Your Money

  • BLOCK THAT REFUND Income tax refunds will break last year's record of $114 billion. They're nice to get, but many Americans withhold too much from their paychecks. The average refund is now $1,700. Instead of loaning that money to Uncle Sam for a year, you could invest it. A calculator at can help you figure out the right amount for this year, taking new child-care and education credits into account.

    E-BIDDER BEWARE Online hagglers at auction websites seem to be getting a lot less than they bargain for. Last year two-thirds of nearly 8,000 complaints about Internet fraud were directed at online auction sites, where bidders occasionally get phony merchandise or nothing in return, according to a study released last week by the National Consumers League. A Florida eBay user was just ordered to pay $23,000 to customers who never received computers they paid for. For added safety, Auction Universe and eBay now offer insurance and escrow services.

    FUND-FEE INFLATION Mutual funds have pulled in hundreds of billions of dollars over the past decade, but they haven't shared much of the cost savings derived from higher volumes. According to a new study by Morningstar, the annual asset-weighted cost of an actively managed, no-load domestic stock fund has declined just 7% since 1984. Firms like Stein Roe and Founders have increased costs a bit, and when low-fee giants Fidelity and Vanguard are excluded, the average cost has risen. Conversely, costs of load funds have fallen. Among the top cutters: American Funds.