Tracking your investments probably goes right along with eating veggies and drinking eight glasses of water a day as things that you know you should do but don’t. There’s a reason why for the investments: Most investment-tracking tools for consumers haven’t been all that easy to use, particularly for beginning investors.
But a flurry of new investment Web sites and spruced up older sites solve that problem and might help you to finally eat your vegetables, err, get control of your portfolio—even if you have little financial or Web experience. What’s best of all, many of these sites are free and will suit the casual investor—someone who makes just a handful of trades per year or who simply wants to keep a sharper eye on a conservative portfolio—just fine.
There are more than 5,100 Web sites that provide some kind of investing information or advice, according to Alexa, which tracks Web sites. But therein lies the problem. Of all of those sites, there are at least 20 third-party investment sites at press time that are dedicated to providing independent investment information, tracking tools and portfolio analysis—the most important features that investors need. And because all of these sites vary slightly regarding the investment tools that they deliver, investment Web sites are not a one-size-fits-all category. You must ask yourself a few questions and study your portfolio to determine which site will best fit your investing needs.
Should you eschew independent, third-party investment Web sites and stick with your broker’s Web site as your main tool for monitoring your investments? Or should you switch to a third-party site that doesn’t allow you to make trades but provides more-independent analysis, because it is affiliated with a financial-news organization? And do any of the newest third-party sites that specialize in analyzing your portfolio—many of which charge fees of around $100 a year—deliver a service that is truly necessary for most investors? We have the answers.
Eye on Investments: News, Analysis and Portfolio-Tracking Web Sites
Portfolio and Stock-Recommendation Web Sites
MATCH GAME. It soon might be the best time ever to consider switching to a third-party investment Web site. New regulations kick in after Dec. 31, 2010, that will require brokerage firms to do two things: Keep track of how much that you paid for stocks that you bought in January 2011 and beyond; and make those data available to you even if you switch brokerages or investment tracking Web sites. Essentially, this means that you no longer will be married to the investment Web sites that you use, because you will be able to switch sites without potentially losing years of financial data that is required at tax time and difficult to re-create. Internal Revenue Service requires you to keep track of how much you paid for stocks, bonds and other investments (your cost basis), so you know how much tax is owed on investment gains. The new rules mean that brokers must automatically provide cost-basis data to other sites at your request. That’s significant, because even those who bother to keep track of their cost basis still must manually enter those data if they switch to a new broker or investment tracking Web site. That’s a job that can take hours.
It was unclear at press time which third-party sites will support the ability to import these data from brokers, but the ones that do will make it clear by using terms such as direct download or brokerage import on their sites. As a result, Web sites that can import your cost-basis data, for instance, will be able to tell you what kind of tax hit you’d take if you sold a winning stock.
There is a catch to the new data-sharing rule, however. Only stocks that you buy after January 2011 are covered by the new rules. You still will have to manually track stocks that you bought before then.