You're aiming for 10 to 20 people who can afford to share any setup fees (perhaps $100 to $300), occasional expenses (the annual audit, NAIC materials), and monthly investments (usually $25 to $50).

Once the group is committed, join the NAIC (annual dues: $35 plus $14 per member; (248)583-6242) and buy its book, "Starting and Running a Profitable Investment Club" ($10).

You'll also find information on its Web site:

Members should write themselves some rules. Do decisions on stock transactions have to be unanimous? Will you veto certain industries, such as tobacco? Will members be dropped if they miss a certain number of meetings? How are new members admitted and members cashed out who want to leave?

NAIC has general guidelines you might adopt, just to get started. You can modify them later.

Clubs usually spend the first months learning the language of investing, talking about investment philosophy, getting a stockbroker (or choosing a discount broker) and developing a list of specific stock ideas.

During that period, your investment kitty will gradually build. When you're ready to buy your first stock, you'll have something to work with.

Club members all research stock ideas and present them at regular, monthly meetings. When the club makes a buy, one member follows the company and makes reports. Some clubs buy mutual funds, too.

Profits are usually reinvested. Clubs sometimes bring in speakers to discuss certain industries or investment techniques. You all learn how to use information sources Value Line stock reports, financial publications and the Web.

In the course of buying, selling and talking, everyone learns. Losses are perhaps the best teacher. How do you handle it when your stock declines?

The club's own kitty may be small, but members put the lessons to work in their own accounts their inheritances or retirement funds. That's where the real work begins.

Debit card risks

Do you or don't you want to shop with a debit card? In the past two weeks, these cards have become safer to use, thanks to changes announced by MasterCard and Visa. Nevertheless, they pose some risks that credit cards don't.

A debit or cash card looks like a credit card. It usually carries a MasterCard or Visa logo and is accepted wherever those credit cards are. It's also your ATM card.

But when you use a debit card to make a purchase, you're not buying on credit. You're paying cash. The merchant will take the money directly out of your bank account.

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