By Eric Tyson

Investment research software packages usually separate investment beginners (and others who don’t want to spend a lot of their time managing their money) from those who enjoy wallowing in data and conducting primary research. If you already have a plan in mind and just want to get on with investing, then go to it!

But even if you don’t want to conduct more specific research, some of the packages that are discussed here can also help you conduct online investment transactions and track an investment’s performance.

When working with research software, you may have the problems of sifting through too much data and differentiating the best from the mediocre and downright awful. And unless cost is no object, you need to make sure you don’t spend too much of your loot simply accessing the information.

Before you plunge in to the data jungle and try to become the next Peter Lynch or Warren Buffett by picking individual stocks, be honest about your reasons for wanting to research. Some investors fool themselves into believing that their research will help them beat the markets. However, few investors, even so-called professionals, ever succeed at that goal. Witness the fact that over long time periods (ten-plus years), mutual funds that invest in a fixed-market index, such as the Standard & Poor’s 500, outperform about three-quarters of their actively managed peers thanks to the index fund’s lower operating expenses.

The best software for researching individual securities

If you like to invest in individual securities, the Value Line Investment Survey – Smart Investor helps you research individual stocks using the data that the Value Line Investment Survey provides. This software package lets you sift through Value Line’s data efficiently. You can also use it to track your stock portfolio.

A three-month introductory offer for Value Line’s software costs $149, and an annual subscription costs $598 for monthly updates. The software is available from Value Line at 800-535-9648 or by visiting its website.

Morningstar, which is better known for its mutual fund information, has followed in Value Line’s footsteps in providing lots of data on individual stocks and analyst reports. Morningstar.com’s Premium Membership costs $199 per year. You can reach Morningstar at 866-486-9750 or visit its website.

The best software for researching funds

For mutual funds and exchange-traded funds (ETFs), Morningstar offers subscription services. Value Line publishes several software packages, similar in price to the Value Line Investment Survey. These packages are geared toward more sophisticated investors who understand mutual funds and ETFs and how to select them.