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Women should answer 3 questions before investing

Q. What kind of investments are best for women?

A. There are no special "women's investments." But female investors often have special concerns about investing that grow out of a lack of knowledge and a resulting lack of confidence.

As a female investor, you want investments that are high quality and a good match for your needs. Here are three questions to ask about any investment you are considering:

1. Will this investment help me meet my goals? Investments need to fit your time frame _ long-term investments for long-term goals. Most people should have a mixture of stocks, bonds and cash. Don't buy any new investment until you understand how it fits with the ones you already have.

2. Do these investments match my risk tolerance? Women tend to be more conservative about their investments than men. If that describes you, stay away from aggressive stocks and high-yield bonds and notes. You don't want to lose sleep worrying about your investments.

3. Can I manage these investments? Even if you are working with an adviser, stick with investments you understand and whose performance you can monitor. Most people are better off owning stock mutual funds rather than individual stocks.

Learn about investments and take an active interest in your accounts. Remember that nobody cares as much about your money as you do.

Q. Why do you recommend consumer credit counseling services, or CCS? Signing up for their debt repayment program was one of the worst decisions I ever made. I paid them a monthly amount and they determined how much was distributed to each creditor. If a creditor is not paid the full monthly minimum, it is considered a late pay. Now my credit scores are low because of late pays even though I paid CCS on time. Although I paid my entire debt in full in one year, I have had difficulty getting credit. I heard that working with CCS is worse for your credit record than bankruptcy.

A. I am sorry you had a bad experience. A heavy debt load is a serious problem for which there rarely is a perfect solution. Many people find credit counseling services helpful in tackling the problem.

Because creditors must agree in advance to the debt repayment schedule proposed by a counseling service, it seems unfair for this to be reported as a late payment. Although it does happen, it is the exception rather than the rule, said Barbara Morton, vice president of counseling programs for CCS of Central Florida and the Florida Suncoast.

She said people who complete a debt repayment plan are encouraged to go over their credit reports with a CCS counselor to look for items that should be corrected. If you have never discussed your report with a CCS counselor, that might be a good idea.

Do not forget that you have the option of disputing an item on your credit report. If a creditor will not agree to change a negative item, you can file a statement of up to 100 words with the credit bureau to tell your side of the story.

Q. We own a mutual fund that is worth about $10,000 less than what we paid. If we sell it, can we take some of the loss off our income tax as a capital loss and carry it over for four or five years? We pay about $1,500 tax a year.

A. You would realize your $10,000 capital loss if you sold your investment, but you would not be able to deduct the entire amount in one year even if you wanted to. If you have no capital gains to offset against a loss, you are limited to deducting $3,000 a year from your income. The extra is carried forward, then used at the rate of $3,000 per year until the entire loss has been deducted.

A capital loss is a deduction from income, not a credit against your taxes. If you are in the 15 percent tax bracket, a $3,000 loss saves $450 in taxes.

Online money map

If you think you've figured out how to be a wise investor, you don't have to keep the knowledge to yourself; you can put it on the Web. Richard Rockwood shares his value-oriented approach at FocusInvestor.Com (http://www.focusinvestor.com). The site features a collection of his articles about investment selection and stock analysis.

_ Helen Huntley writes about investing and markets for the Times. If you have a question about investments or personal finance, send it to On Money. We'll try to answer those we think are of greatest reader interest. All questions must be submitted in writing, but readers' names will not be published. Send questions to Helen Huntley, Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731, or to huntleysptimes.com by e-mail.

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