Jane Bryant Quinn

THIS BET MAY COST YOU BIG

When the president argues for privatizing Social Security, he hammers home a single point: it's a better financial deal for the young. If they all had personal investment accounts, they'd wind up richer than if they stuck with the government plan.

CAPITAL IDEAS

If you expect to inherit an Individual Retirement Account or leave one to heirs, listen up. An IRA's tax shelter can last as long as its beneficiaries do.

A COOL HEAD FOR HOT TECH

For investors in tech stocks, what's the "next big thing"? Giving up, I'd say. Google-mania rules the headlines (the company went public in August and the stock doubled in five months).

HOW TO BANK ON YOUR HOME

How big a risk do you take--should you take--when you borrow against your home? With prices in most places bounding up, homeowners find themselves sitting on a fat pile of capital (your "home equity"--the cash you'd put in your pocket if you sold the house and paid off the mortgage).

CAPITAL IDEAS

How to use credit cards is the second most-important talk to have with your kid. The minute new college students hit campus, they're peppered with offers, which they'll almost certainly take.

ONE FUND IS ALL YOU NEED

Too bad we got what we wanted, when we started investing our own retirement funds. We wanted choice--lots of different types of mutual funds. We imagined dividing our money among the best of the best--so much in stocks, so much in bonds (if we paid any attention to bonds).

YOUR RETIREMENT: HOW TO LAND ON YOUR FEET

Steve Griggs was feeling flush. In a perfect, late-'90s bull-market moment, his investments reached $1.6 million, mostly from the Texas Instruments stock in his 401(k).

A GOLD MINE IN LOW FUND FEES

Hey there, fans of mutual funds. How would you like to make 2 percent more on your money each year, compounding into tens of thousands of dollars when you retire?

CAPITAL IDEAS

Planning on living on your savings and investments when you retire? Whether you make it depends not only on how much money you have. You also need a withdrawal plan that lasts a lifetime.

THE BARE FACTS ON STRIPPING

Should you strip? No, I'm not talking pole dancing, although ads for financial products sometimes read like soft porn. "Psst," the guys in raincoats hiss, "I know a way to get rich quick." Today's hot idea is equity stripping--borrowing most or all of the equity out of your house.

CAPITAL IDEAS

If you're saving for college in a state-run 529 plan, are you using it to best advantage? Your bottom line depends on what you pay for the account. Sometimes, annual fees can cost more than the taxes you save.

SMART CALLS (IN HINDSIGHT)

How often have you heard me say, "you can't predict the market"? That's the only prediction I know that's apt to be right. This year, as usual, one surprise after another leveled investors who thought they knew the score.

MONEY GUIDE: SOLVING THE TAX PUZZLE

Yes, there is a Santa Claus--a tax Claus--one especially generous to those with spare money to save. Do you have $$$$ more you can chuck away for retirement?

OUR 'KINDNESS DEFICIT' OF CARE

After the third presidential debate, the plight of those without health insurance vanished from political sight. No surprise there. Lack of medical care represents a moral lapse that voters love to tut-tut about but aren't moved to fix.

CAPITAL IDEAS

You wanted another tax deduction and now you've got it. Sales taxes. This year and next year, you can choose to deduct either sales taxes or state and local income taxes on your federal return.

BAD MEDICINE

Given a clean slate, no one--repeat, no one--would design a stupid health system like ours. We brag about it as being "the best," and it does indeed deliver mostly competent care.

CAPITAL IDEAS

Here's a place you don't want to be: in the midst of a media and legal circus because your life is up for grabs. That's the fate of Terry Schiavo, the Florida woman living, for 14 years, in a vegetative state.

Capital Ideas

If you leased a car in the late 1990s, you got a terrific deal. All told, you paid less than the car's true worth and the lessor swallowed the loss. On SUVs you saved $5,000 or $6,000, compared with the cost of buying the vehicle outright.To you, the bargain probably wasn't apparent.

A REMEDY FOR PRICEY DRUGS

You're in trouble if you have to buy your own brand-name prescription drugs. Over the past decade, prices leaped by more than double the inflation rate. Treatments for chronic conditions can easily top $2,000 a month--no wonder that one in four Americans can't afford to fill their prescriptions.

CAPITAL IDEAS

What? You don't own a hedge fund yet? As a status symbol, hedging beats Beemers hands down. Buying a fund proves that your net worth runs at least to $1 million or you've been earning more than $200,000.

How To Fix The Pension Mess

Oops, we've done it again--drilled a blast hole into the bedrock of workers' financial security. In the mid-1980s, a laissez-faire Congress let the savings-and-loan industry blow itself up, endangering the very existence of federal deposit insurance.

ONE FAULTY INVESTMENT

You rarely find me so deeply angry at a common investment product that I dream of blowing it to smithereens. Especially one that's sold by America's leading financial institutions, commands $393 billion in assets and sounds like a winner for retirees.

QUINN: GAS GUZZLERS' SHOCK THERAPY

My fellow americans, drop the fantasy that we'll return to cheap gasoline, and pump it for as long as our withered hands can steer an SUV. As the prophet saith, the end is nigh.

CAPITAL IDEAS

The sweet spot for refinancing a mortgage passed you by a year ago, when 30-year, fixed-rate loans hit a low of 5.37 percent. Back then, "refis were no-brainers," says Keith Gumbinger of HSH Associates, which gathers mortgage data. "You could grab any deal you saw and go away happy." It's still cheap to borrow extra money against your house.

Medicare's In Good Health

The way the pessimists talk, you'd think that America couldn't afford the future. Exhibit A is medical care for baby boomers. As they age they'll supposedly break the bank.

Capital Ideas

If you buy mutual funds from stockbrokers, you might have paid a sales charge you didn't owe. This happens when you're switching from one fund family to another.

Don't Bail On Falling Bonds

On Wall Street today, everyone's a prophet. They're marching around in Versace robes, waving gold-leafed signs warning the end is near. The end of low interest rates, that is.

CALLS OF THE WILD

Peeved about your phone bills? Timid about new technologies? Me too. Rates and services constantly change. All the big carriers are increasing their fees.

MAKING THE RIGHT CALL

Until new, cheaper technologies such as VoIP become more available, try saving money on your current bills. Here's how:Talk less. E-mail or instant-message instead.Cancel long-distance service if you don't make a lot of calls.

CAPITAL IDEAS

It hadda happen. The nice, friendly college savings plans called 529s that I so often praise are springing leaks. In some states, savers aren't getting enough information about the fees they pay.

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