Getting rich isn't easy, but you can improve your chances of accumulating wealth by studying the affluent, said Arkansas financial planner Larry Waschka, author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Getting Rich ($16.95; Alpha Books).
Mr. Waschka found that the wealthy share some habits. A few of them: Save every month. Maximize your 401(k), SEP or IRA contributions. Save your raises. Let a mutual fund direct-deposit your account. Avoid debt. Refinance your mortgage when rates drop. Use only low-interest credit cards. Pay more each month on your mortgage.
Also: Shop before you buy. Get seasonal items out of season. Learn to haggle. Delay buying items you don't need, buy used when you can. Take care of what you own. Maintain a basic understanding of the stock and bond markets, and take time to plan - research and systematically measure your results.
Pick tax preparer carefully
This might be the year you cry uncle and hire a professional to do your taxes. But who?
''You need someone who is knowledgeable, takes an interest in your personal well-being and has a philosophical approach similar to your own,'' said Martin Bush, a tax analyst for CCH Inc., a publisher of tax-law information.
But finding the right tax preparer could take more work than locating an overlooked tax deduction. Some advice, from CCH, the Kentucky Society of CPAs and the Institute of Certified Financial Planners: If you sold a home, had investments, started or sold a business or divorced, you might need professional help.
Sort out what kind of assistance you require and your expectations, then interview several candidates. Ask about qualifications, fees and profiles of typical clients. Make sure that you feel comfortable with the person and that he or she would represent you if the IRS questions your filing or audits you.
'Smart Money' nails funds
Smart Money magazine's annual list of worst-performing mutual fund companies includes nine fund families with total assets of more than $34 billion. All nine companies are marketed primarily through brokers.
''Mediocre returns, ridiculously high sales charges, rapid turnover - all can be found at these mutual fund companies,'' the magazine reports.
To be considered for the list, fund companies had to have at least $1 billion in stock- and bond-fund assets with five-year records. With the help of Morningstar, Smart Money compared the performance of funds to peer funds, adjusting for commissions, from January 1992 through December 1996.
The losers: Calvert, First Investors, Fortis, Landmark, Lord Abbett, PaineWebber, Piper, Sentinel and SunAmerica.
Plan for wonderful wedding
Weddings are a $32 billion-a-year industry, but you don't have to spend a fortune to have a wonderful wedding.
To avoid unscrupulous merchants and last-minute headaches, the Better Business Bureau of Metropolitan New York advises planning as far in advance as possible. Set a budget and stick to it. Pay with credit cards, so that if disputes arise, you have some leverage. Get contracts in writing, including specific dates, products, prices, name brands.
Vanguard draws most in Jan.
Vanguard Group's equity funds took in more net new cash than any other mutual fund family in January, investment researcher Liquidity Trim Tabs said.
Vanguard equity funds drew $4.52 billion during the month, equal to 2.1 percent of its $213.77 billion in assets under management.
T. Rowe Price Associates was a distant second in net new cash, with $1.61 billion, or 2.7 percent, of its $60 billion under management.
- From Enquirer news services