Online tools make just about everything easier, including investing. No matter how far you’ve gotten in your investing efforts, there’s a tool or two that can help you out. I’ve listed out a few of the tools I’ve come to rely on below — and I hope you’ll add any you use in the comments.

Google Finance

I rely on Google Finance for quite a few aspects of investing. I’m a big believer in checking out any hot stock tip myself, and Google Finance is one of the easiest ways to do just that. It’s got all the standard information about a stock, as well as one of the more up-to-date news streams for each stock. I particularly like the ability to save multiple portfolios — not only do I use Google Finance to track my own portfolio every day, I use it to keep an eye on a couple of other stocks that I either need a reminder not to buy (a lot of those hot stock tips wind up in that category) or a few investments I’m planning to make in the near future.

TreasuryDirect

Treasury securities, including bonds, have become incredibly easy to buy online. The U.S. Treasury maintains its own site — TreasuryDirect — where you can set up an account, link it to the bank account of your choice and pick up treasury bills, notes and bonds with a simple click. Even better, the interest you receive from these treasury securities is automatically deposited right back into the same bank account you used for your initial purchase. The site even includes calculators and other resources for investing in treasury securities, generally considered one of the most stable investments available.

Sharebuilder

Sharebuilder allows you to buy stocks in fractional amounts, making it much easier to invest. It’s not exactly a new concept — Direct Purchase Plans and Direct Reinvestment Plans (known as DRIPs) provide the opportunity to buy smaller portions of a company than a single share. However, most DRIPs have certain requirements that can make them harder to use: you often already need to own a certain amount of stock in a company to get started. With Sharebuilder, as long as you have money, you can buy as much — or as little — stock as you want.

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission

I consider the SEC’s website to be an advanced investment tool. Personally, I don’t use it all that often — but there is an amazing amount of information available if you’re willing to sift through it. All publicly traded companies are required to file a number of different documents with the SEC and almost all of those filings are available online. The system has a bit of a learning curve, but you can get annual reports, information on a company’s securities and far more without a filter of news reporting or public relations spin.

Tip’d

Tip’d is a site that recently left beta: I’ve been keeping an eye on it and, as far as keeping track of information that could affect your investments, it’s fairly useful. It’s a social media site and you can vote stories up or down. There’s a pretty wide variety of stories included on the site, but if you’re trying learn as much as you can about the market before making an investment, Tip’d is a good starting point.

Inner8

Another site that adds social elements to investing is Inner8. It’s still in beta, but this site has quite a few useful tools for investors. Site members have the opportunity to recommend specific stocks — as well as recommend against particular stock picks. You can also keep close track of any fellow investor that you feel has a particularly good grasp on investments: you can see how accurate a person’s predictions are and receive updates as soon as they make a new prediction. Inner8 also provides the standard information on specific stocks, like forecasts, trading information and news updates. This site was built by members of the team that established E*TRADE and the two sites work well together. I don’t recommend one online brokerage over another, but E*TRADE has one of the longest histories of such companies and is worth looking at when you consider such options. Ameritrade is another well-known option for trading online.

Getting Started With Investments

Between these tools and this week’s introduction to various types of investments (part 1 and part 2), you’ve got the basic information to start researching investments. While I won’t offer up any investment advice — the right investment for me may be completely wrong for you — I would say that there are plenty of opportunities out there, even though the stock market and other investments have taken a beating lately. In fact, there are a few deals out there because of the current economic crunch. Much of this information could be used to maximize your 401(k)’s or IRA’s potential, if you’ve already set up a plan for retirement savings.

You’ve got several options as far as next steps go. In general, knowing as much as you can about an investment before you actually risk your money is a good idea. However, if you aren’t interested or able to learn as much as you’d like before investing, you can always consult a professional. There are brokerages everywhere and all of them are happy to help you invest your money.

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