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A quiz, retirement info and a video

f you've been an investor for a while, you know that bond funds are kind of like the investment you love to hate. They aren't sexy, don't often make the headlines and usually aren't the main topic of conversation at cocktail parties. But they are a necessary, if not vital, component for those wanting to create a well-diversified portfolio.

Then again, understanding bonds, their pricing and how funds tally their total returns, can be tricky. At least that's what the folks at American Century funds have found out.

In a telephone survey of 750 investors, here are some of the things that American Century's poll revealed:

-While 63 percent of investors correctly described a bond as a debt security issued by a company, municipality or government agency, very few understood the relationship between the direction of interest rates and bond performance, credit quality and bond yields, and bond maturity and interest-rate sensitivity.

- Twenty-nine percent said that bond prices rise when interest rates rise, while only 31 percent correctly answered that bond prices fall when interest rates rise.

-Almost 30 percent of investors indicated that they avoid bonds because they are difficult to understand.

-Investors seemed mis-informed about the benefits of state-specific municipal bond mutual funds. For instance, 11 percent answered that a municipal bond fund's portfolio was invested in "the state's most successful companies."

To find out how bond savvy you are, American Century has added a Bond I.Q. Quiz to their web site. To find it, go to www.americancentury.com/workshop/getting_started.jsp. Once there, look under "Bonds" and click-on the last entry, "What's Your Bond I.Q.."

Good luck!

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Waddell & Reed has hopped on the self-employed and owner-only owned companies bandwagon by offering a new 401 (k) specifically for that audience. It's called the Exclusive (k).

"The Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2001 created increased contribution opportunities with al 401 (k) plans," says Debra Zipp, assistant vice president, retirement plans and sales management for Waddell & Reed. "And due to the separation of employee and employer contributions, it is now more advantageous for owner-only employers to set up a 401 (k) for themselves."

Zipp said that the Exclusive (k) is simpler, more flexible, and less expensive to maintain than a tradition 401 (k). And, it's designed for owner-only companies, sole proprietors, self-employed individuals, common partnerships and employed spouses. Companies with common law employees are not able to participate.

For more information about Waddell & Reed's Exclusive (k), call 1-888-waddell (923-3355), or visit their website at www.waddell.com.

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Like videos and CD-ROMs? Strong Capital Management is now offering a free educational video titled, "529 Plans: A Less Taxing Way to Save for College" to help educate folks to the benefits of saving for college using 529 plans.

Some of the subjects covered in this educational piece include the rising costs of tuition, financial aid and the flexibility of 529 plans.

The information is available in both video and CD-ROM format. To view the video, visit Strong's web site at: www.Strong529plans.com . For delivery in a CD-ROM format, call Strong's College Planning Specialists at 1-800-368-8040 and request it by title.


Dian Vujovich is a nationally syndicated mutual fund columnist, author of a number of books including Straight Talk About Mutual Funds (McGraw-Hill), and publisher of this web site.

To read more articles, please visit the column archive.

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