Last week's question and answer
I'm the global leader in records management and have been storing boxes of documents for companies since 1951. More than half of the Fortune 500 companies use me, and I serve more than 200,000 accounts on several continents. I store mostly paper, but also computer disks and tapes, microfilm, audio and video tapes, X-rays and blueprints. I can retrieve or destroy whichever records you want. My disaster recovery division can back up your data and store it off-site. You might call me Ferrous Peak. Who am I?
(Answer: Iron Mountain)
Your tax refund
Think about it a bit, and you'll realize that getting a tax refund from Uncle Sam isn't as wonderful as it seems.
It means you've lent money to the government interest-free. Still, it's always nice to receive a check. Here are some ways you can put yours to good use:
- Open or contribute to a short-term savings account to protect yourself from unexpected expenses, because emergencies do happen. Learn more and find good rates at www.fool.com/savings and www.bankrate.com.
- Pay down some of that 20 percent credit card debt and gain a guaranteed, market-crushing 20 percent return.
- Beat inflation and save on state and local taxes by buying an I Bond. They come in denominations as little as $50, with no commissions or fees. You can buy them at www.treasurydirect.gov.
- Open or add to an IRA. At 10 percent per year, a $1,000 contribution will grow to $117,000 in 50 years.
- Open a dividend reinvestment plan (DRIP) with a great company. Learn more at www.dripcentral.com.
- Invest in yourself. Take a course to learn or to polish a skill.
- Invest in your home. Add insulation around windows and doors, install long-lasting, energy-saving lightbulbs, replace that aging roof, or get a new paint job.
- Invest in your car. Replace those balding tires, fix those rust spots or get that new muffler.
- Invest in your community. Donate to worthy local charities.
- Invest in your friends and family. Give copies of a financial guide to your loved ones so they can take control of their money. Be the Johnny Appleseed of personal finance. Suggestions: "The Only Investment Guide You'll Ever Need" by Andrew Tobias (Harvest Books, $14) or "The Motley Fool Money Guide" by Selena Maranjian (Motley Fool, $15).
- Boost your portfolio's performance by becoming a savvier investor. Find educational resources at www.fool.com/teens/teens10.htm.
- If you haven't yet bought any stock, test the water by buying a few shares of your favorite company. Learn how to find a good broker at www.broker.fool.com.
When do companies issue their earnings reports? -- C.T., Lancaster, Pa.
Publicly traded American businesses are required to publish their financial performance four times a year. Once a year, companies issue an annual report and a more-detailed 10-K report. In the three intervening quarters, they issue 10-Q reports.
The 10-Q summarizes quarterly performance. While it's fairly abbreviated, it still can be extremely enlightening. The 10-K reviews the year's results in much more detail and also features a lengthy discussion of the firm's operations and challenges.
Many public companies also routinely hold quarterly telephone conference calls between management and Wall Street analysts. You often can listen to recordings of them through the firms' own Web sites or through sites such as http://biz.yahoo.com/cc and http://quote.fool.com (in the "Tools and Resources" section).
Conference calls are a terrific way to keep up with your holdings. They permit you to hear the voices of management and to get a sense of how forthcoming they are with information.
Are there any special points in life when I really need to address personal finance issues? -- R.D., Racine, Wis.
It's best to always be learning more about personal finances and to attend to them regularly. But at a minimum, consider paying particular attention around major events and issues in your life. These include getting married, starting a family, saving and paying for college, dealing with divorce, buying and selling a home, caring for aging parents, losing a spouse, and planning for and living in retirement. A little reading up also can help you maximize your benefits at work. Learn more at www.fool.com/pf.htm.
A 3-D scam
In 1999, I saw an ad in the paper about investing in a stock called 3-D Scan. You had to buy at least 5,000 shares at $1 each. I spent $5,000. The president kept shareholders informed and things looked bright for a while.
Then in 2000, I stopped receiving mailings, and no one at the office returned my calls. In 2002, I read in the newspaper that the company was out of business and that government regulators were taking action against the firm. This investment should have been called "3-D Scam," not 3-D Scan. -- Edward Krystofosky, Larksville, Pa.
The Fool Responds: A key lesson to learn here is to run away from any "investments" that are advertised. If an investment is truly attractive, those around it and those who know about it will snap it up. They won't have to pay to try to find people willing to buy shares. It's the same with "cold calls" you may receive from "brokers" (who are really salespeople) at dinnertime, urging you to invest in some sure thing. If it were really a sure thing, why would they be offering it to strangers?