Exchange-traded funds may be a little more accessible to more invsetors, according to Tribune Media columnist Humberto Cruz. 

Amerivest, the on-line union of Ameritrade and TD Waterhouse., is offering an online ETF option available to investors directly, rather than through an adviser.

Like mutual funds, exchange traded funds track a benchmark, such as the Standard & Poor's 500. Unlike mutual funds, which trade at a day's closing price, ETFs trade like stocks, with prices in constant flux, and allow limit orders. ETFs also typically have lower expenses and are more tax-efficient than mutual funds. Often, they also offer more options because investors can mix and match more discreet portfolios designed to track stocks in particular regions or industries, for example.

Usually, as with stocks, brokers also charge a commission with each ETF trade, which can be pricey for small investors or those who make multiple small trades.

The Amerivest program eliminates commissions in favor of regular fees: 0.35% annually for accounts with assets over $100,000; 0.5% for accounts values between $20,000 and 99,999; and accounts with assets under $20,000 pay either $100 or 2.95%, whichever is lower.

"If you are comfortable with the Internet, this is something you can do," said Joe Moglia, CEO of TD Ameritrade.

Investors start by answering a series of questions online to assess risk and tolerance.  The site returns a recommended combination of ETFs and offers an investor the opportunity to adjust it as he or she chooses. After that, the investor must maintain that portfolio as he or she sees fit.

"The investor needs to take responsibility for himself," Moglia said. "If his goals have changed, if his risk tolerance has changed, nobody knows better than the individual."

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