Reward companies not Wall Street

Question: I will retire this year at age 65. My husband and I are both conservative financially. We own outright our farm and two rental properties. I moved all the assets in my 401K to a cash account two years ago, so I have not suffered loses there (a good thing since I work for AIG!). I realize I must move some money into equities to keep up with inflation over time, but I don't trust any financial advisor (I have some experience) and I certainly don't want to invest in a way that will pour money into the coffers of Wall Street analysts and traders. Here is my question: when one invests in stocks (funds or individual) on the NYSE or Nasdaq, does Wall Street automatically profit? I want to 'Invest in America,' but I don't want to reward unethical financiers. I bet there are a lot of small investors who feel the same way I do. Thank you for any words of advice. Melinda, Burns, TN

Answer: Many people agree with you. And I imagine you have some stories to tell about living through all the turmoil at AIG.

Wall Street profits in most cases when it comes to buying stocks. But there are ways to limit the amount that goes into the pockets of financiers.

Now, you already know this, but to reiterate: When you buy publically traded stocks the money usually doesn't go to the company. The investor who sells the stock gets the gain or the loss. Companies get investor money during an initial public offering (IPO) and with any subsequent additional sales of shares. However, it's easier for a company to get access to capital--such as borrowing--when investor show their enthusiasm for its business by bidding up its stock price.

With funds, one way to limit Wall Street's gain is to buy a major stock index, either through a mutual fund or an exchange traded fund. The annual fees on both types of fund are razor thin. You can take another step in this direction by purchasing socially responsible index funds. This kind of investment combines low fees along with putting your money into companies you like and managements you'd like to reward.

With an index fund you aren't paying for the services of a professional money manager or advisor. You're your own money manager.

With individual shares, I wonder if it would work for you to buy stock directly from a company? There are a number of large companies, typically major national and multinational corporations, that offer shareholders direct purchase plans--you can buy company stock without going through a broker.

You can learn more about companies offering this kind of plan by going to betterinvesting.org. It offers a long list of companies with direct purchase plans, starting with 3M and ending with Zion Bancorporation. (Betterinvesting is the website for the National Association of Investors Corporation, the umbrella organization for many investor clubs).

I do believe that there are many ethical financial firms in the country, from many credit unions to a number of mutual fund companies. I'd do business with financial companies with a strong track record of good service and low fees, along with a proven willingness by management to steer clear of fads that eventually harm customers.

One last point: Do you need to invest in stocks to stay ahead of inflation? Don't get me wrong. I am a big fan of equities. But would purchasing Treasury Inflation Protected Securities--a hedge against inflation--be a better bet for you? It's worth exploring.

About the author

Chris Farrell is the economics editor of Marketplace Money.

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