Stocks: Advice for the DIY investor

Don TaylorDear Dr. Don,
I have about $1 million in about 14 stocks. I own, watch and reinvest all the dividends. However, I recently spoke with an investment professional who works at a bank, and he wants to manage these stocks for me -- at no charge. Should I let him?

-- Barry Baffling

Dear Barry,
You don't need to do this. I'm not sure what the investment professional's angle is in offering to do this for free. I'd argue against taking him up on that offer without knowing what's in it for him and how it benefits you.

There's a lot you can do on your own to keep that portfolio in good shape.

For example, a DIY investor could use a portfolio analytics package to make sure it's solidly diversified. A free two-week trial on Morningstar would give you access to its Portfolio X-Ray feature that could help you with this. Your stockbroker should have that type of package available, too.

I also suggest you pay close attention to changing tax laws regarding dividend income and capital gains. It might influence your after-tax investment earnings. The taxation of qualified dividend income is scheduled to jump to your ordinary income tax rate from the current maximum of 15 percent. And your marginal income tax rate could go higher if the Bush tax cuts aren't extended.

The tax rate on long-term capital gains also is scheduled to increase from the current 15 percent maximum, depending on your modified adjusted gross income, to 20 percent. This doesn't include the additional 3.8 percent Medicare tax for high-income earners ($200,000 for single filers and $250,000 for married joint filers) on certain investment income.

I wouldn't let tax changes dictate how you invest. But it's smart to keep an eye on what the government does this year concerning taxes.

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