Dividends given low priority when picking stocks

Q. Should i ignore dividends when deciding what stocks to buy? P.W., New York

A. "Yes, ignore them, unless you have a requirement for income," says Peggy Farley, who heads up financial firm Ascent Asset Management, New York.

Even at their best, dividends make up far less than half the total return of most stocks. But you have to pay taxes on dividends annually. By contrast, you only pay capital-gains taxes on your stock (for its appreciation in price) when you sell.

So, unless you need a continuing cash flow - which you can always get with a money-market fund, or some utility stocks - "look for solid, undervalued companies that reinvest their earnings in further growth," says Ms. Farley.

Q. I have a fairly modest income but wish to start investing money this fall. Where do I find a good financial consultant? Can you recommend any books for first time investors? L.U. via e-mail

A. Contact the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors, (NAPFA) at 1-888-FEE-ONLY, or log onto their Web site: www.feeonly.org

NAPFA represents fee-only financial planners, who are paid for services rendered, rather than commissions for products sold to you.

You can also look in the Yellow Pages for someone with financial credentials, such as a certified financial planner (CFP), or a planner who is also a lawyer or accountant.

There are many fine investment guides. One of the best is also the shortest: "The Only Investment Guide You'll Ever Need," by Andrew Tobias. It has only one chart.

Q. I'm a first-year college student and I would like to get a bank credit card. I have a part-time job. Should I contact my bank? K.R., New Brunswick, N.J.

A. You can always ask your local bank if it will issue you a card. But you may only be offered a secured card, linked to your savings account, says a spokesperson for CardWeb, a research organization in Frederick, Md.,

You can also contact CardWeb (www.cardweb.com). From its home page, click on Card Trak and then "student." You will be led to a list of banks issuing cards to students.

Questions about finances? Write: Guy Halverson The Christian Science Monitor 500 Fifth Ave., Suite 1845 New York, NY 10110 E-mail: halversong@csps.com

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