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Software can help track, decide on investments

Updated: May 3, 2013 12:14PM



Originally published: August 7, 2001

Tracking your investments can be one of the most burdensome chores in personal finance. Your broker, mutual fund and retirement plan send you regular statements of your investment account and monthly values. But unless you set up - and regularly use - a paper filing system, you’ll never keep track of how your assets are invested. And even if you keep a list of your investments in your wallet or briefcase, you’ll have to squint over the fine print in the newspaper every morning to check on your gains or losses.

But there is a better way: Quicken Deluxe 99 or Microsoft Money 99. These columns have focused on Quicken because it is the most popular personal finance software sold and is rated tops by most reviewers. However, Microsoft Money 99 has comparable features.

During the last month, columns have covered how to manage your personal finances by setting up banking and credit card accounts, as well as creating a budget and using the debt eliminator feature to help you whittle down your credit card balances.

On the bottom of your Quicken screen, you’ll always see the program’s major categories: Banking, Planning, Investing, Home & Car, and Taxes. So far, we’ve only used Banking and Planning. Now it’s time to watch your money grow using the Investing section.

Knowledge is power when it comes to investing, and in today’s markets your knowledge simply must be current. In the Investing section, it’s critically important that you have an Internet connection on your computer so you can get news and price updates.

As in the Banking section, it is possible to use the Investing section of your Quicken program just to keep track of your investments while you update the prices from your monthly brokerage statements. But that doesn’t begin to show you the possibilities for investment decision-making. And since most major brokerage firms and mutual funds allow you to download your account statements and transactions directly from the Internet, being online means you eliminate the chore of manually entering your investment positions.

When you click on Investing at the bottom of your screen, you’ll see a menu with several choices. If you click on the top menu choice, ``Investing Center,’’ you’ll be taken to your personal investing home page. There you’ll not only track prices but learn how to do everything from getting online quotes and news updates to graphing your investment performance, estimating capital gains and researching a stock or mutual fund.

Entering your portfolio

Let’s start by creating your own portfolio that you can track.

You may already own a few stocks or mutual funds. Click again on the word Investing at the bottom of the page. If you forget these instructions, just look to the right side of your screen under the ``How Do I . . .’’ and ask: ``How do I Enter a New Investment?’’

The program will guide you through the few simple steps to set up one or more investment accounts and to create an online connection to your brokerage firm or mutual fund company. You can set up these accounts to hold stocks, bonds or one or more mutual funds. And you’ll be asked whether the account is a tax-sheltered account such as an IRA or 40l(k) plan. There is even a special setup for a Roth IRA account.

From that point, it’s easy to enter the funds or securities you already own - by name and; or security symbol. You will be asked to enter information about your goals for that particular investment.

The program will direct you to check in online to get the appropriate asset class for your securities and mutual funds so that you can graphically view your portfolio allocation.

The one big issue in creating your stock portfolio is deciding whether you want to start tracking prices and values from the day you set up this portfolio on Quicken - or whether you want to go back and enter your historic purchase data, so that you can estimate capital gains taxes in a taxable account. (Of course, if this is a tax-sheltered retirement account, the original costs won’t matter since all withdrawals will be made as ordinary income.) Either way, the program will guide you through setting up a portfolio of all your investments.

Just having your total portfolio in one place and online is a major benefit. Not only will you download every day’s prices and news, but you’ll be able to graphically follow your investment allocations and returns. And you’ll be able to make better decisions by researching stocks and mutual funds online.

Start again by clicking on Investing on the bottom of your screen. This time, choose ``Research a Stock or Mutual Fund’’ from the menu. You’ll immediately be led into the Quicken online investment research site, where you’ll get every bit of information that’s available on a stock or mutual fund of your choice.

For stocks, you’ll get the current quote, price graphs, latest news, SEC filings, insider trading information and much more.

For mutual funds, you’ll get the Morningstar profile with all its revealing information and ratings.

Pinpointing data

If you don’t know which stock or fund to buy, you can make a variety of searches for companies meeting your investment criteria, or popular searches such as stock with low price-to-earnings ratios, or low book-value stocks.

For mutual funds you can search by fund family, linked directly to the fund company’s Web site, or by performance records.

In short, you now have all the information and immediate news that in years past was available only by calling your broker. With this program you can create a ``watch list’’ on your investing page and be notified when news breaks or stocks trade at new price levels. And you can easily access the Quicken.com Investment Web site for total market information, including updates from theStreet.com and the popular James Cramer.

The program recognizes that you won’t always be sitting in front of your home computer. But you still might want to check on your portfolio, so there is a Web site where you can securely and privately place a copy of the portfolio. Then, using your private access code, you can check in from any computer with Internet access.

There’s much more to the Investment section. You can estimate capital gains taxes and their impact on your investment decisions.

You can evaluate your retirement planning and college investments to see if you’ll reach your goals. You can get really sophisticated and track your return on investment. Or you can simply click on your Investments page to show your entire portfolio in a multitude of colorful graphs.

Use as much or as little of the program as you feel you need to maintain control of your finances. After all, you’ve already put your money to work in your investments. Isn’t it worth just a little more time to be completely informed and empowered?

Terry Savage is a registered investment adviser for stocks and commodities and is on the board of directors of McDonald’s Corp. and Pennzoil Co. You can send her questions via e-mail at savage @suntimes.com. Her second book, published by HarperCollins, is Terry Savage’s New Money Strategies for the ‘90s. Copyright Terry Savage Productions.



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