Personal Finance Q & A
Feeling at home with Internet calculators
Q I'm trying to figure out how to pay off my house, including making payments of additional principal. I want to use an online calculator. Any recommendations?
L.Y., via e-mail
A Try Martindale's "The Reference Desk" (www-sci.lib.uci.edu/HSG/RefCalculators.html). It contains more calculators dealing with personal finance and other subjects than you'll likely ever need.
The site will also link you to a calculator that may answer your specific questions (www.interest.com/hugh/calc/prepay.cgi).
Another good site to figure out mortgage prepayments is Home-Owners Finance Center (www.homeowners.com/mortcalc.html).
Q Why are some companies grouped as cyclicals and others as non-cyclicals?
C.S., Austin, Texas
A Cyclicals are companies whose sales and profits are tied to the business cycle, which typically waxes and wanes over a narrow period of years.
When a certain cycle comes to the fore - such as a recession or expansion - then certain types of companies are expected to do well because they are linked to that cycle.
For example, auto, real estate, and chemical firms are considered cyclicals because they do especially well when the economy expands, and consumers are upbeat and more willing to spend.
A "non-cyclical" company is less affected by changes in the business cycle. One example: Coca-Cola. Folks buy soft-drinks year round regardless of economic conditions.
A final point: Many analysts caution novice investors against attempting to time the market by investing primarily in cyclical stocks. Reason: The stock market is always looking ahead, anticipating trends. So by the time a market cycle has arrived, the companies linked to that cycle might already have risen, or declined, in value.
Q I want to learn as much about mutual funds as possible. How can I contact Mutual Funds magazine and Morningstar?
J.I., Graterford, Pa.
A Mutual Funds magazine, which covers mutual funds in depth, was recently acquired by Time Inc. It can be reached at 2200 S.W. 10th Street, Deerfield Beach, FL, 33442. Its Web address is www.mfmag.com.
Morningstar, an information service that tracks mutual funds, is at 225 West Wacker Drive, Chicago, IL, 60606. Its Web site is www.morningstar.net.
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