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In general, the most common types of investments available to the average person, are:

It is crucial to understand the differences in the common types of investment vehicles available today. Each are described below, together with information about what to look for and how to find the information.

Bank Accounts

Bank Accounts represent money held on deposit at a commercial institution such as a bank. The money is available to you without delay. The bank could be of the neighborhood bricks-and-mortar variety, bricks-and mortar and online, or exclusively online.

There are three basic types of bank accounts: checking accounts, savings accounts, and certificates of deposit.

Checking Account: You can access your money through an ATM, by writing a check, through a bank issued debit card, or by asking the bank to transfer money for you electronically (known as a "wire transfer.") If the bank is a local one, you can also access money from a bank teller.

Checking accounts generally do not give you interest on your money.

The account may be free, or there may be a charge per check - or a combination of an amount of free checks plus payment for additional checks. Some banks require minimum balances to keep a checking account open.

Savings Account: Savings accounts are bank accounts that earn interest. Your money is accessible on demand through ATM machines, through bank issued debit cards, and sometimes by writing checks. If the bank is a local one, you can also access money from a bank teller.

With a traditional savings account, you can deposit or withdraw cash from a local branch, by mail or through an ATM. With online banks, deposits are made by transfer from other accounts or by mail so they can take a few days. With an online bank, to withdraw cash, you may have to transfer money to another checking account instead of by using an ATM.

Certificate of Deposit, commonly known as CDs: Money held on deposit at a commercial institution such as a bank. These accounts usually pay a higher rate of interest than savings accounts.

By purchasing a CD, you agree to keep the money in the bank for a specified period of time, ranging from very short to longer term. Rates vary from bank to bank and by the length of time until the CD matures.

There is usually a penalty for early withdrawal of funds from a CD.

If you are interested in purchasing a CD, check to see whether long-term or short-term CDs offer the highest rate of interest. If you need money prior to the maturity date, it is possible to borrow against CDs to help preserve the interest.

You can compare rates at: offsite link (Click on Compare Rates, then on CDs)

Government Insurance: FDIC

The FDIC (Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation) is an arm of the federal government. It insures money in bank accounts up to a limit. The FDIC does not insure investments in stocks, bonds, life insurance policies or other investments, even if you purchased them from an insured bank.

Basic FDIC insurance is $250,000 per depositor per insured bank.  If you have funds in more than one insured bank, you can have up to $250,000 insured in each. (So, if you have $250,000 in Bank A, $250,000 in Bank B and $10,000 in Bank C, your full $510,000 is insured by the FDIC).

You can increase the amount insured at each bank by adding multiple names. For example, one account in your name, one account in your and a spouse's name, and one account solely in the spouse's name.

If you have more money to put into a CD and want it insured, a bank which participates in the Certificate of Deposit Account Registry Service (CDARS) spreads your money into different banks. You deal with one bank, but your money is in multiple banks. To see if your bank is part of the service, see offsite link Tel.: 866.776.6426

If you want to check to be sure that a bank does have FDIC insurance, go to offsite link  or call 877.275.3342, press "0" for "information specialist"

To see if your accounts are under the coverage limits, check the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation's interactive tool at offsite link. For assistance, call 877.275.3342.


Stocks are interests in ownership of a company. If the company makes a lot of profit, or increases the value of its assets, the stock goes up. With losses, the value of the stock goes down.

Stocks come in different forms. For instance, there are different types of stock:

Common Stock: The basic type of ownership. Common stock usually has a right to vote about such matters as goals of the company, officers and directors. There is no guaranteed return to investors.

Preferred Stock: Is also a type of ownership, but usually has defined limitations. For example, it may or may not be voting. It may have a preferred right to receive dividends (profit of the company.) In the event the company is closed, preferred stock holders may have a priority over common stock holders.

When purchasing stocks, it helps to look to the company's history, current management and prediction for the future of the industry as well of the individual company.

You can purchase stocks individually through a Stockbroker, or through a mutual fund. To learn about mutual funds, see below.

You can find information about stocks on the company's web sites as well as a batch of internet sites. For example:

  • offsite link - includes links and background information for each step in the investment process and all of the major asset classes such as stocks, bonds, real estate, venture capital, and collectibles. 
  • offsite link - contains over 7.500 links organized by topics ranging from annual reports to technical analysis.
  • offsite link

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Bonds are debt - an obligation to repay borrowed money with a specified amount of interest. Bonds are generally paid off at a specific date in the future spelled out in the bond instrument.

Income from bonds issued by certain entities may be tax free.

You can purchase bonds individually, or through a mutual fund. You can buy U.S. Treasury Bills, Notes, Bonds TIPS (Treasury Inflation-protected securities) and Savings Bonds online through the U.S. Treasury at offsite link

When purchasing bonds, consider:

  • The financial condition of the issuer.
  • The issuer's history with respect to payment of bonds and other obligations.
  • The term until repayment.
  • The interest rate and other relevant terms.

You can find information about bonds in the same sources for information about stocks noted above.

Mutual Funds

A Mutual Fund combines money from different investors to purchase stocks, bonds and other investments.

  • Mutual funds vary by objectives.
  • A fund manager invests the pooled funds according to the objectives.
  • Profit or loss is distributed among the individual investors.
  • The value of shares in a mutual fund is known as "net asset value." Net asset value is the value of the fund divided by the number of outstanding shares.

When considering mutual funds

  • Only look at funds that fit within your investment strategy.  There are all kinds of mutual funds, including funds that invest in specific industries, or municipal bonds, or specific indexes such as the Dow Jones Index.
  • There are funds which do not charge a commission, and those which charge below average management fees. If everything else is equal, no-load funds (funds which don't charge a commission), and which take a lower fee, can more easily provide higher yields.
  • Find out if you will subjected to a tax for profits made by the fund prior to your investment.
  • There are some funds that waive certain fees purchase and/or redemption fees if you are "disabled." Look at the paperwork for each fund to find out how it defines "disabled."

For more on mutual funds, consider starting your search for information with consumer publications such as Consumer Reports ( offsite link). Also check comprehensive sites such as:

There are web sites that help compare the performance of various mutual funds. For example:

Money Market Funds

A Money Market Fund is a type of mutual fund. Rather than invest in stocks and bonds, a money market fund invests in the money markets. The funds invest in short term debt obligations (from one day to one year). The main goal is to preserve the principal (the amount invested) and to obtain a reasonable return. To simplify accounting, the net asset value of interests generally remains fixed at $1.00. The interest rate fluctuates. Money market funds are considered as liquid as cash in a bank account. However, they are not insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation.

Money market accounts usually offer check-writing privileges.

Money market accounts are available at local brick-and-mortar and at online banks. If you want to check the rating of a money market fund, go to offsite link. Click on "Fund" then click "Money Market Funds"

NOTE: While generally considered safe, there is no guarantee that the value of a money market fund will not decline. The value of the obligations in which the funds invests may decline. Read the prospectus for a fund in which you're interested to understand the risk involved.

Real Estate

A real estate investment is an investment in residential or commercial real property such as houses and buildings, or unimproved land.


An insurance company agrees to pay an income for a specified period of time, sometimes for life, in return for a single or multiple premiums. If you receive an annuity for life, you cannot outlive your money. In a very real sense, you transfer the risk of living a long life to the insurance company. For unbiased information about annuities, see Annuities.

Variable Annuities are annuities in which the amount you receive varies depending on the investment option you choose. For unbiased information about variable annuities, see offsite link

Before purchasing any annuity, consider the financial strength of the company as well as its history. If you can learn about the competence of current management, so much the better.