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Your Piece Of The Mutual Fund Mea Culpa

It has been three years since several large mutual fund companies agreed to compensate shareholders for the losses they suffered when favored big investors, including hedge funds, were permitted to rapidly trade shares and place orders after hours. Now, finally, checks totaling some $2 billion are in the mail—or will be soon. In late July, the SEC approved plans from independent consultants hired by Putnam and MFS (MITTX) to distribute $153 million and $225 million, respectively, to affected shareholders. Putnam says it will issue payments in the fall, though the process could take "several months." Bank One and Pilgrim Baxter's PBHG funds, now sold under the Old Mutual name, already have SEC approval to cut checks. On average, PBHG shareholders can expect to receive more than $600 each. AIM/Invesco and Franklin, among others, are awaiting the go-ahead. The companies promise to contact affected shareholders. Information is also available at by clicking on "administrative proceedings" under "litigation."

The dreaded freshman 15, those extra pounds that come from eating all those carbs in the school cafeteria, isn't the only thing your kids need to worry about when heading off to college this fall. Sudden access to easy credit could get them into a heap of financial trouble.

The National Foundation for Credit Counseling reports that nearly one-half of college students land themselves in more than $3,000 of credit-card debt by the time they graduate. Besides being too freewheeling with plastic, financially naive college kids are prime victims of credit-card fraud and identity theft.

One way undergrads can try to avoid these personal-finance pitfalls is by checking out a new Web site geared to their generation. Sponsored by Visa, teaches college students all about credit—how to get it, how to use it, how not to abuse it. It also covers other money basics, such as setting a budget, buying a car, and renting an apartment.

Click on the Resources box and you'll find money-oriented games, including Road Trip to Savings. More advanced students of life can get advice on credit reports and scores. So they should party on. But, whenever possible, have them pay with cash.

Has your lender offered biweekly instead of monthly payments? Most deals require direct deductions from your bank account and effectively add an extra monthly payment per year. On a 30-year, $500,000 mortgage with a 6.5% interest rate, you'd pay off the loan nearly six years early. That cuts total interest from nearly $640,000 to under $500,000. The rub: Most lenders charge for this. Some banks want a one-time fee of $300 or more, some charge hundreds of dollars a year. Others collect around $2.50 per payment. But "you can accomplish the same thing yourself [for free]," says Carolyn Warren, author of Mortgage Rip-Offs and Money Savers (John Wiley & Sons). Just send the extra payments to the bank.

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