A recent Google search for "investment advice" produced more than 5 million results. How do you sort through it all to find the right help?
Mark Hulbert has been researching investment newsletters and comparing claims against actual investment performance for more than 25 years with his independent newsletter, The Hulbert Financial Digest. His life, and yours, has become more difficult in recent years. "The barriers to entry are so low online," he says. "It used to be that people weren't [giving advice] as much on a lark."
Hulbert is skeptical of sites and software packages that make aggressive claims about their financial prowess while offering dozens of portfolio suggestions. It's easy, he says, to look back over 200 portfolios you've suggested to pick a few that did well. He looks even more askance at sites that don't have a measurable history of portfolio predictions. At sites like www.archive.org, you can check what a particular website was saying on a particular date, allowing you to see how reliable a site is.
Ask people you trust for advice, and search online for sites that interest you. Then, paper trade each of them for a few months, Hulbert advises. Create a spreadsheet and mark trades that you might have made based on recommendations at the sites in question. See how they do over time. "Unfortunately, from a statistical point of view, you need years, not months," Hulbert says. But it gives you an idea of how each site works and how reliable its predictions are in the short term. If you notice that a site's claims change, check them against your reality. You can walk away with nothing lost other than some of your time.
Scott Bernard Nelson is a newspaper editor and freelance writer in Portland, Oregon.