Individual investors face a whole new set of challenges in today's markets. An understanding of p/e ratios and balance sheets is no longer sufficient in the world, where stock prices sometimes bear little relationship to old-fashioned concepts like sales and profits. Whether you're a neophyte in the financial world or a more accomplished investor, several new books offer help on negotiating this new territory. Here are four of the best: Investing 101 (Bloomberg, $14.95, ISBN 1576600440) by Kathy Kristof is a reader friendly introduction to the basics of investing and personal finance. Kristof leads investors through assessing a starting point, determining their adversity to risk, building an emergency fund, and determining how to save for such big ticket items as a car or a house and for such long term goals as retirement or a child's college education. Kristof educates the reader on fundamentals like diversification and assessment of how different investments fit into their goals. One of the best features of the book is a chapter on picking individual stocks. Kristof teaches the reader how to read a financial statement and make some basic calculations to determine whether or not to buy or sell a stock. If I had to suggest a book on investing and personal finance to an absolute beginner, it would be Investing 101.

Victoria Collins combines a doctorate in psychology with years of experience as a financial planner to examine the impact of the Internet on investing and financial markets in Invest A New Look at Investing in Today's Changing Markets (Dearborn, $18.95, ISBN 0793138175). Collins explains many basic issues ranging from what the Dow Jones Industrial average is and how it is compiled to what a p/e ratio is and how it is useful to an investor. Collins also tells the reader where to get information and how to establish a relationship with a financial advisor. She examines how markets have changed and why the investment philosophies of such Wall Street gurus as Warren Buffet, Peter Lynch, and George Soros may or may not be applicable in the new Internet-influenced market. Invest is not only a very helpful tool for those interested in making sense of investing since the advent of the Internet, it can serve as an extremely valuable reference for the beginning investor as well.

Former Motley Fool columnist Robert Sheard defines financial independence not as the date when one retires, but the point at which a person has the ability to live indefinitely on the growth of an investment portfolio. In Money For Life: The 20 Factor Plan for Accumulating Wealth While You're Young (Harper- Business, $25, ISBN 0066620430), Sheard directs the reader to determine how big a portfolio must be for an investor to live on its growth. He then shows what steps to take to reach that financial goal. Sheard's final step is to teach the reader how to manage a portfolio once the financial goal is reached. Sheard advocates what he calls a "charitable foundation" approach to personal investing. Money for Life is written in a straightforward manner well suited for readers who are beginning to take hold of their financial life, as well as the more experienced person who wants to learn how to maintain his or her finances.

The days when a woman could rely on the man in her life to manage financial decisions are long past. To guide women on how to take hold of their financial futures, personal finance expert Marsha Bertran has written A Woman's Guide to Savvy Investing: Everything You Need to Know to Protect Your Future (AMACOM, $16.95, ISBN 0814470998). Newly released in paperback this month, this book is an excellent guide for women who want to learn about investing. In this age, investing to most people means mainly stocks and bonds, but Bertrand examines various investment approaches, including buying stocks with puts, calls, shorts, and margins, real estate investment trusts, unit investment trusts, and initial public offerings. One of the best features of the book is that Bertrand holds the reader's hand as she explains and then demonstrates how to run the numbers on an investment to calculate ratios, gains and losses, investment returns, and income tax ramifications. She also explains where to find public investor information, how to read annual reports, select a broker, and start an investment club. A Woman's Guide to Savvy Investing is an excellent resource for any man or woman interested in improving their investing skills.

Jeff Morris is CPA in Nashville and has worked with investments and personal finance since 1992.

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