Extension News

Investor Information on the Web - How Do You Judge Quality?


AMES, Iowa -- In today's Internet world, there are numerous Web sites with the words investing, money or finances in their titles, but how do you know which ones are reliable?  A study conducted by Consumer Reports' Webwatch showed that viewers are more apt to evaluate a Web site on its visual appeal such as color and layout than on its content.  "This is not a good way to decide if information is trustworthy," says Pat Swanson, CFP® and families specialist with Iowa State University (ISU) Extension's Invest Wisely Project (www.extension.iastate.edu/investwisely).

"A better way to evaluate a Web site is to look at its address, its URL. This will tell you about the sponsor or creator of the site," Swanson explains.  "Site names ending in .edu are educational; .org is used in web addresses of organizations; .gov are government sites; .com are commercial sites. Here are seven non-commercial Web sites that I use on a regular basis. I have authored some of the materials on the two Extension Web sites."

The Investor Protection Trust (IPT)'s Web site (www.investorprotection.org) provides independent, objective information needed by consumers to make informed investment decisions. The IPT serves as an independent source of non-commercial investor education materials. There are a number of booklets on the IPT Web site, such as "Mutual Funds: Maybe All You'll Ever Need." 

FINRA is the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority. Its function is to regulate securities firms and stockbrokers. As a not-for-profit financial resource, FINRA offers unbiased information on its Web site (www.finra.org) on a full range of issues that affect your money and investments. For example, FINRA recently issued an investor alert urging homeowners to carefully weigh their options before obtaining a reverse mortgage.

The Securities and Exchange Commission (www.sec.gov) is the governmental agency that oversees and regulates the securities markets in the United States. The SEC also provides information to help the consumer invest wisely. For example, its mutual fund cost calculator can help you compare the costs of different mutual funds and understand the impact fees and expenses can have over time.

The Iowa Insurance Division administers Iowa securities laws.  It provides consumer alerts and educational materials on its Web site (www.investsmartiowa.gov).    

Iowa State University Extension (www.extension.iastate.edu/finances) provides unbiased, research-based information and education to help Iowans of all ages make better investment decisions.  For example, a series of retirement planning fact sheets can help you identify retirement goals and invest to achieve those goals.

A new educational partnership, eXtension (www.extension.org), combines the efforts of more than 70 land grant universities to provide a one-stop shop to access the best educational materials that are developed by Extension across the nation.  Personal finance is one of the topics on eXtension's Web site.  The viewer can learn about everything from investing, retirement and estate planning to organizing your household records and teaching children about money. Other features include frequently asked questions, ask an expert, news and upcoming events, and online calculation tools. 

MyMoney.gov (www.mymoney.gov) serves as the federal government's one-stop shop for financial literacy and education programs and information. Links to financial information are provided by many reputable educational and governmental agencies.

"The Web has dramatically increased the amount of financial information at the finger tips of consumers -- a real plus.  The challenge is to sort out trustworthy sites with unbiased and accurate information," Swanson says.

The ISU Extension Invest Wisely Project provides a series of newspaper, radio, and web resources for investors.  It is funded by a grant from the Investor Protection Trust (IPT).  The IPT is a nonprofit organization devoted to investor education.  Since 1993 the IPT has worked with the States to provide the independent, objective investor education needed by all Americans to make informed investment decisions (www.investorprotection.org).


Contacts :

Patricia Swanson, Human Development and Family Studies, (515) 294-2731, pswanson@iastate.edu

Barbara Abbott, Extension Communications and External Relations, (515) 294-4843, babbott@iastate.edu