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Tactics for boosting returns

When fine-tuning a portfolio, experts agree that you can make big bucks over time by applying these basic investing strategies:

*With mutual funds, avoid high expense ratios, says David Bendix, of Bendix Financial Group. That would often mean anything above 1.5 percent for a domestic fund, most experts agree, and 3 percent on an international fund. The lower the expense ratio, the more gain you get to keep and let compound over time. On bond funds, anything above 1 percent is generally considered high.

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*Avoid loads and charges on your mutual funds. Loads go to the sale's rep, not the fund manager. So-called 12-b-1 fees pay for advertising and other fund expenses. Some funds impose back-end fees if you transfer out before a certain period, such as three or six months. So if you enter such a fund, try to stay the course for the period.

*Just boosting your returns by 2 percent can add thousands of dollars over time. So if you buy what is considered a "conservative" investment, such as a bank certificate of deposit, hunt for the highest possible interest rate. Look outside your own area. Check out, for example, www.bankrate.com, which lists rates from around the US.

*If you buy individual stocks, look for a discount, or deep discount broker, with lowest possible trading costs.

*If you buy companies that offer DRIPs (dividend-reinvestment plans) or direct-purchase plans, you can make big savings on commission charges, since you will bypass brokerage houses. (The company involved may deal with a broker, however.) For a list of companies offering such plans, check out www.netstockdirect.com, or www.moneypaper.com. In buying DRIPs, however, you need to save all your paperwork, especially end of the year documents, since you will need to compute your gains when you sell.

*Set aside a portion of your overall portfolio as "mad or play money," Mr. Bendix says. The mad money might go into an Internet or biotechnology-linked fund. Or it might go into a sizzling stock. It's that part of your portfolio that you can afford to do creative things with, without losing your shirt.

*In looking for things new and bold, beware of things old and corrupt, experts say. If a broker you don't know calls you cold turkey, lock up your wallet. Ditto most penny stocks, or get-rich schemes in exotic investment strategies.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society