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B. Working it out on your own

1. We get it. You like to DIY.

You fix your own bike, wallpaper the bathroom yourself, maybe even make your own pasta. So the idea of investing without having to pay a professional is appealing and internet sites make investing online as easy as a few clicks. There are a few things you need to know before you take the plunge (or hit 'send').

2. Homework is not only important, it is essential.

If you wallpapered that bathroom without first preparing the surface or gathering the right tools for the job, you probably ended up redoing it or hiring someone the next time. The same is true in investing. Before you 'pick a stock' you need to read as much as you can about investing, how to determine what investment is right for you and how to know when to 'buy' or 'sell'. The responsibility for your investments rest solely on your shoulders, so take the time to learn as much as you can. It will be time well spent when you are confident no matter what the headlines are saying. A good investment maintains its value over time even with dips in the market. Diversification of your portfolio (mixing the types of investments you own) will make those market dips even less jarring. Don't buy unless you know -- investigate before you invest.

3. Learn what tools are available and how to use them.

There are a number of apps and websites dedicated to investing but watch out -- some of them are fraudulent (see 'how to spot and avoid fraud). Look for sites that clearly state they are members of SIPC (Securities Investor Protection Corp.). Just like the FDIC (Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.) for banks, the SIPC protects investors and ensures that the site you are viewing isn't just a scam. Keep in mind that you can still lose money on a high-risk stock choice. The SIPC simply ensures that you are dealing with a legitimate company.

4. There is still a price to be paid.

Investing online is not free--there are still fees and charges. Some sites give price breaks for more volume but often other charges can end up costing you more in the long run. It all goes back to doing your homework. Learn about front-load, end-load charges and monthly fees. Good sites will have that information readily available and clearly marked. Take advantage of tutorials that will tell you what happens if there is an outage. Always locate the customer service contact numbers and keep them handy if something goes wrong.

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