can also help you qualify for discounts on planning services and other extras, Consumer Reports said.

The magazine is also ranking top 12 fund families for their Web sites for privacy, ease of use and other factors. Readers can access the findings for free through March at

Refinance and insulate

Refinancing continues to dominate the lending market, accounting for 55 percent of mortgage applications at the end of last month, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association. If your mortgage rate is 8 percent or higher, run the numbers on an online mortgage calculator to see if refinancing makes sense for you.

If you do decide to refinance, here's another tip from the Alliance to Save Energy, a Washington, D.C.-based coalition of business, government and environmental leaders: Consider taking out enough cash to make energy improvements in your house.

"As energy costs rise and demand exceeds supplies, this is a great time for consumers to improve the energy-efficiency of their home and obtain tax advantages of tax-deductible interest on these upgrades," says Alliance President David Nemtzow.

Among possible improvements:

Installing a programable thermostat.

Inspecting the shell of your house to take care of energy leaks that can be fixed with caulking, weather stripping, insulation or new windows.

Replacing refrigerators, hot water heaters and home electronics with products that have an energy star label, a symbol of energy efficiency.


Trade stocks while you drive

Subscribers to General Motors Corp.'s OnStar vehicle assistance service soon may be able to track, manage and trade stocks while behind the wheel, under the automaker's alliance with Fidelity Investments.

Under the deal unveiled last week, Fidelity will offer in-vehicle access to quotes and market information to all subscribers of OnStar's Virtual Advisor.

The service eventually will be expanded to allow Fidelity clients retrieve their account balances and do wireless trading.

The OnStar service uses voice-activated, hands-free software allowing drivers to keep their eyes on the road as the information is read to them, and the companies said that makes their service safe to use while driving.

OnStar has about 800,000 subscribers in the United States and Canada, expects more than 4 million vehicles to be equipped with the service by 2003, spokesman Nick Richards said.

Among other things, OnStar offers automatic notification of air bag deployment, tracking of stolen vehicles, emergency services, roadside assistance with location, and remote door unlock and diagnostics.

Associated Press

A penalty for quick trading

Fidelity Investments, the biggest U.S. mutual fund company, is instituting a fee to combat short-term trading in Fidelity Mid-Cap Stock Fund, its third-best selling fund last year.

The three-quarters of a point fee, effective March 15, will apply to fund shares sold within 30 days of purchase, Fidelity spokeswoman Jessica Catino said. Fidelity will put any fee money back into the fund to compensate long-term investors for costs associated with additional buying and selling of securities caused by investors who dart in and out of funds.

Bloomberg News

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